What poker can teach us

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As a writer, professor, and community organizer in the early days of his elective career, Barack Obama was greeted coolly by some of his fellow legislators when he arrived in Springfield in 1998 to take a seat in the Illinois Senate. How was this ink-stained, poshly educated greenhorn supposed to get along with Chicago ward heelers and conservative downstate farmers? By playing poker with them, of course.

“When it turned out that I could sit down at [a bar] and have a beer and watch a game or go out for a round of golf or get a poker game going,” Obama recalled, “I probably confounded some of their expectations.” He was referring to the regular Wednesday night game, called the Committee Meeting, that he and another freshman Democrat started. While the stakes were kept low, the bottom line politically was that poker helped Obama break the ice with people he needed to work with in the legislature. His favorite physical games were basketball and golf, but he seems to have understood that, as a networking tool, poker is a more natural pastime.

James McManus teaches a course on the literature of poker at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Writing for The Chronicle Review, he says:

Instead of walking down fairways 40 yards apart from each other, throwing elbows in the paint, or quietly hunting pheasant or muskie, poker buddies are elbow to elbow all night, competing and drinking and talking.

Bill Gates even credits some of Microsoft’s success to the regular late night poker schools he and Steve Balmer set up. In The Road Ahead, Gates writes: “In poker, a player collects different pieces of information—who’s betting boldly, what cards are showing, what this guy’s pattern of betting and bluffing is—and then crunches all that data together to devise a plan for his own hand. I got pretty good at this kind of information processing.”

As Walter Matthau drily put it, poker “exemplifies the worst aspects of capitalism that have made our country so great.” Read the full article at The Chronicle Review …