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The field has thinned in the 2016 Presidential Poker Open. There are two remaining tables in this most unconventional poker tournament.

Several players busted from the action after last month’s tournament update, as the results of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary ended with several bustouts.

It should be noted that the structure for the PPO is different than most tournaments. At this point in the game, the Republican-sponsored competitors are playing at separate tables from the Democratic players. They won’t be at the same table until the final match later in the year.

There are now only seven GOP players and two Democratic ones, though there are still a number of players on the other side of the room claiming allegiance to various organizations, like the Libertarian and Green parties. These players are basically competing in satellite events, looking to stack chips and have a shot at the ultimate final table alongside the top-ranking Republican and Democratic players.

Most of the typical tournament rules are not enforced at this point in the PPO. Basic Hold’em is the game, but rules regarding etiquette at the tables, language, interactions with staff and media, and treatment of the dealers are out the window. The players have taken over, with the tournament director only in place to ensure the integrity of the chips and cards. The animals are mostly running the zoo.

presidental election republicans credit- Cagle-dot-com


Fallout from Iowa Caucus Action

As of the middle of January, there were still 12 players sponsored by the Republican Party, but nearly half of them are now gone. And one of the three players beholden to the Democratic ticket departed as well. Some of those happened just after the Iowa caucus results rolled in.

On February 1, all of the players competed in a special portion of the tournament under the advisement of their fans in Iowa. Those Iowan players watched the competitors, who were then judged their play based on chip counts, strategies, behavior at the tables, and their overall poker images. The results of the Iowa caucuses awarded additional high-denomination chips to the players who did well. (Note that the number of votes for Democratic players was only a portion of the actual number of votes, per a system used by the Democratic Party in Iowa.) Those players were as follows:

Player Total Votes Percentage Extra Chips Awarded
Ted Cruz 51,666 27.6% 8
Donald Trump 45,427 24.3% 7
Marco Rubio 43,165 23.1% 7
Ben Carson 17,395 9.3% 3
Rand Paul 8,481 4.5% 1
Jeb Bush 5,238 2.8% 1
Carly Fiorina 3,485 1.9% 1
John Kasich 3,474 1.9% 1
Mike Huckabee 3,345 1.8% 1
Chris Christie 3,284 1.8% 0
Rick Santorum 1,783 1% 0
Jim Gilmore 12 0 0


Player Vote Equivalent Percentage Extra Chips Awarded
Hillary Clinton 701 49.9% 23
Bernie Sanders 697 49.6% 21
Martin O’Malley 8 0.6% 0

Later that night, O’Malley busted from the tournament without a peep from his social media account. GOP player Huckabee lost the last of his chips as well but did manage a goodbye tweet:

Two days later, Rand Paul exited the event:

And Rick Santorum followed, along with announcing that he will be coaching and backing Marco Rubio going forward:

Santorum wasn’t the only one backing a former competitor. Lindsey Graham jumped on the Jeb Bush bandwagon back in January and has been on the rail for him ever since:

And former player Bobby Jindal joined the rail for Rubio:

The remaining players packed up and quickly left Iowa to avoid an impending snowstorm and, well, just to get out of Iowa. Most of them headed to New Hampshire for the primaries there, which were scheduled for February 9.

Results of New Hampshire Primary Voting

Primaries in New Hampshire were run a bit differently, but the ending votes were tallied in much the same way as the caucuses, though this time without a different Democratic algorithm. Poker fans based in New Hampshire submitted their votes for the players, and the final numbers were as follows:

Player Total Votes Percentage Extra Chips Awarded
Donald Trump 100,406 35.3% 10
John Kasich 44,909 15.8% 4
Ted Cruz 33,189 11.7% 3
Jeb Bush 31,310 11% 3
Marco Rubio 30,032 10.6% 3
Chris Christie 21,069 7.4% 0
Carly Fiorina 11,706 4.1% 0
Ben Carson 6,509 2.3% 0
Jim Gilmore 133 0% 0


Player Total Votes Percentage Extra Chips Awarded
Bernie Sanders 151,578 60.4% 15
Hillary Clinton 95,249 38% 9

On the following day, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina both busted from the tournament, though others with low votes and no delegates, like Ben Carson and Jim Gilmore, remained at the table. They were sticking to the “chip and a chair” strategy to go on to the next primaries and caucuses.

Tension Rises during Featured Table Play

The two remaining Democratic players began to dig in their heels, especially during the action that took place on the PBS featured table on February 11. Sanders and Clinton faced off in a special televised level of action that featured some differences between their strategies.

Clinton accused Sanders of using an unsound and untried strategy to run his campaign, and she continually hailed reigning two-time PPO champion Barack Obama for his accomplishments. Meanwhile, Sanders pushed back at his opponent by attacking her use of Henry Kissinger as a poker coach and being too quick to try to overthrow poker dictators.

Despite their most heated exchanges during play, they addressed each other with respect, both insisting that they basically play the same kind of poker – much better than any Republican player.

As the Republican players took to the stage for their February 13 televised action, they did so just hours after finding out that one of the members of the Tournament Directors Association – Antonin Scalia – died unexpectedly. That occurrence was to leave a vacancy that Obama will try to fill before the end of his term as champion, but the Republicans discouraged that kind of action.

From that point of the action, however, the attacks on each other heated up to a point that left the CBS hosts considering leaving the stage altogether. Donald Trump was at the center of most of the attacks and took the opportunity to blame Jeb Bush’s brother for the downfall of poker during his time as champion. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz verbally battled over the topic of immigrants at US-based tournaments. And John Kasich and Ben Carson mostly sat back and listened to the rhetoric from their four loudest opponents.

The railbirds frequently booed Trump and Cruz, but that didn’t deter them. Trump, Bush, Cruz, and Rubio continually four-bet and five-bet each other while also bemoaning the tournament rules and taking inordinate amounts of time to act on each hand despite the beeping of the shot clock.

Most Contentious Hand

The biggest hand of the past few weeks played out between Trump and Cruz.

After Cruz won the most votes and extra chips in Iowa, Trump walked away from the table for the night and returned a day and a half later with a vengeance.

donald trump 2016

A hand developed with Cruz in the small blind and Trump in the big blind. Cruz calmly raised, Trump slammed in a reraise, and Cruz called. After the flop revealed J-9-7 with two clubs, the two players got into a raising war as Trump accused Cruz of cheating in a previous hand. Trump said that Cruz shouldn’t even be allowed to play as his citizenship is questionable, but he also accused Cruz of intentionally telling other players that Carson folded a previous hand when he still had cards in front of him. Cruz admitted that he may not have played the hand well, but he insisted that it was an honest mistake.

The dealer finally assumed the raising and re-raising was over and dealt a 3 of clubs as the turn card. The two players again raised and reraised until Trump went on another tangent, and the dealer put out a Queen on the river.

Cruz apologized to Trump in an attempt to finish the hand without incident. Trump continued to yell and call Cruz names, but the two checked the river card. Cruz turned over the nut flush and calmly collected the chips. Trump, however, stormed over to the tournament director and insisted that he is going to sue over the past hand, the one they just played, and every hand they would play in the future.

The tournament director shrugged and asked Trump to return to the table. As Cruz stacked his chips, Trump mumbled to himself, “I’m going to make poker great again. I am. Believe me. I’m going to make it so great that people won’t be able to stand it. They’re going to love poker so much they’ll hate it and then love it again because they have to. Canadian Cruz can’t stop me. No one can. I’m too great. Poker will be great again, too.”


Preview: We will check back in with a tournament update in early March. Super Tuesday on March 1 is a big day for voting in a number of states, with caucuses and primaries taking place all over the United States. March 5-6 offers another round of state actions, and we’ll provide some updates on the Presidential Poker Open at that point.

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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.