The tradition of United States Presidents who play poker may yet continue in President Elect Barack Obama. It’s commonly known in the poker community that Obama played in a regular poker game as a US Senator. However, some may not know that there is precedence for our nation’s leaders playing poker while at the White House.
In fact, it’s even rumored that one president, Warren Harding, wagered and lost a collection of presidential china in a poker game at the White House. He held a regular game twice a week, and his cabinet was even referred to as the “Poker Cabinet” because of their involvement in the game.
Richard Nixon supposedly won over $6,000 in two months playing poker, which he learned to play while in the Navy. It is said that he used this money to fund his first congressional campaign, thus beginning the political campaign of America’s 37th President.
While Franklin D. Roosevelt was ill with polio and his physical activity was limited, he passed some of his time playing poker, a pastime he continued into his presidency. He would regularly hold games with his cabinet members and held a once a year “marathon poker game”, which coincided with the evening that Congress would adjourn.
Some say that Harry Truman was told of Roosevelt’s passing, and that he would be named president, while playing a game of poker. “The Buck Stops Here” was stated on a placard that sat on Truman’s desk throughout his administration. The saying refers to passing the “buck”, or button as it’s now called, to the person who is responsible for dealing the cards. It was Truman’s way of saying he holds the responsibility and a testament to his enjoyment of the game of poker. His poker table is now on public display at his former vacation home in Key West, Florida. While at the White House, he played with chips embossed with the Presidential seal. One of his many “poker buddies” was none other than another former President, Lyndon B. Johnson, at that time a senator from Texas.
Speaking of Johnson, when he was Vice President he often played in after hours games at the White House with then President John F. Kennedy. There were more poker playing presidents too, including Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower, and others.
So, whether or not Obama will continue to play the game while in the White House remains to be determined. However, I think that as poker players, we can only hope that Obama is sympathetic to our cause, and maybe, just maybe he’ll have the urge to fire up some Party Poker and stack a fish or two.