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You Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em

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A long time ago (way back during the 2008 presidential campaign; it seems like a lifetime), I wrote a blog entry about an article I’d read in Time. The article was about the nominees’ gambling styles. There was some commentary that it was an irrelevant and foolish fluff piece, but I disagreed at the time, and I still do.

John McCain apparently loves craps. One of the riskiest games you can play in the casino, the only strategy involved in craps is how and where to place your bets, and the odds of what you will roll; the roll of the die is completely random, and whether you win or lose is completely dependent on your rolls and those of others. It is a game of high risk and high reward; or high losses. You can win big, but with one roll you can also lose everything you have on the table. It’s a definite rush if you’re winning, but the next thing you know, you’re wiped out and walking away.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, is a poker player. Poker is a more deliberative game, in which a smart player can go far. As with all gambling endeavors, there is risk involved, but a savvy player will know not only the odds of getting certain hands, they will bet accordingly and wisely. A big part of poker strategy also involves bluffing and doing your best to not give away your hand, whether good or bad. Apparently, he is pretty good at it.

I was reminded of this article and my subsequent thoughts on it by the events of the past week and our mission to kill Bin Laden. Many articles referred to the gamble the president took, and one journalist ran into him at the correspondent’s dinner and said there was “no tell.” Every poker player looks for the other players’ tells, and tries to not have one or at least hide it as best they can.

The president took a calculated risk with this mission. I’ve read that the certainty that Bin Laden was in that particular compound varied from 60-90%. The risks involved were great here, more along the lines of craps, rather than poker. A failed mission would have been disastrous for the military members involved, for the president, and for his foreign policy credibility. A successful one would — well, we saw what it did, didn’t we? The congratulations were grudging and in some cases nonexistent, but overall, no one could dispute that the death of Osama Bin Laden was a good thing for our country, for our world, and yes, for the president.

Still, the risks were calculable, and based on years of intelligence gathering, the president did indeed go all-in. He bet not only on the accuracy of the information gathered by various intelligence agencies, he bet on the talents, training, and sheer gutsiness of the military team involved. He also may have gambled on his second term as president.

He won big. He won in a raking-in-the-pot sort of way. There will always be those who disagree with his policies, but it’s hard not to recognize and admit that in this case, he was a cool customer who took a big chance and walked away a winner. We’re a long way away from the 2012 election, but this particular gamble may pay off in spades. Or as Congressman Anthony Weiner might say, “Aces!”

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About Beth Anne Riches

  • jamminsue

    Gambling with lives and US status at this time is irresponsible. We have enough of those people in Congress. It would have been MUCH BETTER if we had captured him and brought him to an international court for charges and each country wronged getting a chance to speak. Criminalizing and showing him helpless would have been so much better for the United State’s long-term international status. I am a liberal, and a patriot, yet think what happened was the wrong action. Capturing him would have been a good thing. Killing him was not.

  • Clavos

    Capturing him would have been a good thing. Killing him was not.

    But it was satisfying.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    jamminsue –

    I’m quite liberal myself – and it certainly was best that bin Laden died when and where he did. I didn’t celebrate his death, just as I don’t celebrate executions of serial rapists who richly deserve such executions, but it was necessary and it was right.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Beth –

    I agree – he’s a poker player, and I’d hate to face off against him. Anyone who watched the timing of his release of the birth certificate could see that he’s got a rare sense of timing and – as you pointed out – no visible tells.

    Not only that, he can multitask – as can be seen by his attention to the bin Laden operation at the same time as responding to the tornado damage in Alabama, the ongoing budget battle, the birther nonsense, and various social functions…

    …in addition to squeezing in nine holes of golf. And anybody who thinks that taking a bit of time off to clear one’s mind isn’t absolutely necessary (as opposed to taking nearly one-third of the presidency off as Dubya did) needs to learn a bit about human nature.

  • Totally agreed, Glenn. It amazes me that so many seem to find his overseas travels and state dinners to be inappropriate. That’s kind of what Presidents do, you know?