Article first published as You Got to Know When to Hold 'Em on Blogcritics.
Obama’s P-P-P-Poker Face
A long time ago (way back during the 2008 presidential campaign...it seems like a lifetime), I wrote a blog entry about an article I’d read in Time. The article was about the nominees’ gambling styles. There was some commentary that it was an irrelevant and foolish fluff piece, but I disagreed at the time, and I still do.
John McCain apparently loves craps. One of the riskiest games you can play in the casino, the only strategy involved in craps is how and where to place your bets, and the odds of what you will roll; the roll of the die is completely random, and whether you win or lose is completely dependent on your rolls and that of others. It is a game of high risk and high reward...or high losses. You can win big, but with one roll you can also lose everything you have on the table. It’s a definite rush if you’re winning, but the next thing you know, you’re wiped out and walking away.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, is a poker player. Poker is a more deliberative game, in which a smart player can go far. As with all gambling endeavors, there is risk involved, but a savvy player will know not only the odds of getting certain hands, they will bet accordingly and wisely. A big part of poker strategy also involves bluffing and doing your best to not give away your hand, whether good or bad. Apparently, he is pretty good at it.
I was reminded of this article and my subsequent thoughts on it by the events of the past week and our mission to kill Bin Laden. Many articles referred to the “gamble” the President took, and one journalist ran into him at the correspondent’s dinner and said there was “no tell.” Every poker player looks for the other players’ tells, and tries to not have one or at least hide it as best they can.
The President took a calculated risk with this mission. I’ve read that the certainty that Bin Laden was in that particular compound varied from 60-90%. The risks involved were great here, more along the lines of craps rather than poker. A failed mission would have been disastrous for the military members involved, for the President, and for his foreign policy credibility. A successful one would...well, we saw what it did, didn’t we? The congratulations were grudging and in some cases non-existent, but overall, no one could dispute that the death of Osama Bin Laden was a good thing for our country, for our world, and yes, for the President.
Still, the risks were calculable, and based on years of intelligence-gathering, the President did indeed go all-in. He bet not only on the accuracy of the information gathered by various intelligence agencies, he bet on the talents, training, and sheer gutsiness of the military team involved. He also may have gambled on his second term as President.
He won big. He won in a raking-in-the-pot sort of way. There will always be those who disagree with his policies, but it’s hard to not recognize and admit that in this case, he was a cool customer who took a big chance and walked away a winner. We’re a long way away from the 2012 election, but this particular gamble may pay off in spades. Or as Congressman Anthony Weiner might say, “Aces!”