I was playing poker in Atlantic City this weekend, so I’ve had poker on the brain as I’ve been thinking about President Trump’s tactics during the partial government shutdown, which ended on Friday after Congress passed a three-week continuing resolution to fund the government. What will happen at the end of the next three weeks is very much up in the air. But the way Trump has played his hand so far on the shutdown has a lot in common with how bad poker players tend to cost themselves money.
If you read the headline of this post, you may have assumed that it refers to Trump’s getting outmaneuvered on the shutdown by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I do think Trump was outmaneuvered by Pelosi, but the analogy to poker is a little different from that. It has more to do with Trump’s overall strategy toward the presidency.
In general, the strategic goal of poker is to put your opponent to tough decisions. If you see one of those hands on TV where one player is thinking for several minutes about whether to call or fold on the river, that usually means the other player has played his or her hand well, putting the opponent in a no-win position by leaving just the right amount of doubt about whether it’s a bluff or a real hand.