Poker and Politics

My brain, already quite meager to begin with, is totally melting in this heat for the last few days, forbidding me to deliver you a new portion of my rabid opinion. As of this moment I’m seriously concerned for the life of the prophetic octopus in Germany. I’m afraid it goes well with the beer.

As I sat at the poker table in AC the other day and observed the action, I got reaffirmed in how much poker is like politics and vice versa. For example, there are many ways to win the pot – some of them opportunistic and some long-term strategic. Opportunistic is when you’re in the pot with weak hand and you sense weakness in others as well and you go ahead and steal it. The key here is not to think for too long and just do it. More often than not you will not get called, out of sheer momentum, and that’s all you need. The strategic way is much less fun than the opportunistic and it involves boring stuff like counting the odds and folding too many hands. Democrats have lost the momentum some time ago and, despite occasional opportunities presented by loose-lipped Republicans, they now have to resort to just grinding away at a slow pace. But even here they manage to miss a few pots. For example, the cost of pushing through the extension of unemployment insurance would be roughly $25bn addition to a $14 trillion debt which is much less than half a percent. The cost of NOT pushing this bill will most likely result in Republican takeover of the House and the Senate. To put it in a poker terms, if you already put $1400 in the pot you’d be a fool not to call another $25, even if you have 2-7 offsuit, because if you lose – you lose only $25, but if you win you might win big. Republicans blocked the extension on budget concerns, at least that’s the official line, but I’m positive it has something to do with the upcoming elections and they want people to suffer for some more so that they are ripe for the taking this November. At this point I don’t quite understand why Obama and Democrats don’t talk about it every day, why do they allow Republicans to take the initiative and portray the situation as “killing an ant with a nuke” and to beat themselves in the chest proclaiming newfound concern for the budget. Moreover, the “borrow and spend” was an ok way to finance various conservative causes under Bush, and it was presented as responsible governing vs. the liberals’ “tax and spend” ways.

Another big ominous sign for Democrats from the poker table: At one point I was playing with a bunch of colorful New Jersey union employees at the table, you know, the Teamsters, gold chains and all, talking non-stop about economy and thrashing Obama. Well, they also talked about how long it is until retirement and what to do to squeeze maximum benefits upon retirement, but nonetheless, I’m sure Democrats are not getting votes from these guys this fall. From the Teamsters, for Christ sake! I wasn’t sure they were aware that if it was up to Republicans they would see none of the benefits and would be paid $7 an hour, but who cares about the facts these days. What are Democrats smoking? Where’s the PR, where’s the offensive, where’s Chicago-style shakedown? Or do they want to lose this November so that they could pull “a Clinton” circa 1996 in 2012?

Anyway, the Teamsters were entertaining in many ways, especially in the way they played. One of them declared that he “wanted to be closer to the fish” before changing seats to a seat next to mine. I just joined the table and I don’t think I played a single hand yet, but I went out of my way to look like a freshly cut piece of toro. He proceeded to lose all his stack, not to me unfortunately. But this episode made me come up with an amendment to an old poker adage “If you don’t see a fish at the table, then you are one”: The human mind works in such a way that it’ll always find a fish at the table.


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