Sunday, September 9, 2012

How A Game Made Me Grow Up: Politics & Poker

One of my earliest blog posts was a scathing rebuke of President Barack Obama and how he had lost my vote. Fresh off my ATC training, I was brimming with game theory and swag, astonished that our nation's leader could fold so easily during 2010 budget negotiations to what was, at best, a semi-bluff from the opposition party. Twenty-one months later, I am happy to report that my experiences in poker have made me grow the hell up.

When it comes to poker, I honestly don't care for whom you vote. I don't talk politics with poker players since, by and large, we live in an alternate universe where risk-taking is normal and money can lose some of its real-world value because it's the means by which we keep score. The average, working-class American tends to be risk-averse and has no concept of bankroll management because they are simply living paycheck to paycheck. That, plus poker being a bit of a zero-sum game (I say "a bit" because for every winner there is a loser...and the house always gets its cut), can breed an abnormally high degree of selfishness and self-preservation in an already abnormally and highly individualistic, capitalist society (although some of the best, most generous people I have ever met exist in the world of poker). Yet from this fascinating poker subculture in which I reside, I watch and evaluate common characteristics of game theory play themselves out in presidential electoral politics this season.

But the flush hit - easy fold

Mitt Romney is the ultimate poker player, changing opinions and strategies completely conscience-free. He has no qualms with adjusting to changing conditions and situations, no matter how weak or spineless it makes him look. Flush card hits and you get raised on the river? Easy fold. Was pro-choice running for governor in a moderate Northeastern state in 2002 but now pro-life in an overtly right-wing party while running for president in 2012? No problem.

Being an Obama supporter and donor in 2008, I was like that bar league player who's dealt pocket aces and am horrified when they get cracked on the flop. AA is the best starting hand in poker - I should have won! Key word is STARTING. By surreptitiously using a lot of our lingo, politics is a lot like poker. Hold 'Em is a five card game (despite my efforts to make it four cards - no takers so far) and sometimes you need to see all five streets to determine a winner. Hand selection, your two hole cards, are a good START, but it isn't everything. And that's what this political process has reminded me of - and of the growth and maturity that I have gained through poker.

News flash: Politicians are people! A friend of mine once said that people are disappointing which, to me, meant don't get your hopes up and you will never be disappointed. I approach a good starting hand with the same kind of cautious enthusiasm. Until that pot is pushed in my direction, I try not to get too high or too low. Sure, I can still have an emotional outburst now and then when facing the ridiculously infuriating mix of variance and flawed human logic. But instead of dwelling upon it, I'm now able to quickly compartmentalize it and move on, something I couldn't always say I could as a younger man.

Re-raise, bitches!
Did Obama disappoint me with his caving to the GOP? Absolutely. Do I still hold it against him? Not so much. It is clear that he has adapted, stiffening his spine somewhat as recent policy has indicated, from executive ordering a DREAM-y path to citizenship to ending Don't Ask Don't Tell. It could be argued that these were sharply political moves made going into a re-election campaign. Even if they were, then good for him: Obama's finally using game theory and making +EV moves to get max value out of his political base instead of folding to the constant aggression of the Republicans. Regardless, it's shown that he has adapted, changing, no, growing through experience and adversity, much like poker players do via volume, variance and, yes, disappointment. Hell, the President admitted as much in his convention nomination acceptance speech.

I am also reminded of how enthused I was when Bill Clinton was elected, only for me to be smacked down hard by his political animalism when he hung Lani Guinier out to dry and gg'd on health care reform. Yet I was Tweet-cackling with the best of them last Wednesday when "Big Dog" gave the speech of his lifetime as our nation's most popular political figure. Politicians are human, which means they, like me, are fallible, make mistakes, and, over time, have the potential to adjust. No matter what politics you have or espouse, I can appreciate anyone who learns from his or her mistakes, handles life variance with aplomb, and makes the necessary adjustments. Because the Greek had it right: the only constant in life IS change. I see this as the online game goes through shift after shift in playing style on a six-month basis. And if you don't have the capacity to change your game as conditions do, you lose.

As a born competitor in a country that fashions itself as the greatest country on Earth, one that  practices extreme forms of economic and social Darwinism, I hate to lose; adapt or die, Brad Pitt's Billy Beane declares in "Moneyball." Which is why I, in part due to the lessons I continue to learn from poker, am with the nonpartisan party of Change. Are you?


  1. eat ass assclown...have to unfriend ya bc of your incessant ramblings and retweets of anything msnbc. vote obama and keep eating off foodstamps for all i care.

  2. Learned something about Poker and U.S Politics at the same time, much appreciated. Look forward to more of your stuff. The dickhead above needs to do some yoga and get laid properly maybe :-)

  3. I may have to agree with Sarah said, I did also learn something about poker and how U.S politics works. A person can learn from this just like how he learns from online poker for beginners sites.