“You’ve Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em,” by Andrew Joppa


“If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.”

— Paul Newman (attributed)


Kenny Rogers: The Gambler

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done.


There is only one real issue facing America if it wants to have a meaningful future. Simply, getting Donald Trump back into the Oval Office in 2025. Toward that end, it may be necessary to explain to the millions of Americans who dislike Donald Trump why they’re wrong…very wrong. For that purpose, I will treat them as adults, as far as that is possible. What follows will explain to them how the real world operates and why Donald Trump may be the last American standing who actually understands any of that. So, one more time, here goes:


Back in my younger days, when I hadn’t quite “ripened,” I enjoyed playing poker.  That activity lost its allure when it became the “foppish” game played in Las Vegas tournaments…that is, when it became “respectable.” There was always a shadowy nature to the game…played for many hours…or days…in smoke filled rooms…surrounded by adult beverages. That was all that made it enjoyable. Our games in Vietnam almost never ended, with people leaving, then reentering the table.


Poker was a variation of a transition into manhood.  It taught many lessons. Although each hand was luck; over the long haul, the best player normally won. The winner typically combined a mixture of the fabled “poker face” punctuated with mannerisms designed to create subterfuge. They would bluff and make outlandish statements, supposedly disclosing their hands. This was done with enough occasional accuracy to cause discomfort to the other players.


They wagered in a manner to either draw others into the pot and not scare them off…or… to scare them off…depending on the circumstance.  They would bet heavy on weak hands and go light on strong hands.  They never presumed their big win would occur on the first hand. They always sought to keep everyone else off-balance; always trying to ensure that no one at the table would ever actually understand what was happening to them …until it was too late.  Those playing against them seldom understood why they won most of the time. They just didn’t understand the “game” well enough.


Does poker, and winning at poker, offer any insight into current events? Most assuredly.  A case can be made, and I’ll make it, that international negotiations are but a more significant and sometimes deadlier version of poker.  If this is true, then the predicable winner on the “green felt” of diplomacy will always be former, and future President, Donald J. Trump.  The political Left, and their flying monkeys in the media, have consistently excoriated the president for his actions that are one, and only one thing…the characteristics of a shrewd poker player. 


Winning in poker depends not only on your cards, but on the unseen cards held by other players, on your ability to deceive them by your betting policy. In short, there is uncertainty. All this is also true of diplomacy. The hugely talented, as is Trump, can read complex situations to their advantage.


Each player must live with uncertainty: about the cards opponents hold; about their betting strategy; about their understanding of your betting strategy; and even their grasp of the game. Emotions come into play. Players fold winning hands because an aggressive bluff makes them fear losing. And players call bets with losing hands out of greed for a big pot. The best players, like the best diplomats, seem to thrive on uncertainty. They look for betting patterns or for “tells” (expressions or hand movements) that betray the strength or weakness of an opponent’s hand. They make uncertainty work for them. They find spots where a big bluff is hard for an opponent to call.


“He said, “Son, I’ve made a life out of readin’ people’s faces.”


International diplomacy and negotiations are as “shadowy” as was the original variation of poker I described; perhaps much darker.  Don’t be distracted by the glad-handing and kumbaya photo-ops that are the public face for these events. They mean nothing. All participants are poker players, and each is trying to walk away from the table a winner. Some know how to play the game and win…others are like children caught in a very adult world…and lose.  Our media and the political Left demand that Trump be one of these children…one of these losers.  Trump refuses to cede victory to gain their positive reviews.


“There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done.”


He is condemned for the bluff.  He is assaulted when he changes position. He is ridiculed when his facts are hyperbolic.  He is castigated for his body mechanics.  He is cajoled for drawing opponents in with outward manifestations of friendship.  He is said to have lost when he walks away from the table as a winner with others either losing or not winning as much as they would have liked. They attack him for these elements which are essentially ways of winning at diplomacy. Most dramatically, they want him to place the accommodation of foreign interests ahead of the interests of the United States. 


They absurdly demand transparency when all it will do is ensure a losing hand. Diplomacy is, perhaps, the one element of the U.S. government that should not be subject to the demands of ‘open government’; whenever it works, it is usually because it is done behind closed doors. Any national leader sitting down at the table should be loudly condemned if their mind-set is transparency and accommodation.  It may not be winner take all…but there is a desired win that must be sought and, if they are good poker players, achieved. Trump is a great poker player and, he will always know… “when to hold ‘em” …or when to  fold ‘em.’


“Highfalutin moral principles are impossible guides to foreign policy. At worst, they reflect hypocrisy; at best, extreme naivete.”

Charles Krauthammer




NOTE: Here’s a long poker story that will only be of interest if you’ve “invested” time in playing the game. If not, this story is not worth your time. It will have nothing to do with what preceded it.


This was 1968…sometime after TET. There were four of us at a poker table (footlocker) at Binh Thuy, Vietnam.  We’d been playing for more time than I want to admit. Our game was usually five-card draw. In that version of poker, you’re dealt five cards…there’s a round of betting…then you can discard all your cards (or none) and replace those cards. Then there’s a final round of betting. There’s typically a requirement to be able to open the betting…usually a pair of Jacks or better…always the dealers choice.  This was all the case in my story.


The first five cards I was dealt was a straight…this is almost always a winning hand in five-card draw. A had a Ten, Queen, King and Ace of Hearts…with a Jack of Spades. I opened the betting…everyone came in.


Here’s where my story really starts.  I had a choice…a stupid choice…a losing choice…should I discard my Jack of Spades and try to draw a Jack of Hearts to fill in my Royal Flush?


A royal flush is a hand that regular players will go years without seeing…if ever. The odds against getting one is 650 thousand to one. (A Royal Flush is a straight to the Ace with all being of the same suit. Hearts is seen as the “royalist” of all royal flushes. If we add that in, the odds become about 2.5 million to 1).


However, since I was already four cards into the heart’s Royal Flush my real odds of filling it, became one in 47 (I’d already seen five cards.) BUT… I just had to see if I could do it…maybe because I hadn’t slept in two days…maybe because it was Vietnam.


I discarded my Jack of Spades, keeping it aside so I could prove I had openers, and drew one card. I squeezed it …and squeezed it again, and again, and there it was…the Jack of Hearts. I still remember that moment…My first and only Royal Flush. This instant still retains only less significance than the birth of my children, my marriage, the Giants winning the Super Bowl against an undefeated Patriots team and, of course, when it was announced that Donald Trump had won the 2016 presidential race.


I bet that best hand I ever had, and everyone dropped out.  It wasn’t that they knew I had drawn the Royal Flush… they just couldn’t beat openers…even though they didn’t know if I still had them. I kept those five cards aside for many years but like many mementos from The Nam, they disappeared into the vacuum of time.

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