Wednesday July 11, 2018 at 4:45 pm
FUN

Albert Upton, one of Richard Nixon's college professors, once said, “A man who couldn't hold a hand in a first-class poker game isn't fit to be president of the United States.” Nixon was one of many residents of the White House to take this aphorism literally.

PresidentsPlayingPoker
Presidents playing poker

In 2007, while on the campaign trail, a journalist from the Associated Press asked Barack Obama if he had any hidden talents. “I am a pretty good poker player,” he responded with a smile. The reply was sincere. As a young senator of Illinois, the future American president regularly played stud and draw poker with elected officials, regardless of whether they were Republican or Democrat. Only a few hundred dollars were exchanged during these low-stakes games. However, after he was elected President, the little ritual ended and Barack Obama never again spoke publicly about his taste for poker.

President Obama was not the first resident of the White House to have a passion for poker. Indeed, was the last in a long line of poker-loving Presidents. Inspired by the book Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus, the New York Times discussed Presidents and poker, including several of Obama's predecessors such as Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Harry Truman. Most of them, such as Lyndon Johnson or the Roosevelts, played poker purely recreationally. Some took the game more seriously and took greater risks, as was the case for Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower. And in a few instances, poker has had an influence, both direct or indirect, on their political careers and the fate of the United States.

Since 1933 at the start of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first term, the number of U.S. Presidents who declared poker as a hobby could be counted on one hand. The instigator of the New Deal regularly played Stud for small sums, and FDR's relatives acknowledged he was a decent player. Roosevelt, however, saw poker mainly as an effective way to relieve the stress that was inherent to the nature of his work.

Anecdotes about Roosevelt's particular hobby are not lacking. Some are dubious, such as the sound of chips that could be heard in the background of some of his greatest radio speeches. Others, however, are quite serious, as shown by a poker game that he organized every year for the night of Congress' last session. The designation of the night's winner was somewhat peculiar: one had to possess a maximum of chips at the time of adjournment of the session, which was a rule that Roosevelt occasionally took advantage of. Legend has it that Roosevelt received a phone call informing him about the end of the session, but contrary to custom, he concealed the information from his opponents in order to extend the evening since was low on chips. Only a few hours later, when the tables had turned and FDR built up his stack, he pretended to have just received the phone call, securing a victory without his opponents' knowledge. They inevitably discovered his trickery the next day, but it was too late.

In 1944 with America still in the middle of World War II, FDR was elected for a fourth time despite a declining state of health. None of his predecessors were ever elected more than two terms, and a current law prohibits Presidents from serving more than two terms. FDR did not see out his fourth term. A couple months after his inauguration, in the early afternoon of March 29, 1945, the President suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage that he did not recover from.

Vice President Harry Truman had been in office for only 82 days when FDR passed away. On March 29, he left the Senate and was preparing to join the Speaker of the House and other colleagues for drinks and poker. The festivities were ultimately postponed after an urgent message told him to go to the White House. Once there, Mrs. Roosevelt informed him of the death of her husband. “Terrible pleonasm!” Truman said to himself before realizing it was an inopportune moment to say that in the presence of the First Lady.

“Poker exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism that have

made our country so great.” -Walter Matthau (1920-2000)

HarryTruman
Harry Truman's regular poker game (Pic courtesy of Truman Library)

Shortly after, the former senator from Missouri was sworn in and became the new poker enthusiast of the White House. Some historians suggested Truman learned the basics of poker during his service in World War I, while playing with fellow soldiers. This experience clearly marked him because Truman never stopped playing and even continued his weekly game during his tenure as President. Similarly to Roosevelt, the anecdotes are not lacking. Truman once played aboard the U.S.S. Augusta towards the end of World War II, while in the presence of journalists. This poker game took place at the beginning of August 1945, in the days preceding the launches of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some commentators saw the game as a display of carelessness at the dawn of one of the most tragic days in modern history. Others, such as New York Times journalist David Spanier, vigorously refuted this hypothesis by likening these games to a means of relieving pressure, rather than “proof of Truman's lightness in the face of this terrible event.”

This same argument of the anti-stress valve was also retained by the biographers of another great poker and gaming enthusiast: Winston Churchill. A great admirer of FDR, with whom he had maintained a regular correspondence for several years, the Bulldog was considerably depressed at the death of his alter ego in 1945, and also very worried about its consequences for the end of WWII and overall U.S.-Great Britain relations. Churchill was quickly reassured by the good intentions displayed by Truman, who was obviously committed to continuing his predecessor's work. The two men came to know each other and, over the next few months, they created close enough ties to the point of occasionally meeting around a poker table. In March 1946, Sir Winston went to Missouri to deliver an address to a crowd of 40,000 people. It was one of Churchill's most famous post-war speeches and he shared the same train as Truman on the journey from Washington to Missouri. And what do the two most powerful leaders of their time do to overcome boredom during the journey? They played poker!

As whimsical at the table as he was in real life, Harry Truman was fond of “poker shots.” Truman utilized a style that we would describe today as “loose aggressive,” which was a profile perfectly suited to his status as a recreational player. He favored entertainment and the social aspect of the game rather than the financial gains. Another illustration of his sincere passion was that he carefully preserved a collection of personalized poker chips that bore the Presidential seal. Better still, at the front of his desk was a plaque engraved with the phrase “The Buck Stops Here”, which had been offered to him by a prison warden who was himself a poker lover. Truman had helped to popularize the phrase “Pass the buck!” by slipping it into his speeches — similar to Obama's famous “Yes we can!” of 2008. The catch phrase has poker origins. During that time, a buck knife was often used as a substitute for a dealer button. After each hand, the previous dealer had to pass the knife (“pass the buck”) to his neighbor.

In 1953, Harry Truman stepped aside to a former apprentice-turned-enemy: Dwight Eisenhower, who was originally expected to run as a Democrat in 1951, but ultimately decided to represent the Republican party. Despite differences of opinion with his predecessor on important issues such as the Korean War and the rise of communism, the former designer of Operation Overlord continued to strengthen the role of poker in the White House. Familiar with the game from an early age, Ike regularly made use of the experience that he gained during his military career. Over time, Ike became a connoisseur of technical subtleties and advanced concepts. During World War II, Eisenhower faced another famous high-ranking officer at the poker table: General Patton.

After two terms in the White House, Ike's Vice President became the Republican nominee in 1960. After a lackluster campaign, Richard Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy by a 120,000 vote margin, or roughly 0.2% of the popular vote. Nixon's run for the White House would be put on hold for eight years. After LBJ stepped aside while the country was torn apart by the Vietnam War, Nixon won a landslide and finally took the White House in 1968. Nixon brilliantly orchestrated the conditions of his return to the foreground. Without underestimating the importance of some fortuitous twists and turns (the withdrawal of the race of President Johnson, following a disastrous primary in New Hampshire, and especially the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the Democratic front runner), the end result proved him right. On January 20, 1969, the most passionate poker player among the US Presidents was sworn in.

Nixon held an unrivaled passion for poker. Which played an important role in his career, both directly and indirectly. If he had not played poker during his military career, the Quaker Californian probably would have never played the game. And had he not developed poker skills, his approach to certain events or power struggle would probably have been different. Nixon himself admitted as much in 1983, during his famous series of interviews with the journalist Frank Gannon.

The story begins with Pearl Harbor, or more exactly eight months after the surprise attack by the Japanese. A graduate of Duke University, Nixon joined the Navy as Lieutenant-Commander. Serving on a supply ship in the Pacific Ocean, just off the Solomon Islands. To pass the time, Nixon played poker with his fellow sailors. Years later, he told reporters that “the stress of war and the oppressive monotony of my daily life made poker an irresistible entertainment, and I found it as instructive as it was entertaining and profitable.”

It was his friend, officer James Stewart, who first told him about 5-Card Stud. “He asked me: do you think there is a way to win every time? I answered with a piece of advice, telling him that if he did not think he had the best hand, it was best not to play it at all, and then I added that if he did that, he would probably fold three or four out of five hands and would be bored, and that I did not have the patience to do that.” But unlike Stewart, Nixon was a studious and persevering young man. “He was one of those people who never had to work hard to learn,” one of his former teachers later said, adding that “we told him something and he never forgot.” Immediately intrigued by the devilish aspect of the game, Nixon's zealously followed Stewart's every instruction: “To my great surprise, he did everything I told him, and he won much more than he himself could have ever imagined.”

A disciplined player, Nixon created a tight and “small ball” style which awed his companions. And when the cards themselves were less favorable, he showed a hint of opportunism and took advantage of the alcohol consumption of his associates. Night after night, he ended games with small profits. Sometimes $30, sometimes $60. It was never a huge win, but Nixon almost always booked a small gain. According to old friend Lester Wroble, “Dick never lost, and without being always the winner, he often ended up among the winners A few tens of dollars did not look like much, but he was winning that much day after day.” It must be said that unlike others at the table, he was motivated more from profit than pleasure. “He ended up sending a good bit of money to California,” said Stewart. “I do not know exactly how much, but something like $6,000 or $ 7,000”. Other sources point to gains of $3,000 to $10,000 over a two-year period in the Navy. These sums can seem relatively insignificant, but for the time they were substantial. With inflation, Nixon's winnings today would total anywhere from $40,000 to $143,000.

NixonDick
Tricky Dick funded his first run for office with poker winnings

But what was the real level of play of the future president? Several documents compiled by the Nixon Foundation give a beginning of an answer to this question, even if the opinions diverge. Some say that he was brilliant, others consider the praise greatly exaggerated. One of Nixon's friends at the time, Lieutenant James Udall, belonged to the former category: “(Nixon) was a good poker player, maybe the best we had seen at the time. He played cautiously but did not hesitate to take some risks when it was necessary; I remember seeing him bluffing another officer with a pair of twos for $ 1,500.”

An opinion that was later countered by Tip O'Neill, one of his opponents during games in the 1950s: “He saw himself as an excellent player, but he spoke too much and did not always play based on the cards he had. Above all, he knew how to use his higher rank (Editor's note: he was then vice-president) to his advantage at the table.”

However, Nixon was focused on ritual poker games during the war. In April 1944, Charles Lindbergh visited troops to boost the morale of the troops, but his mind was elsewhere. His thoughts did not stray, like those of his friends, to the beautiful nurse who accompanied America's most-famous pilot: “Nobody paid attention to him. We must say that we had not seen a woman for an eternity.” Instead of Lindbergh or the nurses, Nixon was focused on that evening's game. Some handpicked officers were offered to dine with Lindbergh, but Nixon politely declined the invitation: “It may seem incredible after the fact to refuse an opportunity to meet Lindbergh because of a card game. But our games were much more than a hobby, and in the long run we took them very seriously.”

After the war, Nixon played less often but still kept poker as a passion. What set him apart from other Presidents and their relationships with poker, was that Nixon used his poker winnings to finance his political career. “Poker gave Nixon the financial means to launch his career,” confirmed his biographer Stephen Ambrose. In fact, his first election campaign in California was largely funded by profits from gambling. And the investment payed off. In 1946, Nixon defeated Democrat Jerry Voorhis to win a seat in Congress. That was the first step in a long journey to the White House. At the time, Nixon also told anyone who was willing to listen that it was “essential to build the image of a winner” and that, for this purpose, he had to “beat someone.” The young wolf was already fiercely devoted to succeeding in the ultimate political competition.

Officially, Nixon did not play poker while President. Unofficially, his passion continued and occasionally gave rise to games with members of Congress. Most importantly, he regularly used his player experience in dealing with other leaders. “Poker gave him some lessons which, as a result, have proved invaluable and sometimes decisive in his career,” said his biographer. “He learned to take the measure of his opponents, to choose the right moment to hit, to simulate weaknesses in order to generate the right reaction, to throw in the towel at the right time.”

This analysis was shared by James McManus, who confirmed that his past as a player had “sometimes had a role in the political or diplomatic history” of the country.

Regardless, Nixon himself did not hide from poker's role in his view of politics. In some interviews, he explored the parallelism between poker and politics even further: “Poker helps. The Russians, of course, are chess players. I never understood chess, it's much more complicated, much more complex. But many of the things you do in poker are very useful in politics, and are very useful in foreign affairs. One of the problems you see in foreign affairs, particularly, especially dealing with great leaders abroad — particularly those who are adversaries — is the almost insatiable tendency of American politicians to put everything on the table, their inability to know when to bluff, when to call, and, above everything else, to be unpredictable. Unpredictably is the greatest asset or weapon that a leader could have of a major country. Unless he's unpredictable, he's going to find, he loses a great deal of his power.”

These Frank Underwood-worthy sayings echo another Nixon phrase, seven years before he came to power. When the United States and the Soviets were vehemently opposed in one of their most disturbing diplomatic conflicts, the so-called “Cuban Missile Crisis,” Nixon expressed a deep admiration for the charismatic leader of the Soviets: “There is no doubt, Khrushchev would have made a fantastic poker player.” Savvy moviegoers are sure to draw a parallel between this admission and the film Doctor Strangelove, whose director, Stanley Kubrick, was partially inspired by poker and game theory.

But in front of the great leaders of the world, how exactly did Nixon express his experience as a poker player? By his own admission, during negotiations with Russian and Chinese leaders, the President put his poker skills to the test. He regulated his breathing and adopted a real poker face. “When a man has gone through a crisis, even minor, he learns not to worry when his muscles stiffen, when his breathing accelerates, when his stomach knots ... He identifies these symptoms as natural signs of his body's preparation for battle.” Nixon connected this idea with a past experience: “For example, I learned in poker that those who hold good cards generally speak less and less audibly, while those who bluff speak more and louder.”

Beyond these little tricks, Richard Nixon was known to be a fine negotiator. He usually approached his diplomatic discussions by studying his opponents. But when he finally began truly negotiating, the Californian often took complete control of the discussion; like some players who want to win all the pots, he refused to let any negotiation slip from his grasp. Some see his permanent thirst for victory was what led to his demise in 1974 during the Watergate scandal. History will forever see Nixon as someone who was knocked out of office by the Watergate, instead of viewing him as the Phil Ivey of the Oval Office.

 

This article originally appeared in French on Club Poker original site.

Latest news
Thursday January 23, 2020 at 1:24 am
Brian Altman wins WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open, First player to win same event twice

Brian Altman made World Poker Tour history when he became the first player to win the same event twice. Altman shipped the 2015 WPT Lucky Hearts Open at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida and he just took down the 2020 WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open in a history victory. Altman faded a field of 843 players to win $482,636 and a seat into the season-ending Tournament of Champions.

Wednesday January 22, 2020 at 1:33 am
Telex
Aussie Millions Main Event Down to 37

Day 4 of the 2020 Aussie Millions Main Event is about to start with 37 remaining out of 820. First place pays out $1.85 million AUD. Nino Ullmann from Germany is the chipleader. Also still alive are Maning Loeser, Erik Seidel, Bryce Yockey, Fabian Quoss, Randy Lew, Pete Chen, and Mike Del Vecchio. They intend to play down to a final table. can stream the action on PokerGO.

Sunday January 19, 2020 at 12:30 am
Telex
PokerStars Half Price Sunday Million

This Sunday will include special half-price tournaments at PokerStars. That's right the Half Price Sunday Million is only $54.50 this week for half the usual buy-in, plus the usual guaranteed prize pool of $1 million is still in play. There's also a half-price version of Sunday Warm-Up which will cost $107.50. The Half Price Sunday Storm will be just $5.50. Click here for more details.

Friday January 17, 2020 at 9:38 pm
2020 Aussie Millions: Farid Jattin wins 25K Challenge for $983,646 AUD

Farid Jattin outlasted 169 runners to win the $25K Challenge at the 2020 Aussie Millions hosted at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia. Jattin chopped heads up with George Wolff to win $983,646 AUD or approximately $679K USD. The final table also included Steve O'Dwyer, Sam Greenwood, Masato Yokosawa, Jack Sinclair, and Kenny Hallaert.

Thursday January 16, 2020 at 2:00 am
WSOP announces 'Value Menu' bracelet events for 2020 WSOP

The World Series of Poker announced a special round of value menu events at the 2020 WSOP that include buy-ins of $1,000 or less. A total of 25 bracelet events will be hosted at the Rio Casino this summer that have a modest and affordable buy-in. A baker's dozen of events, 13 in total, at the 2020 WSOP will have buy-ins $888 or less including the $400 Colossus and numerous $500 buy-in deepstacked bracelet events.

Wednesday January 15, 2020 at 3:53 am
Dustin Schoonover wins WSOP Circuit Choctaw Durant and first ring

The World Series of Poker Circuit's latest stop hit up the Oklahoma/Dallas area for the 2020 WSOP Circuit Choctaw Durant. Dustin Schoonover outlasted 1,065 runners in the $1,700 buy-in Main Event to win $272,846. The Choctaw Durant final table also included John Skrovan, Brant Jolly, Mark Newton, Christopher Staats, Allen Brivic, Montana Bills, Austin Lewis, and Trung Pham.

Tuesday January 14, 2020 at 4:48 am
Chance Kornuth leads final table at 2020 WPT Gardens Poker Championship

Season XVIII of the World Poker Tour continued with the 2020 WPT Gardens Poker Championship that attracted 257 runners for their annual big tournament every January at the Hawaiian Gardens just outside Los Angeles. The 2020 WPT Gardens final table of six is set to resume on March 31, 2020 at the HyperX eSports Arena at the Luxor Casino in Las Vegas. Chance Kornuth bagged up the lead at the final table that also included Tuan Phan, Qing Liu, Straton Wilhelm, Jonathan Cohen, and Markus Gonsalves.

Friday January 10, 2020 at 2:09 pm
Interview: Martin Harris, Author of Poker and Pop Culture

D and B Poker published "Poker and Pop Culture: Telling the Story of America's Favorite Card Game" by Martin Harris. During the poker boom, Harris authored a popular blog titled Hard-Boiled Poker. Harris quit his job as an English professor and went to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker for numerous outlets. Over the last 15 years, Harris compiled a collection of essays that became the genesis of Poker and Pop Culture. We're fortunate that Harris sat down with us for a fun interview.

Friday January 10, 2020 at 3:00 am
2020 WSOP releases $10,000 Championship events schedule

A total of 17 championship caliber events with at least a buy-in of $10,000 are on the schedule for the 2020 World Series of Poker at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas. The WSOP released the dates for all $10K championships including the $50,000 Poker Players Championship, $10,000 Main Event, and the $10,000 WSOP.com Online NL Championship, which is the online $10K event hosted online.

Thursday January 2, 2020 at 2:15 pm
Brazilian pro Felipe 'Mojave' Ramos joins GGPoker

The new calendar year of 2020 was barely a day old when Felipe 'Mojave' Ramos announced the news on his social media feed that he will be joining GGPoker as their latest ambassador. Mojave joins the likes of Daniel Negreanu and Bryn Kenney as ambassadors. Mojave spent time as the top ranked Brazilian and Latin American online player with over $2.6 million in career tournament earnings.

Friday December 27, 2019 at 10:36 pm
2019: The Big Stories, Part 2

The year in review for 2019 continues with the second part that covers June through December. The World Series of Poker celebrated its 50th anniversary with a blowout at the Rio in Las Vegas. Hossein Ensan from Germany won the second-largest Main Event in WSOP history and he banked $10 million. PokerStars also announced the 2020 PSPC, which will take place in Barcelona in August 2020. PokerStars was also sold to Flutter (aka Paddy Power/Betfair). The Mike Postle cheating scandal also broke after he got caught cheating on the Stones Gambling Hall live stream.

Thursday December 26, 2019 at 5:49 pm
2019: The Big Stories, Part 1

We're quickly approaching the end of 2019 and the end of the decade. So much happened in 2019, we have a special two-part series highlighting the best and most interesting stories of 2019. In the first half of 2019, some of the big stories involved Chino Rheem winning the 2019 PCA and Spain's Roman Colillas taking down the inaugural PSPC in the Bahamas for $5.1 million. Bryn Kenney shipped the largest Aussie Millions in history. Just before the WSOP, Daniel Negreanu stepped down after 12 years as a sponsored pro and ambassador for PokerStars. Gianluca 'Tankanza' Speranza won the SCOOP Main Event in back-to-back years.

Wednesday December 25, 2019 at 1:28 pm
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidaze!

From everyone here at Club Poker, we want to wish you a joyful and bountiful holiday season. Merry Christmas and do not forget that the Winter Series kicks off today on PokerStars with 242 tournaments and $50 million in guaranteed prize pools. The new year is just around the corner, so start thinking about your 2020 poker resolutions.

Tuesday December 24, 2019 at 10:32 pm
Oklahoma Johnny Hale passes away at 92

Oklahoma Johnny Hale -- an old school poker player, author, and gambler -- passed away at the age of 92. Oklahoma Johnny worked diligently to bring players into the game of poker over the last several decades. He's also the author of the 1999 book "The Life and Times of a Gentleman Gambler: Oklahoma Johnny Hale on Poker and Las Vegas".

Free tournaments and added prizes

The Club Poker organizes freerolls and special tournaments with added prizes.
To qualify for free, register on our poker partners websites: