By: Ralph W Crosby
Anaphora Literary Press (2023)
“Poker, Politics & Presidents” is not a book I would normally read. I am a 95% fan of fiction, mysteries in particular. But I was looking for something different to read when my editor asked if I had time to review a book written by local author, Ralph W. Crosby, for a future edition of Outlook by the Bay magazine. I jumped right on it — and I’m glad that I did!
Ralph W. Crosby’s “Poker, Politics & Presidents, How Card Playing and Other Games Impacted the presidency Ñ from George Washington to Joe Biden,” took me for a trip down an historical memory lane, but from a whole new perspective — strategy. The book beautifully links the men’s political goals to their gaming skills. It dives deep into the challenges, successes and/or failures of administrations like the Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson years and both Bush presidencies, detailing how their social gaming skills affected their experiences in office.
I’ve never played poker and not all our illustrious Presidents did either. I don’t play golf nor did some of our Commanders-in-Chief. But back in the day, I was a whiz at board games like Monopoly and my personal favorite, Clue. Several of our latter Leaders enjoyed rousing game nights too.
According to the author, Poker and other reasonable facsimiles created important avenues for a President to utilize. First, the art of partaking in a game, whether it be cards, cue sticks or markers on a board, is a stress-reliever. Games are fun, relaxing and distracting with complete interaction by the players. These are also opportunities to practice strategy skills if they plan to win their hands. In some instances, negotiating powers are called into play. It was not beyond the realm of possibility for many Presidents to make important decisions based on discussions held with the right people during a game of chess or checkers, or on the golf course, or around the poker and pool tables. These private events also fulfill the social obligations of the presidency as well, bringing influential sources into the exclusive fold. Martin Van Buren played cards with Henry Clay and bet on the horses with Andrew Jackson. Van Buren even bet on the elections!
Name a POTUS who wasn’t/isn’t stressed. You can’t. Throughout the decades, each President inherited crosses to bear. Managing a country has got to be among the Top Ten most stressful jobs in the world. Our Presidents have been challenged to find ways to relieve that job pressure. George Washington found his relief in gambling, mostly cards, but he was not above placing significant bets on the horses, billiards, backgammon, and cock fights as well.
In August 1945, Harry Truman sat at a table in his stateroom aboard the USS Augusta, a warship navigating a stormy sea, with several prominent journalists. It wasn’t a press conference, although Truman had just dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, it was a poker game that carried on 24/7 as Truman tried to ease the emotional trauma he experienced from that decision.
But it wasn’t always just about cards. Herbert Hoover played cards and Warren Harding had his “poker cabinet.” Calvin Coolidge didn’t consider cards and whiskey proper for use in the White House. Coolidge was an avid fisherman.
Bill Clinton enjoys both cards and golf — his go-to games — used for policy discussions and stress relief. And we know Donald Trump is a very sociable and accomplished golfer — he owns golf courses!
Ralph Crosby has painted a very interesting portrait for each President, identifying their individual gaming preferences and approaches, and how their strategies directly affected their discussions, decisions and overall health. It was a very interesting read from start to finish.
“Poker, Politics & Presidents” is Crosby’s fourth book. He is the author of “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy” and numerous national magazine articles. He is the Chairman of Crosby Marketing Communications and has written two books on marketing, “It’s the Customer, Stupid,” and “Person-to-Person Management.” Crosby resides in Annapolis.
— Sharon P. Schultz
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