The marriage of political advocacy and poker wouldn’t surprise close observers of both; indeed, the two zero-sum games are really two sides of the same chip. As esteemed political prognosticator and poker savant Nate Silver told me, “politics and poker share the feature of being both very prosaic and very poetic”: Building your chip stack by grinding with careful mathematical calculations is akin to developing a sound get-out-the-vote effort through micro-targeted polling and door-to-door canvassing; riding an electric run of great cards and lucky flops is as thrilling as being uplifted by a gifted political orator. Of course, Silver—who poetically surged to near the top of the of the leaderboard on Day 1 of the Little One event, only to meet a prosaic bustout on Day 2—concedes that poker is the “more refreshing” of the two contests: “It’s pure, undistilled competition, with no intrigue, no B.S.”
There’s also no disputing that the two games require similar skill sets. A career in politics could in fact prepare someone quite well for a life at the poker table. Consider:
• Serving up fiery, red-meat orations at partisan rallies or stump-speaking amid hostile, heckling crowds at open events can help a poker player perfect the art of projecting confidence… or alternatively, vulnerability… and shape a poker face to confuse opponents as to the strength of any particular hand.
• Retail campaigning—the hand-shaking, back-slapping, and baby-kissing—enabling someone to observe, listen to, and really understand people, can be employed powerfully in a game in which you have to read the strength of your opponents’ hands by their facial expressions and body language.
• Late-night, smoke-filled, back-room, legislative negotiations—tests of endurance and concentration—provide invaluable practice for sitting long hours at tables with adversaries who’d say or do anything to provoke you or otherwise knock you off your calculated strategy.
• Waiting out filibuster blockades, partisan stall tactics, and special-interest foot-dragging—to win even the smallest of policy victories—can equip anyone with the resolve to withstand days of numbing boredom at the poker table, and to resist all temptations to take risky gambits that could send the player to the rail.