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For several months, we have documented the United States presidential race as a poker tournament. What was a stacked event with big names and a lot of action has continued with very few players busting from the tournament and much of the play showcasing a lack of skill and maturity. While every poker event has its players who make a spectacle of themselves, it is hard to remember a specific tournament that played out as ridiculously as the 2016 Presidential Poker Open.

Per the last report, the Republican-sponsored players were in the spotlight because they dominated much of the media coverage. In the past two weeks, however, almost all of the players have been finding their own time in front of the cameras, though mostly for interactions with Donald Trump.

Not only has Trump found the key to dominating the tournament coverage, he has succeeded in pulling most of his competitors down to ABC-level poker to compete with him. It is likely that Trump only watched poker on television prior to this tournament, and no matter the skill that some of the others may possess, they seem to struggle to garner a pinch of the attention that Trump receives.

And as the PPO tournament prepares to enter its race to the final table in 2016, we take a look at the action as the players toast to the close of registration.

Graham Goes Busto

Before we get to the chip percentages, it’s important to mention that one player busted from the tournament. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham lost his last few chips after his last appearance at the secondary featured table.

On December 21, Graham busted in a multi-way pot that included Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and George Pataki. All of those players are amazingly still in the tournament, but Graham pushed the remainder of his stack on a missed flush draw, and he had to go.

Unbelievably, Jim Gilmore is still in the tournament, somehow always showing up with just one single chip and a chair. He hasn’t been featured on television broadcasts or chip counts, but he is still listed as a Republican-sponsored player. Maybe he’s hiding in this photo:

End-of-Year Chip Percentages

It is difficult to count chips of the GOP players, but the December 23 Reuters/Ipsos poll is the latest national recording of all of the candidates. Of course, Trump leads by a wide margin, and not much else has changed from recent counts, either.

Donald Trump 39%
Ted Cruz 13%
Ben Carson 10%
Marco Rubio 9%
Jeb Bush 7%
Chris Christie 3%
Rick Santorum 3%
Mike Huckabee 3%
Carly Fiorina 2%
Rand Paul 2%
John Kasich 2%
George Pataki Not enough chips to register
Jim Gilmore Not even showing up anymore

As for the three players represented by the Democratic National Committee, the latest poll by Rasmussen Reports on December 21 shows little change in the overall standings except a slight gain by Martin O’Malley after the December 19 Democratic debate. Hillary Clinton still holds a solid lead.

Hillary Clinton 46%
Bernie Sanders 30%
Martin O’Malley 7%

I’m Rubber, You’re Glue

The most recent action by the PPO players is devoid of much skill. Poker coaches went on holiday and failed to return, backers plan to write off their player support as tax deductions and nothing more, and most of the fans left on the rail are college students too drunk to find their way back to their dorms.

This recent retweet from Trump sums up the status of the tournament:

Trump controls the betting and action in most of the hands, as he seems to play nearly every one. But no matter how many hands he plays, the dealers must constantly remind him of the minimum betting and raising amounts.

Jeb Bush was seated to the right of Trump during most of the past two weeks, and Trump never failed to use his big stack of chips to bully Bush.

Bush tried to fight back, but he was usually too nervous when making moves, and his shaking hands gave away his attempted bluffs. Even his most skilled plays were no match for the chip stack of Trump.

At one point, the three Democratic players were seated together at the featured table for some televised action. After a scheduled break between levels, O’Malley and Bernie Sanders returned on time for the first hand, but Clinton was late and missed the hand. As it turned out, the women’s bathrooms were further from the tournament room than those for the men, but she returned without complaint. Even from another table, Trump commented on the reason for Clinton missing the hand but called it “disgusting.”

Clinton did mention Trump during one of her hands, saying that his plays were so bad that a terrorist organization used videos of them to play their strategies. Trump yelled back from another table that she lied, and he continued to yell at her. Trump then took to his fans on the rail to tell them she is a terrible candidate and got “schlonged” by Obama in the 2008 presidential election. When the tournament staff confronted him about his language, Trump claimed it was not a derogatory term. The tournament director merely shrugged and walked away.

Meanwhile, Trump continued his rants on Twitter. After Clinton mentioned that Trump had a penchant for sexism, Trump gave a semi-threatening warning to her:

The tournament staff gave Trump a one-round penalty, which gave Trump more opportunities to tweet.

At the same time, Cruz played a solid game at his table, quietly accumulating chips and thankful that no vitriol was aimed directly at him for the time being.

Hand of the Week

At the featured table with the Democratic players competing three-handed, a ruckus occurred.

The hand in question started with Sanders on the button and Clinton in the small blind. Sanders complained to the dealer that the cards were marked and he might be able to see them. The tournament director was called over but couldn’t find anything wrong, so the hand was dealt with no deck change.

Sanders looked at his hole cards, which were two kings. He looked at Clinton while she peeked at her hole cards, and he noticed the marking on the cards that indicated she had two aces. She raised Sanders’ bet, and O’Malley folded his big blind. Sanders then quickly folded, and Clinton took a look at her aces before mucking them and collecting the pot. She noticed the marks on the cards and called the tournament director over again.

At that point, the tournament director acknowledged the marked cards and Clinton’s accusation that Sanders took advantage of the marked cards to fold his pocket kings. The director agreed that Sanders cheated on the hand and gave Sanders a two-round penalty. Sanders raised a fuss, noting that he tried to warn of the marked cards but wasn’t believed. He immediately announced a lawsuit against the tournament organizers.

Clinton then said that Sanders shouldn’t be penalized for the error, though it should be investigated. Sanders apologized for looking at the cards but insisted his lawsuit would remain in progress.

With that, play continued.

Tension dissipated over time, but accusations persisted that the tournament staff favored Clinton by the nature of the ruling.


Preview: As 2016 gets underway and the Iowa caucuses approach, rhetoric may heat up even more in January. Every candidate will likely be trying to make headlines with crucial votes on the horizon.

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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.