This is for the nerds.
This is for the people who think that poker is like life. For the people who see the suckouts on the streets and the bluffs in their own homes. This is for the poker philosophers.
Party Poker people, this is for you.
I was watching more of the unending coverage of Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton (didn’t she already lose?) and it dawned on me exactly how much poker relates to politics. So here are five political behaviors and ideas explained in poker terms.
1. Bet Strong or Don’t Bet At All: Rhetoric is an essential part of the political game – just in the same way that betting is an essential part of poker. Good poker players do things with their bets be it getting value or scaring someone out of the pot: the better the bettor, the stronger the bet. Likewise, the game in politics is accomplishing things with your words, which is why charged words like freedom and liberty and change get bandied about without any real substance behind them. Because the game in politics is making people believe in you just like the game in poker is making people believe that you have something. Now, you can’t just keep bluffing because you will eventually get called (which we’ll get to in a moment.) But the fact is that, more often than not, good bets do not get called and good speeches don’t get run up against policy. But outrageous claims raise eyebrows just as overbets do at the poker table. Which leads us to the next category:
2. Sometimes, you’ve Got to Have a Hand: We all know that the American economy is in bad shape right now. And we all know that Republicans have been in charge while the economy took a down turn. Does any of this actually mean anything? Well, that’s debatable. The point is that this circumstance provides the Democratic Party’s candidate Barack Obama with the political equivalent of good table position. He can come in after looking at everything the rest of the table has done and make a more informed decision/bet. He can claim to be the candidate of economic change which is the biggest issue in the US right now. But McCain can’t allow this – if Obama is ultimately considered to be candidate most likely to change the economic tides in the good ole’ US of A, then McCain is almost assuredly looking at a defeat in November. So this past week, McCain called Obama’s bet. The McCain camp issued a challenge to Obama saying that he did not really have any fix for the economy and was in fact, just playing position. They called him. For his part, Obama has embarked on a two-week tour where he has unveiled a $50 billion economic package, in essence putting his cards out on the table. If McCain doesn’t completely capitulate and muck his economic hole cards, then you can be sure that Obama will call on McCain to do the same.
3. Poker Face: No matter what the circumstance, no matter what the subject – politicians must remain strong without becoming belligerent. Anybody remember when Howard Dean was going to be the next Democratic candidate until he issued forth that plaintive yelp in 2004? Most people don’t trust most emotions. This may strike at an unfortunate note in human nature – but it is the truth. When many people see someone that they do not personally know getting emotional, they tend to put the red flag up. My theory behind this is that it is an inverse response to wanting to trust someone – after all, humans want to trust other humans. But we’ve been lied to so many times by politicians over the past entire record of human history or so that we almost have to fight that urge to trust. Just a theory; it could also be that there really are naught but crocodile tears shed at the poker table and in the political world.
4. Free Trade Agreements and Relative Stack Sizes: The principles behind free trade agreements are easy enough to follow – if we all work together without additional tariffs then everyone benefits. In poker terms, this would be like sitting at a full table – since there is more money in play, there is more money to be won. But where the dissent for things like CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) comes in is in looking at the participating countries’ relative stack sizes so to speak. By entering into a free trade agreement with the USA, a smaller economic force like Costa Rica is essentially sitting down at the same table with a whole lot less chips than the US. While this does offer Costa Rica the chance to pick and prosper from the giant stack of the red, white and blue; it also allows the US to bully Costa Rica out of some pots if it so chooses, as well as take many more risks without fear of going broke. And the cold hard truth of the matter (for the Western Hemisphere, at least) is that if you don’t play at the table that the US is on, then you are not likely to find much action. And no matter what, without the support of the US you cannot grow your stack very quickly, if at all.
5. Corporate Loopholes and 150% Rakeback: If you’ve never seen the movie “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” go to www.freedocumentaries.com and watch it right now. It chronicles in detail how the Enron guys pulled off one of the greatest frauds in the history of business. Basically, rather than pay everyone in cash they paid everyone in stock: banks, employees, everyone got Enron stock rather than actual money. This encouraged a slew of people to contribute to the fraud because they were all benefitting from it in the form of more valuable stocks. This is analogous in a lot of ways to rakeback – the more you play on a certain site the more rakeback you get (and this may seem used-car-salesman like but if you are a Party Poker player and not receiving rakeback follow this link – you really should be on a plan as they are totally free.) What Enron was able to do was basically offer 150% rakeback to its stockholders by promising infinite gains provided that they keep playing (they did this through the magic of mark-to-market accounting as well as through any number of major financial institutions corrupt actions.) By playing poker on Enron.com, players got onto the greatest rakeback plan imaginable – 150% of their money back!
In the end, a lot of seemingly unrelated things can be understood better when placed in poker terms. Maybe I’m reaching – what do you think Party Poker people, is poker a lot like life?