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It is unusual. No, not Donald Trump’s hair… the presidential race is unusual. With still one year to go before the big election, more than a dozen candidates remain on the Republican side. The Democrats have thinned their roster to three possibilities, but the GOP is still full of people who want to be the party nominee. Those polling at zero percentage points continue to fight, and the tension between all of them remains at a consistently high level.

The 2016 Presidential Poker Open is one serious competition.

Two weeks ago, we reported that the players sponsored by the Democratic Party were debating and having some good-natured fun being spoofed on Saturday Night Live. Meanwhile, Donald Trump and Ben Carson were sporting their Republican patches and happily stepping in piles of dog poop. Trump was going after Jeb Bush for his brother being in office during the 9-11 attack, and Carson was talking about Hitler and the Holocaust and arming everyone. It was a bit of a kerfuffle on the GOP side, to be honest.


As for the latest changes in the player list, there were a few on the Democratic ticket.

Credit: afagen/flickr

The biggest change involved a player who had yet to even buy in to the tournament. Vice President Joe Biden considered taking a seat in the race for months, but he finally came to the decision that he would not do it. While he maintains that he has opinions to contribute and hopes for America’s future, he will leave it to the Democratic players already in the game to fight for victory.

On October 21, Biden called a press conference to announce that he will not play.

Two days later, Lincoln Chafee busted out of the tournament. He never gained traction, and many felt he didn’t even know the rules of the game as he played.

And on November 2, Lawrence Lessig was eliminated from the tournament as well. He had been in since September 6, though many dealers didn’t even remember him having played a hand.

Chip Counts/Percentages

The latest chip counts came to us from NBC News on October 29. As usual, they are in the form of percentages of chips in play, and the polls are separated into Republican and Democratic players.

As for the Republican-sponsored players, not much changed except that Carson has taken a lead over Trump. What started as a lead only in Iowa has turned into a national lead for Carson. Trump has had to stop telling everyone that he is the chip leader overall, so he tweeted this:

The NBC/WSJ numbers for the Republican candidates were:

Dr. Ben Carson 29%
Donald Trump 23%
Marco Rubio 11%
Ted Cruz 10%
Jeb Bush 8%
Carly Fiorina 3%
John Kasich 3%
Mike Huckabee 3%
Chris Christie 3%
Rand Paul 2%
Bobby Jindal Not enough chips to register
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

Hillary Clinton surged again on the Democratic side of the field, mainly due to positive press coverage after the October debate and the results of the Benghazi hearings. Clinton’s testimony over the course of 11 hours on October 22 was broadcast live, and many reporters concluded at the end of the long day that Clinton emerged as an even stronger candidate. The poll from NBC News and Survey Monkey reflected that. Also, Lessig was still polling at one percent before he left the tournament this week.

Hillary Clinton 50%
Bernie Sanders 30%
Martin O’Malley 1%
Lawrence Lessig 1%


Our last check-in featured the Democratic debate on CNN, and this time, the focus is on the CNBC debate with Republican candidates.

Stephen Colbert offered a stellar recap of the action:

The featured table of the special presentation aired on television excluded only the four candidates without more than a few chips. The CNBC moderators tried to pit some of the candidates against each other in big hands, but they mostly just blamed the poker media for bad questions and ignored the dealers as much as possible.

The moderators were attacked from all sides after the debate for a number of reasons. They recited rules but could not name the source when players inquired, they brought in guest dealers for certain hands that didn’t play out well, and they often let the players make up their own rules as they went along.

That prompted many of the Republican candidates to get together and devise a list of demands for future debates. In order to prevent what they deemed as bias against the Republican-sponsored players, they demanded “parity and integrity” in the questions. The only other demands upon which they could agree were that there be more than 30 seconds for opening and closing moves, no more lightening rounds that require instant decisions, and that any graphics displayed on the TV screen must be approved prior to the broadcast.

Basically, they all felt that the action was rigged but couldn’t agree on how to change it.


Jeb Bush has had the toughest ride over the past few weeks. It’s as if life is a big “gotcha” moment for the man who was supposed to be the chip leader of the all of the Republican players but has never reached that level of play.

In the middle of October, changes in the campaign became apparent. Instead of private planes, he traveled to the tournament by car or commercial airliner. He downgraded to a smaller hotel room, cut the pay of many of his poker coaches, and even fired a few assistants. Bush noted that the changes were simply practical, and there was no doubt about the confidence of his play.

At a Las Vegas fundraiser, Bush was answering some questions on stage. In response to a question about his favorite Marvel superhero, he chose Batman but then mentioned that he saw a television advertisement for a new show called “Supergirl.” He saw the ad when “I was working out” and thought “she looked pretty hot.”

Credit: Getty Images/CBS

The downhill tumble kept going from there.

Bush fumbled chips consistently during the CNBC debate. He misplayed several hands, including one that will be featured in the “tough hand of the week” section below. The reviews of his play during the featured action were downright dismal.

And then, on November 2, Bush relaunched his campaign. Instead of the “Jeb!” mantra of his campaign thus far, the new phrase of focus going forward is to be “Jeb can fix it.” According to reports of the plan by The Hill, he will focus on solving America’s problems. He will also release a lengthy e-book called “Reply All.”

Credit: Bob Mack of Florida Times-Union

Speaking of books, Carson and Trump have been combining their campaigning with book tours, each touting his new tome. Trump’s cover is ominous:

And Carson looks pleased as pie on his cover:

Both were busy on the rail signing copies of their books and couldn’t be reached for comment.


Tough Hand of the Week:

The aforementioned troubles for Bush came to a head in one hand he played against Marco Rubio in the CNBC debate.

The battle of the blinds began when it folded around to Bush in the small blind, and he raised. Rubio was in the big blind and called. The dealer displayed a flop of 9-8-7, and Bush bet twice the size of the pot. “I mentored you, Marco,” he said as he pushed the chips toward the middle of the table. “I taught you how to play, and that you have to show up and pay attention to every hand. But you take breaks to go chat with your backers on the rail and miss hand after hand. It’s just not right.”

Rubio gave Bush a side eye and a speech. “Jeb, you play these tournaments saying that you want to be a champion just like your father and brother. And you say you model your strategy after some of the great Republican players, but you never complain when they miss tournaments for their high-stakes cash games. Someone told you to play hard against me in this game, and they have misguided you.” He paused and then added, “I’m all in.”

Bush looked down at his cards and realized that he didn’t have the cards he thought he did. His hole cards were 4-3, not the 5-6 he thought made the straight.

The tournament room was quiet, and everyone on the rail stared at Bush for his next move. He let out an audible sigh, shook his head, and angrily mucked his cards.

Rubio confidently collected the chips and walked toward his backers, hands in the air for high fives all around.



Preview: A Democratic forum and Republican debate are scheduled in the next two weeks, which means there will be entertainment. And speaking of entertainment, Trump is scheduled to host Saturday Night Live this weekend. 

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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.