Most people know about the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. It wrapped up just weeks ago with nine players remaining in the Main Event and numerous players walking away with extra cash and a snazzy WSOP gold bracelet.
Meanwhile, across the United States, another competition has been getting underway. It has far fewer players than the WSOP or any event hosted by the World Poker Tour or European Poker Tour, but there is much more at stake than cash. Each is fighting hard to be the last player standing, the one who will be crowned the 45th American President.
Only one player will emerge victorious in the 2016 Presidential Poker Open.
The 2016 Presidential Poker Open lasts much longer than most poker tournaments. Instead of several days, the PPO started as soon as the first players brought their money to the tables, and it will run for well over a year. And while most poker events end the registration period after a few hours or one day, the political race allows late entries throughout the first year and beyond, without penalties or diminished chip stacks.
The PPO happens every four years but typically finds only enough players for a single-table tournament. However, the entries thus far in 2015 have exceeded expectations, and each brings a unique personality and set of skills to the table. They all possess the requirements to do well – skill mixed with a certain quota of luck, stamina and energy, and the ability to read other players and bluff when necessary. But only one will be able to pull all of those qualities together, build a solid relationship with the fans, and bring it all in for the win in November 2016.
As of today, there are 22 players in the tournament, five identifying as Democrats and the remainder wearing logos indicating affiliation with the GOP. That number includes Donald Trump, even though the Republican Party hasn’t exactly been advertising that particular sponsorship. In terms familiar to many in poker, Trump can be categorized as a “Friend of GOP” instead of an official GOP Team Pro.
Here is the official lineup, listed in order of entry into the PPO:
|Ted Cruz||Republican||March 23, 2015|
|Rand Paul||Republican||April 7, 2015|
|Hillary Clinton||Democratic||April 12, 2015|
|Marco Rubio||Republican||April 13, 2015|
|Ben Carson||Republican||May 3, 2015|
|Carly Fiorina||Republican||May 4, 2015|
|Mike Huckabee||Republican||May 5, 2015|
|Bernie Sanders||Democratic||May 26, 2015|
|Rick Santorum||Republican||May 27, 2015|
|George Pataki||Republican||May 28, 2015|
|Martin O’Malley||Democratic||May 30, 2015|
|Lindsey Graham||Republican||June 1, 2015|
|Lincoln Chafee||Democratic||June 3, 2015|
|Rick Perry||Republican||June 4, 2106|
|Jeb Bush||Republican||June 15, 2015|
|Donald Trump||Republican||June 16, 2015|
|Bobby Jindal||Republican||June 24, 2015|
|Chris Christie||Republican||June 30, 2015|
|Jim Webb||Democratic||July 2, 2015|
|Scott Walker||Republican||July 13, 2015|
|John Kasich||Republican||July 21, 2015|
|Jim Gilmore||Republican||July 30, 2015|
Two of the players are the clear favorites with the media, having been predicted to win since before tournament play even began. Hillary Clinton, whose husband was the victor in back-to-back events in the 1990s, played last year and finished in third place, but as any poker player knows, a loss is a loss. The devastating elimination by Barack Obama stung for several years, but she returned to the tournament this year with a new strategy and much more confidence. She also has some popular backers who have contributed greatly to her buy-in:
Her forecasted heads-up opponent is Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two legendary players in the game. It is not yet clear if he has the same skills as his family members, but name recognition has played to his benefit in the game thus far.
As in any prestigious tournament, there is one wild card. Some may say this event has two. Bernie Sanders was an underdog who has risen in the chip counts to become a strong contender in the race, but the truly wild – unrestrained, unpredictable, and sometimes uncouth – card is Donald Trump. He is no stranger to the gambling world, but he has never actually played in the event before. And because of his unconventional approach to the game, he is one of the chip leaders.
Sanders and Trump also garner much attention when involved in a hand. Sanders consistently surpasses expectations for his poker abilities but rarely bluffs, always seeming to play his cards expertly. His gray hair may fly haphazardly as he positions himself over the table to view all of the cards and calculate his plays, but he absorbs all information from his opponents and wins nearly every hand he plays. Sanders has even shown the ability to give poker advice when others are playing hands:
Trump, on the other hand, seems to know little about the game. While his hair similarly attracts as much attention as his game face, the brain underneath is rarely calculating pot odds or evaluating opponents. But despite knowing little about poker strategy, he seems to win pots consistently enough to build a significant chip stack and lead the entire GOP contingent.
Last week, the Democratic players decided to sit out a few hands while the Republican candidates were filmed at the tables for a televised portion of the tournament.
The seven with the lowest stacks battled in several hands at one table, and Carly Fiorina won the majority of the hands. More of the fans on the rail decided to support her and buy pieces of her action, and she gained ground in the tournament, noting all the while that she is the best player to beat someone like Clinton in a heads-up match.
The featured table featured the 10 GOP players with the most chips. One of the biggest hands of the night happened when Chris Christie and Rand Paul played against each other. Christie started the hand with some solid play, but Paul challenged him with a big reraise on the flop. Christie three-bet on the turn and commented about Paul “blowing hot air,” but Paul raised with a speech about Christie not fully understanding the rules of the game and multi-tabling online with reigning tournament champion Barack Obama. The rail went crazy. Christie then bet big on the river with a comment about only remembering hugs from the victims of a terrorist attack, to which Paul rolled his eyes, pushed all-in, and doubled through Christie.
Another big hand of the night came when Trump made a play and was challenged by one of the tournament directors. The woman objected to Trump’s use of his chips to spell out derogatory terms about women. He responded with a bad joke and then dismissed the director’s concerns as petty. He insisted he can’t be concerned with “politically correct” interpretations of the rules.
Later, Trump captured the attention of the rail again by claiming that the structure of the tournament is faulty and could be made better if the staff would listen to him, noting he was the first to make an issue of it. He proceeded to insult the media as dishonest, tournament directors as stupid, and poker dealers as stupid. When pressed about the details of the perfect tournament structure he proposed, he said it was good and legal and would help take poker back. The fans on the rail were silenced, and Trump stopped talking because he tired of saying the same words over and over.
Somehow, Trump kept winning hands after the cameras were long gone, despite reports that he continued to insult the women in the room, fired his poker coach, and kept speaking without saying anything.
Exact chip counts at the PPO have been tough to obtain at any given point in the tournament, as the players are reticent to allow reporters to see all of their chips. Many of the competitors also stack them erratically, and since few tournament rules are set in stone, some players even keep chips in their pockets.
The reporters at Rasmussen provided us with these numbers for the GOP candidates only as of August 10, representing the percentage of chips in play belonging to each player:
The Huffington Post compiled the most recent information from Morning Consult, and the Democratic players were showing these chip percentages as of August 9:
Keep in mind that the percentages are simply estimates, and some of the chips are in the pot at the time the polls are taken. Those undecided chips may be distributed in many ways. For example, Pataki shows 0% of the chips in play, but he may simply be involved in a hand or have so few chips that the reporter missed them.
In addition, players can still enter the game, as registration remains open for several more months. A man named Joe Biden has reportedly been considering an entry, though he played in a past tournament and made some embarrassing mistakes. He is currently consulting with potential backers.
Join us for our next 2016 Presidential Poker Open report on August 26. We will report the latest and biggest hands, table talk, and chip leaders, and we will look deeper into the backers who put some of the players into the tournament in the first place.