Obama's future? It's in the cards!

How much can you learn about a man from his weekly poker game?

By Tim Grieve
Published September 24, 2007 9:55PM (UTC)
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On a slow news Monday -- raise your hand if you care that Sen. Evan Bayh just endorsed Hillary Clinton for president -- the Associated Press shines a penetrating light on Barack Obama by going deep inside the weekly card games he played while serving in the Illinois Senate.

How much can you really tell about a man from how he plays poker?


Plenty, apparently -- especially if you're looking for the same sort of platitudes one could apply to just about any moderately successful political figure.

But don't just take our word for it. Here's the AP:

"By his poker buddies' accounts, Obama is careful and focused. He's not easily distracted and doesn't give away his intentions unless it's to his advantage. He's not prone to taking risky chances, preferring to play it safe. But he's also serious and competitive: When he plays, he plays to win."


Funny, we thought Clinton was the one who was in it to win it. But we digress. The AP continues:

"Obama, then a state senator ... became known as a cautious player with a good poker face, someone who paid more attention to the game than to the chatter and laughter that accompanied it. Obama studied the odds carefully, friends say. If he had strong cards, he'd play. If he didn't, he would fold rather than bet good money on the chance the right card would show up when he needed it. That reputation meant that he often succeeded when he decided to bluff."

No, wait, it goes on:


"More than one lawmaker teased Obama about his careful style of play. 'I always used to kid him that the only fiscally conservative bone in his body I ever saw was at the poker table with his own money,' said state Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican from the central Illinois city of Bloomington. 'I said if he would be half as conservative with taxpayer dollars, the state would be a lot better off.'"

The AP notes it's "illegal to play poker for money" -- careful Obama has a felonious streak! -- but that the cops seldom break down the doors for low-stakes games like the ones Obama played.


What games would those be? The AP has the telling details on that, too: "The group didn't always stick to traditional kinds of poker. They often played variations that resembled blackjack or split the pot between the highest and lowest hands. They even played a version that awarded half the pot based on a random card."


See, we knew there was something weird about that kid.


The AP goes all in to tie it all together:

"Obama is taking a different kind of gamble in seeking the Democratic presidential nomination after just two years in Washington. Showing the same analytical style he brought to the card table, Obama weighed his options for months before deciding to run. Now that he's in, the image he's cultivating is a match for the one described by his poker buddies -- friendly and relaxed yet still serious. And he clearly brings the same competitive streak to the campaign, where he has raised nearly $60 million and challenged front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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