Poker and the President

You hope against hope your hands aren’t shaking as you toss in the chips. It’s been a hard night. You’re a good player but that doesn’t change that everyone else at the table has a bankroll that makes yours look laughable. Now, you’ve got a good hand… a good hand. It’s not a great hand but you’re hoping to at least recover some of your losses.

Things start out okay but there’s one guy that just won’t fold. He matches you chip for chip and your gut begins to send tremors over you. What could he have? You can’t imagine his hand is better than yours but for the love of all that’s good he just won’t fold.

You can feel your heart beating in your chest and you’re starting to really worry. Finally, you throw the next bet out, and you wait. The man calls and your mind is filled with trepidation. You turn your cards over and take a deep breath. The man turns his cards over with a smile.

Nothing.

He’s got nothing!

He smiles at you and tells you it’s your pot. You realize suddenly that the leader of the free world just handed you a pot for no reason other than you’re his guest.

My guess is you probably didn’t know a number of U.S. presidents were very familiar with poker. Sure, you can imagine a game in the white house with smoke thick in the air and people responsible for the lives of millions blowing off a little bit of steam in order to be more effective when decisions come that are more important than checking, raising or folding. Still, did you know we’ve had a few presidents who made poker more than a passing fancy?

President Harry Truman wrote (long before he was president) that he liked to play cards and dance. That’s the first record we have of him as a poker player but it’s by no means the last. In fact, his case of poker chips is in the Truman Presidential Library!

Though we’re not sure exactly when he started playing, we know for sure Truman played regularly in the 1920s. By then, he was a county judge and he actually headed up a club across from the county courthouse. He played with the club all the way until 1935 when he left to become a senator. Evidently, he was hard to knock out, eager to see your hole cards. We can only imagine his game got more effective by the time Franklin Roosevelt died and Truman became president in his place.

Harry Truman Poker Party

Stories are told of poker outings where Truman would take a group of guests out on a Friday to Sunday journey on the presidential yacht, Williamsburg. There, he and his guests would play for hours and the chips would fly. Though he didn’t advertise his play to the American public, he became well known for his play, and even ended up taking money from other world leaders. Historians tell us he ended up winning a great deal of Winston Churchill’s money!

There are stories of Truman intentionally losing pots to help out people he knew were in over their heads financially. Truman was once quoted as saying he tried to live his life to make sure nobody left his company unless he was happier than when he arrived. As far as we know, even when he won he made sure everyone left happy.

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About the Author

W.J. Wright played his first game of poker at the age of eleven. In the late eighties he started playing for money and hasn't looked back. You can usually find him hiding his hole cards while sipping scotch and considering which player and which hand will end up in his next writing project.

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