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Poker in American History

July 21, 2021

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July is a month to celebrate America, and America was founded on card games!

While poker as we know it today didn’t reach America until the early 19th century, George Washington and the other Founding Fathers were fans of a similar card game called Post and Pair. Post and Pair is won by getting the best three card hand and involves betting, staking, pleading, and doubling.

Washington kept a separate page in his expense accounts titled “Cards and Other Play,” which recorded his wins and losses at cards both before and during the Revolutionary War. Because of his record keeping, we know that on December 23, 1769, he spent Christmas Day with his sister and won “£2 5s at cards”.

Card games weren’t just for America’s first politicians, though! The 33rd President of the United States, Harry Truman, was known to be an avid poker player. He played regularly throughout the 1920s and 30s. In 1946, defending the honor of American poker players, he won a great deal of money from Winston Churchill.

Truman said that he loved poker for the same reason that he loved politics: it gave him the ability to see who people really were under their titles and job positions. His well-loved case of poker chips is in the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, MO.

37th President Richard Nixon learned to play 5-Card Stud poker while serving in the Naval Reserves during World War II. His approach was simple: play tight and limit bluffs, but bet with abandon when you think you have the best hand or know that your opponent doesn’t. He played high stakes games, which at the time were pots ranging from $10 to $50. It’s said that he regularly won $150 or more per month from his poker games, which today is close to $2,040!

Nixon used his poker winnings to finance his career in politics. His first election campaign in California, where he defeated Democrat Jerry Voorhis to win a seat in Congress, was largely funded by his gambling winnings. It was his first step towards the White House. As President, Nixon was also known to use his poker prowess in his dealings in both foreign and domestic affairs.

Even 44th President Barack Obama played poker! He was known to play low stakes games of stud and draw poker with fellow elected officials, though he discontinued this once he was elected President.

Poker has a rich history in America that continues today!