Friday, September 30, 2016

Are We Watching Poker or Bridge?

As I was in Punta del Este earlier this week, I wasn’t home to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I did keep an eye on the agitated Twitter response via which highlights-slash-lowlights were comprehensively conveyed -- with added commentary and snark.

Since coming home, I’ve watched the first part over on YouTube and plan to get through the rest at some point before the next debate comes around on October 9. I’ve also perused some of the post-debate commentary, the exhaustive fact-checking of transcripts, and other response including the semi-hilarious spinning regarding who “won” the sucker (most of which is coming from the side most seem to agree did not “win”).

Meanwhile, it’s again interesting to see the pundits evoke poker when discussing debates. It’s almost inevitable, I suppose, given the way both debates and poker games involve an interplay of actuality and impression -- of real, tangible actions and reactions and of the image produced by those actions and reactions in the minds of those observing them.

For example, the New Republic is writing this week about how “Donald Trump Is About to Go Nuclear on Hillary Clinton,” evoking a different, more unsettling analogy (and obviously meant to grab web surfers’ attention).

The article begins with reference to another commentary on the first debate that Clinton easily outperformed Trump in the first debate “without even playing some of the heaviest cards against him.” The New Republic writer takes that as encouragement to speak of Trump likewise not playing all of his “cards,” in particular the one Trump immediately would bring up after the debate regarding Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities.

Then again, now that I think about it, this talk of holding back certain, especially powerful cards to play and choosing the right spots to produce them isn’t really poker at all, is it? It’s more like bridge or spades or hearts, games in which players play their cards one by one and do often “hold back” strong ones like the high cards and -- inevitable pun coming -- the trump cards.

The poker analogy is additionally being evoked as well by the suggestion that the “players” are keeping cards hidden from others’ view as they might in a game of five-card draw. It’s all so much theater, though, since all of these “hidden” cards are already in full view of everyone, it seems, making one or the other’s decision to “play” them just another bit of theater meant to produce an effect on those watching and commenting.

Are they bluffing us? Will we be bluffed? That’s the real poker game.

Image: “Adversaries” (adapted), Bill B. CC BY 2.0.

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