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Months after the tournament began, the first players finally bust out of the 2016 Presidential Poker Open. But with registration still open and one competitor still considering a buy-in, anything can still happen with Republican- and Democratic-sponsored players.

When we last reported from the PPO, Donald Trump was unsurprisingly still the top story with an ever-growing chip lead over his fellow GOP players. He cried “gotcha” when he flubbed a hand, Hillary Clinton apologized for gaming improprieties, Mike Huckabee defended a dealer who wouldn’t push pots to players winning with two kings or two queens, and Bush and Trump played a huge hand that ended in a split pot.

Just days after our last report, short-stacked Rick Perry busted from the tournament. He struggled for weeks, especially after one of his most important coaches left him to work with Trump. Perry continued to suffer from financial problems and an ever-decreasing staff, so he announced that he officially suspended his bid on September 11.

And as this report was being assembled, Scott Walker busted as well. The most recent debate put Walker at the featured table, but his answers to important questions garnered no support from his railbirds. In fact, most left him altogether to support other players. Chip counts showed that he continued to lose ground, and he finally pushed the last of his chips all-in and busted on September 21.

Chip Percentages

The CNN/ORC poll from September 19 provided the Republican post-debate percentages of chips in play.

The Republicans were led by Trump, as had been the case for quite some time, and Fiorina jumped into second place from her featured table performance. Ben Carson was relegated to third. And several players did not even have enough chips to warrant a percentage point.

Donald Trump 24%
Carly Fiorina 15%
Ben Carson 14%
Marco Rubio 11%
Jeb Bush 9%
Ted Cruz 6%
Mike Huckabee 6%
Rand Paul 4%
Chris Christie 3%
John Kasich 2%
Rick Santorum 1%
Bobby Jindal Not enough chips to register
George Pataki Not enough chips to register
Lindsey Graham Not enough chips to register
Jim Gilmore Not enough chips to register

The players sporting the Democratic logo vary in chip percentages depending on the poll. Some of the more recent Iowa and New Hampshire polls show Bernie Sanders leading Clinton, but the last ABC/Washington Post numbers from September 10 put Clinton firmly in the top spot. And Joe Biden continues to poll in third place despite not yet having entered the tournament.

Hillary Clinton 42%
Bernie Sanders 24%
Joe Biden 21%
Jim Webb 2%
Martin O’Malley 1%
Lincoln Chafee 1%


Prior to the debate, quite a few Republican-sponsored players decided to take a shot at late-night television talk shows. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon tended to host the most notable appearances, probably because Fallon does a good impression of Trump.

First, he put his impression up against Trump himself:

Several days later, Fallon did the same but in a skit with Clinton:

Clinton has been putting forth much more of a concerted effort to garner railbird support. When polls began to show Sanders pulling ahead of Clinton in the polls, she went out of her way to follow up her email scandal apology with a slew of interviews and appearances. She talked to the railbirds between hands and tried to show interest in the personal lives of the dealers and tournament staff. She even, unfortunately, tried to do the Whip and the Nae Nae.

Let’s just leave that there and move on.


During the debate, the Republicans began to play many more hands against each other. Not surprisingly, Trump was in most of those hands. He got into verbal scuffles with everyone from Rand Paul to Chris Christie, but the most-discussed were the words between Trump and Fiorina.

Trump tried to come across as a professional player, someone who knew the rhyme and reason for every hand he played, but he didn’t exactly succeed. The railbirds continued to cheer for him from the sidelines of the tournament, but they cheered for statements like this:

  • “We have a lot of really bad dudes” in the tournament.
  • About Fiorina: “I think she’s got a beautiful face, and I think she’s a beautiful woman.”
  • With regard to players from other countries: “We will move them out. The great ones will come back; the good ones will come back.”
  • His proposed Secret Service name: “Humble.”

Bush took the opportunity to bash Trump for bringing Bush’s wife into a previous discussion, pointing her out on the rail and demanding that Trump apologize. He declined, of course. Bush also made sure to take control of some of the hands, get involved more than in previous levels, and even try to show his “fun” side. When asked about his Secret Service name, he replied in response to Trump’s constant jabs at Bush, “Eveready. It’s very high energy, Donald.” And then they exchanged a very awkward low-five:

Chris Christie took some of the attention away from Trump, Fiorina, and Bush by trying to refocus on the hands. Several times, he pointed out that the railbirds were more important than the egos of the players, and even asked Trump and Fiorina to “stop this childish back and forth between you.”

Overall, CNN’s broadcast of the action attracted 23 million viewers in all, setting a record.

The hottest issue of the past two weeks, however, started with a question from a railbird at a Trump town hall. The railbird was likely drunk and didn’t seem to know much about poker… or people… or the world in general. Regardless, he told Trump that the problem with poker is the Muslims, that the reigning champion is one, and then asked how to get rid of the training camps for those new Muslim players.  Trump’s overall response at the time and later on Twitter was interesting.

Ben Carson then jumped into the hand and moved nearly all of his chips into the pot by saying he doesn’t believe a Muslim should ever be the champion. His coach then reiterated that Carson only played that Muslim card because of his “love for America.” The hand was still ongoing at the time of this writing, so it is unclear if he will lose chips because of it. Some railbirds are insisting that he should withdraw from the tournament, but Carson seemed to have no intention of doing so.


Tough Hand of the Week:

Fiorina was winning hands and verbally smacking down opponents from the night of the featured table and moving forward. But one of the hands became a bit sticky.

During the debate, she expressed her disdain for Planned Parenthood by noting that she saw a video with a fully-formed fetus on the poker table, “its heart beating, legs kicking” while another player allegedly discussed harvesting the brain. No one else at the table or on the rail had ever heard of such a thing in the videos that had made the news. She insisted that the cards in her hand were valid.

The poker media talked to the tournament staff about the legitimacy of the hand, noting that it was not possible for her to be holding the “baby of hearts” because the card simply didn’t exist. Fiorina insisted, however, that she held the card and it was up to the other players to disprove that she held it.

Finally, the other players folded out of the hand because she refused to show her cards. Poker media members tried to push for transparency with her claims, as they had never seen the card either, but everyone got so tired of the situation that they dropped it and shipped the pot to Fiorina.

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill


Preview: Democratic players will increase their visibility leading up to their first featured table, scheduled to be broadcast on CNN in mid-October. And reports indicate that Biden is still considering playing the game.


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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.