I played a lot of poker over the last decade or so. I think of myself as a tight, patient player. I folded a lot--and I mean a lot. As such, I spent a lot of time daydreaming. One day I was rolling around the concept of "poker face" in my head and thought: What if everybody at the table was staring at me at the same time? What if they were staring with, oh, let's say, an emotionally-charged, yet meaningfully unreadable expression? How unnerving would that be? If I bluffed and then got stared down, who would blink first? I kept mulling over the idea, and then my daydreaming shifted--as if taking on a life of it's own...and not entirely unlike Dumbo's dream sequence when Dumbo inadvertently got drunk. I thought: How could a poker player's face get more assuredly unreadable? Suddenly something clicked. I thought: What if the players wore masks? Yeah, that could be visually engaging!
One more thing: I feel my concept is substantially different than the "Dogs Playing Poker"-type of paintings and their sundry permutations ("Celebrities Playing Poker," "Monsters Playing Poker," etc.)--which I do like, but I think that my idea departs sufficiently to illustrate a different concept: Engaging the viewer as if he or she is in the game. I think that that, plus the sheer beauty of the Venetian Carnival costumes, makes the images compelling.