Poker and Our Presidents – Part II

By George Epstein
August 19, 2021

We continue our discussion of American presidents who enjoyed playing poker and likely contributed to the notion regarding poker as our national pastime. In Part I, we focused on some of our earlier presidents, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman.

Succeeding Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower became our 34th president after leading the allies to victory in World War II. Eisenhower had learned to play poker as a youth growing up in Kansas, Missouri. He called it his “favorite indoor sport.”

At West Point, he routinely beat all comers. After graduating, he continued to play while he worked his way up the Army chain of command. But, he had an unfortunate experience that moved him to avoid the game after leaving the service.

Eisenhower’s successor, President John F. Kennedy, preferred bridge. On the other hand, our 36th president, Lyndon B. Johnson, was a great fan of the game of poker and much enjoyed playing. It is said that he once won a sports car from Ronald Reagan in a high-stakes game.

Eisenhower’s VP, Richard Nixon, was perhaps the most studious poker-playing president ever – our 37th president. Nixon became proficient at poker while serving in the Navy during WWII. He used his winnings to fund his first Congressional campaign. Enamored with poker, Nixon turned down dinner with famed flying pioneer Charles Lindbergh since he was hosting a poker game that night. Five-card stud was his favorite game.

He played poker throughout his political career, and he loved bluffing. One of Nixon’s greatest political triumphs came early in his career when he called the bluff of suspected spy Alger Hiss. But later, “Tricky Dick” failed to bluff his way out of Watergate, eventually “folding” as the only president to resign from office.

Our 44th president, Barack Obama lists poker among his hobbies, although more has been made of his poker exploits prior to being elected. It helped him network early in his career, making favorable connections.

After being elected to the to the Illinois state senate, Obama played in a weekly low-stakes game with fellow state senators which likely aided his rise to the national stage. It also served as an escape from the legislative grind, much like playing at some of the best online blackjack sites can serve as a welcome escape from the tedious workday grind. The games involved participants from both sides of the aisle – Democrats and Republicans, enabling Obama and others to develop relationships over the poker table that proved beneficial when involved in negotiations in the Senate. He was a fairly tight player. With that image, he was able to run an occasional bluff. His “stone face” also helped.

Apparently, he played much less poker after becoming our president. However, he did reveal that he carries a “lucky poker chip” given to him by a voter while campaigning back in 2007. Obama was quick to add he wasn’t superstitious, but carries the chip (and other keepsakes) as a reminder of those he’s met.

Donald Trump, our 45th president, is quite unique in many ways. While he’s known for his past casino ownership (including the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City), he rarely plays poker. He has, however, often appeared in their advertisements in poker magazines. Trump has been quoted: “My life has been a big poker game, and it’s coming out nicely.”

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George Epstein

After a long and productive career as a leader in the aerospace industry, upon his retirement in the 1990s, George Epstein chose poker as his “second career.” George has been widely recognized for his many significant accomplishments and contributions to our society. These include pioneering and innovations in various materials, testing and manufacturing technologies for […]

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