Poker and the President:

Apparently President Obama and I have one thing in common: he plays poker. I have to admit that I find the fact surprising, as he doesn't seem the type to enjoy it. What are the high-stakes gambles of his presidency so far? The places where he went 'all in' on a hand that he knew was likely to win, but couldn't be 100% certain of winning?

Then again, the reason he played poker was apparently not for the fun of it, but for the social benefits:

As a writer, professor, and community organizer, Obama was greeted coolly by some of his fellow legislators when he arrived in Springfield in 1998 to take a seat in the Illinois Senate. How was this ink-stained, poshly educated greenhorn supposed to get along with Chicago ward heelers and conservative downstate farmers? By playing poker with them, of course.
In that case, the gambling was only an illusion of risk. What he was really after, he couldn't lose.

The rest of the article is more interesting than that idle speculation. It's about poker as a kind of national game for America.
Geneticists have shown that there is literally such a thing as American DNA, not surprising when nearly all of us are descended from immigrants. We therefore carry an immigrant-specific genotype, a genetic marker expressing itself—in some environments, at least—as energetic risk-taking and competitive self-promotion. Even when famine, warfare, or another calamity strikes, most people stay in their homeland. The self-selecting group that migrates, seldom more than 2 percent, is disproportionally inclined to take chances. They also have above-average intelligence and are quicker decision makers. Something about their dopamine-receptor systems, the neural pathway associated with a taste for novelty and risk, sets them apart from those who stay put.

While the factors involved are numerous and complex, the migratory syndrome has been deftly summarized by the journalist Emily Bazelon: "It's not about where you come from, it's that you came at all." The migratory gene must have been even more dominant among those Americans who first moved west across the Appalachians, up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, then out to California during the gold rush. Their urge to strike it rich, often at the risk of their lives, made poker more appealing than point-based trick-taking games like whist, bridge, or cribbage.

The national card game still combines Puritan values—self-control, diligence, the slow accumulation of savings—with what might be called the open-market cowboy's desire to get very rich very quickly.
I'm not sure how much 'cowboys' are about getting rich quickly; there are fewer better roads to a long life of hard work than trying to raise beef in America. Further, the settling of the majority of the West was not quite the same kind of 'chosen migration' as the settling of America in general. Most of the settlers of the mountain West were displaced Southerners following the Civil War. The point still holds, since they were themselves the descendants of those who chose to come to America, and push into and past the Appalachians; however, the reason so many of them went West was that the South's economy was destroyed by the war and its ruinous aftermath. Home couldn't support them anymore.

Indeed, necessity drove most of them in the first place: the big waves of immigration from Scotland were enforced by the clearances, which we were discussing the other day. The big waves from Ireland, mid-century, were enforced by the famine. A lot of these 'natural gamblers' started the game with little to lose.

Yet they did well, and very well, before the Puritans caught up with them and set up all these rules and regulations. Try starting a business now, and see how much chance you've got. ("Yes, you can start a business. There are 4,000 pages of regulations you'll have to obey, most of them with attendant fines and/or prison time; and you'll need to provide health insurance for your workers, including for at least six months after they leave your company under COBRA; and you'll need to pay them not less than minimum wage, which we'll negotiate for you in advance; and, of course, there will be stiff taxes on any earnings you manage, in order to ensure that we provide for those you're not employing; and...")

A little more poker in the national spirit would be good.

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