A reader writes:
This comment baiting Barack Obama about not understanding traditional American recreations such as poker is just so wrong! I knew I had read that he loves to play poker with the boys, he plays a smart game – and it took me only 8 seconds to locate the article – here it is, from TIME magazine in 2008.
Another reader links to a similar piece. A third:
Putting aside the fact that way too much is being made of this, if Cantor thought that Obama was bluffing in terms of drawing a figurative line in the sand regarding the debt ceiling, the president was simply and correctly warning the majority leader not to call this bluff, because he would then to his dismay find out that there was no bluff. How this gets transformed into one more example of Mr. Gordon's assertion that "so much about this country and its character … seems alien or unfamiliar to the president" is, in actuality, one more beautiful example of the far right’s contorted and bizarre notion of Obama's alleged "otherness."
Our last reader gets a bit wonky:
I had to laugh a bit when I read the Hewitt Award Nominee from John Steele Gordon because he talks about Obama not understanding something as "quintessentially American" as poker – and then proceeds to not understand poker himself. I'm a poker player, and I even made a run at doing it full time (it was fun while it lasted).
Here's one of the basic rules of poker (especially tournament poker): you are not allowed to tell the truth about your hand while in play. You are free to lie about your hand, but if you tell the other player "I have three kings" and you have three kings, you can be penalized (usually by missing a certain number of hands). But more importantly, poker players saying they are bluffing all the time, especially if they think the other guy thinks they're bluffing.
Let me clear that up. Let's say you and I are in a hand. I make a bet and you call and say, "I think you're bluffing." And then the next card comes and I bet again, and you stop and think about it, I could say, "Don't call my bluff" or something along those lines. Now, I might be bluffing, I might not be bluffing, or I might be semi-bluffing (basically, I don't have a good hand, but I think yours is worse). There's a lot of reasons why you'd tell someone "don't call my bluff" – it could be you are actually bluffing and want them to fold so you can take the pot down, or it could be that you have a good hand and are trying to induce him to call so you can make more.
Ok, this might be going too deep into the metaphor, but the idea that Obama should have said "don't call my bet" rather than "don't call my bluff" is stupid. In poker, you don't know if someone is bluffing until you make the last call and see his cards. It's incredibly risky, unless you're sure you've got him beat. And, to be clear, the moment you say "don't call my bet" at a poker table, the chips are in the pot … it's a sign of weakness.