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The Cincinnati Kid is king of the local stud poker players in New Orleans in the 1930's, but Lancey "The Man" Howard is the national champion. Howard comes to New Orleans for a private match with Slade, a wealthy local businessman, on whom he inflicts heavy losses. The Kid's friend Shooter, known for his honesty, is dealer for these private games and suggests a match between Howard and The Kid. Christian, The Kid's girl friend, leaves town to visit her parents. Slade, betting heavily on the match in an attempt to recoup his losses, puts pressure on Shooter to slip The Kid winning cards. The Kid learns of the machinations during the long game and, even though he could easily win, substitutes Lady Fingers for Shooter as dealer. Melba, Slade's wife, taking advantage of Christian's absence, starts an affair with The Kid during a break in the game. The climax of the match occurs when The Kid loses everything on a full house to Howard's straight flush. The Kid also loses Christian when she finds out about his affair with Melba. The Kid starts out again on the streets, playing for coins against a shoeshine boy but still retaining his honor.