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If you were reading American news in the past two weeks and screamed, “What?!” at any point in time, then you were probably trying to understand some of the candidates running for the office of United States President. It might be more realistic to imagine that all of them are playing in a poker tournament.

That’s where we come in. The 2016 Presidential Poker Open puts most of the Republican and Democratic candidates in that presidential race in a tournament, which will conclude with a final heads-up match in November of 2016. It doesn’t sound as crazy as some of the candidates’ positions, now, does it?

Our last report informed of the departures of Lincoln Chafee and Lawrence Lessig from the Democratic side of the action, as well as Joe Biden’s decision not to play. Dr. Ben Carson overtook Donald Trump for the chip lead on the Republican side, while Jeb Bush stumbled and tried to reboot his campaign.

Those players with extremely short stacks keep winning enough blinds to stay in the game, though no reporter ever seems to catch those hands for the record. Right, George Pataki?

Photo credit: Getty Images

But just as this article was being submitted, Bobby Jindal busted from the tournament. In the last poll, shown below, his stack was only 0.3% of the total chips in play, and he finally threw his last chips in with the big blind and lost.

As the tournament rolls on with less than one year to go before the final heads-up showdown, let’s take a look at what the primary players have been up to in the past two weeks.

Latest Chip Percentages

Of course, politicians are not eager to allow the media to see all of their chips. And somehow, in the Presidential Poker Open, they can get away with that. So, we track the percentages of chips each player possesses, based on the latest reliable, nationwide polls.

As for the players sponsored by the Republican National Committee, Donald Trump is back in the lead and telling everyone about it. He was quite dismayed when Dr. Ben Carson stole the lead two weeks ago, but Trump is back. According to Reuters/Ispos on November 13, the top three players have nearly 75% of the chips in play.

Donald Trump 42%
Ben Carson 23%
Marco Rubio 9.6%
Ted Cruz 7.5%
Jeb Bush 4.2%
Mike Huckabee 2.7%
Carly Fiorina 2.6%
John Kasich 2.4%
Rand Paul 1.9%
Chris Christie 1.4%
Lindsay Graham 1%
Rick Santorum 1%
Bobby Jindal 0.3%
George Pataki Not enough chips to register
Jim Gilmore Not enough chips to register

The latest chip percentages taken for the three Democratic players came from a November 10 poll by CBS News/NY Times, which showed Hillary Clinton firmly in the lead but Martin O’Malley gaining slightly on the bottom end.

Hillary Clinton 52%
Bernie Sanders 33%
Martin O’Malley 5%

Most Cordial Debates Ever

The three players sporting Democratic Party patches on their clothing were in the spotlight over the past two weeks. The first event was actually called the “First in the South Democratic Candidates Forum,” and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow hosted the uniquely-formatted part of the tournament with each player discussing hands one-on-one with Maddow. The candidates were in a sort of SNG, but the distribution of chips from the action wasn’t known until after the event’s conclusion. (The tournament staff may have been drunk when they authorized the action.)

O’Malley seemed to shine the brightest of the three players, if only because he had never been the subject of much television time until then. He was able to highlight his strategy clearly on topics like his dedication to the Democratic Party and his opposition to things like for-profit prisons.

Bernie Sanders addressed his serious demeanor, noting that he is typically too concerned with issues than being a comedian. However, he did have some light moments while also focusing on topics like voting rights, civil rights, and foreign policy.

Hillary Clinton came on strong with an appeal to black voters, talking about her recent visit with the mothers of murdered black children and various incidents that highlight racism in America. She focused a great deal on issues facing the American South, which led to most analysts declaring her the winner of the forum. She ended up with 75% of the chips from the SNG, Sanders took 15%, and O’Malley grabbed the last 10% of the chips.

Although there was high praise from fans about the event itself, the best highlight reel came from a Saturday Night Live spoof.

One week later, CBS hosted a featured table in the form of a debate at Drake University, again for the Democratic players only. While the action featured some contentious hands when it came to topics like foreign policy, gun control, and health care, the players were cordial and respectful of each other at all times. “Secretary Clinton, I must disagree.” “Senator Sanders, if I may…” In contrast to most political debates, especially those featuring Republican players thus far, the Democrats might have been mistaken for best friends.

Photo credit: USA Today

Overall, Twitter and other online polls seemed to show Sanders as the clear winner, but most media outlets declared Clinton the victor.

Republican Hijinks

The fourth Republican debate was held in Wisconsin more than a week ago.

The group of Republican players is still too large for one table, so the players with tiny chip stacks were put at the first table, which played out quickly without one single hand going to a flop. Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal took their seats and talked a lot of smack about each other’s games, but there wasn’t one three-bet among them.

The second debate was more substantive and exciting, as topics ranged from foreign policy to taxes. Trump bragged about how he was in the same green room as Vladimir Putin once, making him the best to go after Putin heads-up because of their familiarity with each other. (They were on the same episode of 60 Minutes, but their segments were filmed in different countries.) Ben Carson talked about people lying about him when vetting the stories in his autobiography. John Kasich and Jeb Bush verbally attacked Trump, Rand Paul went after Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz promised to eliminate the Department of Commerce twice. There was so much in the debate, that it’s probably best to let Stephen Colbert break it down:

Many felt that Rubio and Carly Fiorina played the best, but Trump still somehow ended up with the most chips.

Speaking of Trump, he was the guest host of Saturday Night Live the prior weekend, and most reviews concluded that his performance fell flat. He was in only a few of the skits, and only one made the rounds the following day as remotely funny:

And Trump wasn’t done acting. When the story of Carson trying to stab someone when he was young came under fire from journalists unable to verify the claim, Trump stepped in to reenact what may have happened:

Carson continued to stand by his story, insisting that he had anger issues in his youth but changed his life through prayer. No media outlet has successfully found anyone to verify the story.

This week, the Republican players were able to voice their views regarding Syrian refugees in America, ISIS, and anything else related to foreign policy in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris last week. Most of them noted that Syrian players would not be welcome in their tournaments or home games. Bush felt that Christians from that part of the world should be protected, while Christie said that he would not even allow orphans under the age of five into the United States. And Trump said that mosques in America should probably be shut down.

Hand of the Week

One of the featured hands of the week happened before the last debate. Trump had been pushing hard against Bush, trying to do everything to show that Bush’s poker strategy was not enough to win the tournament.

This particular hand began with Trump raising under the gun for three times the big blind. Action folded around to Bush in the small blind, and he called. The dealer put out the flop, but she accidentally turned over a fourth card, and the floor ordered that the hand be declared dead. Trump began to berate her for the mistake, but Bush, recognizing that she was Hispanic, spoke to her quietly in Spanish to tell her that mistakes happen to everyone.

Trump then launched into a verbal tirade against Bush, his wife’s Hispanic origin, and the entire Bush family. He hurled numerous insults before being given a one-round penalty for the verbal abuse.

While pacing near the rail, Trump took to Twitter and retweeted this:

Photo credit: Mediaite

Complete with a Nazi comparison and offensive cartoons, Trump was blasted by numerous media outlets before eventually removing the tweet from his timeline.

Bush clearly won the hand. But for reasons still unexplained, the rail still supported Trump.


Preview: There are no limits as to what the candidates may say in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks. Stay tuned for anything that develops!

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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.