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At first glance, one might think that the 2016 Presidential Poker Open is in the later stages of play, as news of the candidates is frequent, heated, and often intense. But alas, the tournament still has more than one year until a winner is declared. The action is still in the early levels.

When we last checked in,  Donald Trump was losing a bit of his substantial lead over his Republican-sponsored rivals, Jeb Bush was walking back comments about a mass shooting at an Oregon college, and Hillary Clinton was spoofing herself on Saturday Night Live.

Since then, the Democrats took seats at the featured table for the first time, as a CNN debate gave them each a chance to show off their poker skills in front of a national audience. Not only did everyone get a better idea of each of the five players, but a sixth one emerged. It turns out that Lawrence Lessig actually entered the tournament as a Democratic player on September 6, but he had yet to play any hands. In fact, he was so quiet in the tournament that he wasn’t even invited to the Democrats’ table for the debate.

Oh, here he is!


Lessig’s objection to being left out of the televised play created more attention around this new player than all of his attempts to be noticed in the month prior.

Chip Counts/Percentages

That brings us to the latest big polls that reflect the chip percentages of the Republican and Democrat players. NBC teamed up with Survey Monkey to offer some numbers on October 15. These percentages do not include Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party, nor any of the Libertarian or Constitution Party players.

Despite several of the Republican candidates still polling with so few chips that they were not even counted, there are still 15 people vying for the GOP place in the final showdown. Donald Trump remains on top, Ben Carson closes in, and no one else even comes close to their numbers at this point. The latest from NBC News is charted here:

Donald Trump 28%
Dr. Ben Carson 23%
Marco Rubio 9%
Jeb Bush 5%
Ted Cruz 6%
Carly Fiorina 6%
Mike Huckabee 3%
John Kasich 3%
Rand Paul 2%
Chris Christie 2%
Bobby Jindal 1%
Rick Santorum 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 attention on the Democratic players last week was the subject of some controversy, as TV reporters claimed Hillary Clinton emerged victorious and Internet polls showing Bernie Sanders on top. However, the NBC News poll does show Clinton maintaining a substantial lead. And, of course, Joe Biden is still polling high in spite of absolutely no announcements regarding his potential entry into the 2016 PPO.

Hillary Clinton 45%
Bernie Sanders 29%
Joe Biden 18%
Jim Webb 1%
Martin O’Malley Not enough chips to register
Lincoln Chafee Not enough chips to register
Lawrence Lessig Not enough chips to register

There is a footnote to this chart, courtesy of Jim Webb. His performance at the featured table was ridiculed by many viewers because he insisted throughout the show that he wasn’t given enough hands to play. The hands in which Webb did participate were thought by many to be poorly played and not up to the standards set by the Democratic Party.

Webb took to social media in the following days to assert that the action was rigged. He claimed that Clinton and Sanders each got nearly 30 minutes of air time while he was only featured for 15 minutes. The Hill reported this Monday that Webb was prepared to ditch his Democratic sponsorship and play the rest of the tournament as an independent. And on Tuesday, Webb made it official.

With that, Webb severed ties with his Democratic sponsor but noted that he may consider continuing to play the tournament as an independent player if he gets enough support from the rail in the coming days and weeks.


The aforementioned televised action among the Democratic candidates was the talk of the tournament last week. Most hands played involved Clinton and Sanders, with Martin O’Malley playing some key hands as well. But Clinton and Sanders kept most of the chips between them. The tournament staff recorded Clinton winning more hands, but the rail insisted that Sanders had the best executed plays and deserved to win more hands.

The hand that most audience members in the tournament area and watching on television seemed to favor involved Clinton and Sanders. Clinton started the hand in the small blind with pocket queens, and Sanders looked down at queens in the big blind. It was quite the unlikely deal of the cards, as admitted even by the dealer. But Clinton safely folded her hand to Sanders’ raise, and everyone heard the commentator question her move. Sanders stood up from the table to defend the move, saying that folding the queens shouldn’t be the subject of so much scrutiny.

Lincoln Chaffee played a few hands but lost each of them, and Webb misplayed several hands while complaining that he needed more time to play them and wanted better cards.

The action was discussed for days and made its way to the opening sketch of Saturday Night Live last weekend. Kate McKinnon played the role of Clinton as in previous sketches, but Larry David stepped in to portray Sanders, and Alec Baldwin acted as Webb.

Sanders, who is not known for his humor and light-hearted chatter, was asked about the skit in interviews after SNL aired, and he noted that he does, indeed, have more pair of underwear. In fact, Sanders also made an appearance on Ellen last week, where he was asked some not-so-serious questions. Strangely enough, his underwear was again one of the topics of conversation. And he danced:

For a serious player who typically despises any distraction from the poker action, Sanders went along with the fun but then quickly sat back down at the table and insisted others do the same.


The players sporting the Republican logo were mostly quiet in the past two weeks, with the primary exception of Trump and Bush.

The two have had numerous tussles, but the most recent one began when Trump said, “When you talk about George Bush… I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time.”

Oh, snap.

Trump then attempted to clarify that he wasn’t blaming Jeb Bush’s brother for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, merely pointing out that Jeb’s comment at the last Republican debate that George kept the United States safe wasn’t exactly true. But then Trump doubled down on his comment by saying that his own proposed “tough” stance on immigration would have prevented those terrorists from being in America in the first place, so 9/11 probably wouldn’t have happened had he been in the White House.

Bush fired back:

He has continued to rebut Trump’s statements regarding 9/11, noting that he would be a better choice than Trump with regard to national security. “We need a foreign policy strategy that projects U.S. leadership. @RealDonaldTrump doesn’t have one,” Bush tweeted.

As Bush and Trump got involved in hand after hand, Carson continued to say things at his table that made little sense and created some unease among his competitors. “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation,” he said at one point, prompting some side-eyes from the multi-racial crowd on the rail. “I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed,” he stated. The Jewish dealer at his table subsequently stood up from the table, grabbed her seat cushion, and left.

Carson did spend time after those comments with his backers, who presumably slapped him across the face, but he continued to defend his comments and continue playing his own strategy.


Tough Hand of the Week:

One big hand developed that involved many of the short-stacked players. And it got way out of hand. It started with a simple raise by Lindsay Graham in early position, and Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, and Rick Santorum all called.

After the flop displayed A-K-Q of spades, chaos ensued. Graham was the first to slam his cards on the table, still face down, and yell “ISIL is coming!” That prompted Cruz to scream, “Not to some places because they are sanctuary cities. We have to stop sanctuary cities!” Jindal chimed in with a random high-pitched comment, repeated numerous times: “Defund Planned Parenthood!” And Santorum was angry that no one at the table noticed he was not wearing a sweater vest anymore:

Some of the railbirds began chanting, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” The tournament director watched in amazement for some time, finally chatted with the dealer, and announced the hand was a misdeal. Each player also received a one-round penalty for craziness under the umbrella of the excessive celebration rule.

Trump then came over to the table, gave them all “Make America Great Again” hats, and cited the numbers from the latest poll.


Preview: News reports indicate that Joe Biden may (or may not) enter the tournament any day (or week). As an important deadline looms for campaigning, Biden is actually likely to make a decision about the game before the next edition of this PPO column. We’ll take a look at the run-up to that decision and its impact on the tournament.

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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.