The battle between McCain and Obama for the title of 44th President of the United States is in full swing, and poker players and non-poker players alike are trying to decide which of the candidates is best. Oddly enough, this election will most likely be more influenced by poker than any other in the history of our nation. We have seen the poker playing community heavily affected by the last term of George W. Bush when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed in 2006, making online gambling difficult in the United States. Now, concurrent with this election, poker players are trying to repeal the poker ban and we want to know who of Obama or McCain is more likely to do so. But, according to the United Kingdom Telegraph, both candidates are avid gamblers, which we have not seen since the days of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
Earlier in the election period, it was revealed that Obama is a poker player. He considers it a hidden talent and himself a skilled Texas Hold’Em and Seven Card Stud player. Back in his days as an Illinois State Senator, Obama developed a reputation of playing to win, usually with good cards and rarely bluffing. On the other hand, The Telegraph states McCain loves few things more than a 14 hour session at the craps table. McCain enjoys the thrill and camaraderie of a dice game and is known to wager thousands of dollars per game.
Interestingly, long time Republican and world-famous poker player Doyle Brunson has stated that he will support Barack Obama this election. He said that he could not support John McCain because Republicans support the gambling ban. “Poker players have to support Obama,” he said. “God help the internet gambling business if McCain does happen to win.” Furthermore, professional poker player and former MIT Blackjack Team member Andy Bloch has shown his support for Obama and told the Sunday Telegraph that most players in the World Series of Poker are Obama supporters. Also, a group called “Poker Players for Obama” writes a blog on his campaign website.
Aside from the gambling ban, there has been speculation as to how Obama and McCain’s gambling habits will affect there presidential policies. Andy Bloch says, “There are a lot of skills playing poker that would help the chief executive. In poker you have to put yourself in the shoes of your opponents, get inside their heads and figure out what they’re thinking; what their actions mean; what they would think your actions mean; and reading people’s bluffs. One thing that got us into the Iraq War was that George Bush didn’t realize that Saddam Hussein was basically bluffing, trying to look like a big man, when he really had no weapons of mass destruction.” Anthony Holden, a British poker player and writer, added, “Eisenhower was a good player who did not like winning money from fellow officers, let alone other ranks, and he was a nice guy. Nixon had no such scruples at all and funded his first political campaign from his wartime winnings. He turned out to be just as unprincipled in power. Barack Obama, like Lyndon Johnson, used poker to make political connections. He seems not to be much of a bluffer. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a giant bluff by JFK, which was not called by Khruschev. I don’t think we’ll get those kind of geopolitical gambles from Obama.”
Both Bloch and Holden are concerned about having a President who avidly plays a game that has a negative expected value, like craps (for non-poker players expected value is the amount one is expected to win in the long term). “You’re always at a disadvantage at craps,” said Bloch. “It’s a problem, if you have a leader who believes they can beat the odds. You don’t want him shooting dice with the economy.” Holden added, “We poker players don’t call poker gambling. It is a game of skill. Craps is an absurd game of luck. You may have thrilling short term wins but only madmen play craps.”
So when it is all said and done, it seems the poker community mostly supports Obama. Although, it is unclear whether someone who never bluffs has the chops to make it as President either. As we have seen in the past with JFK, and as all poker players know, a player who never bluffs will not be playing as well as he/she could be. But, playing a losing game is certainly not better. With the Presidency, only time will tell. But, Terry Link, a fellow State Senator of Obama, told Time magazine, “If he runs his presidency the way he plays poker, I’ll sleep good at night.”