I’d hate to play a game of poker with Sarah Palin. As she said Thursday on the Judge’s show, and as Mark America noted … She’s holding her presidential cards close.
She’s also got no visible tells and a stone-cold poker face. Even some of her supporters are starting to wonder what’s up.
Why the misdirection? Mark America and John Smith have already weighed in with their theories, but I’ll throw mine into the ring as well.
It’s clear to me that Governor Palin has decided that the battle for the Republican Party and the presidential nomination is going to be won or lost based on who seizes control of the game right now. Given Obama’s cratering popularity, the pot is going to be looking pretty big — for whoever plays their cards right. And let’s face it, Governor Palin is in perfect control right now. In my opinion, she is employing what in poker might be called a “slow play” — or the opposite of a bluff:
I’m no poker whiz, I just picked this up on Wikipedia … but follow with me ’cause it makes sense.
Slow-playing is betting weakly with a strong holding, attempting to induce other players with weaker hands to call or raise the bet instead of folding, so as to increase the payout. … The objective of the passive slow play is to lure opponents into a pot, or to cause them to bet more strongly than they would if the player had played aggressively. By employing a slow play, a poker player hopes opponents will act differently than they would if they could see their cards.
Poker experts define at least two conditions for profitable slow plays:
- A player must have a very strong hand.
- The player must believe that he will drive out opponents by showing aggression, but can win a big pot if the opponents stay in the pot.
Governor Palin knows she has a strong hand: 97% name recognition, a strong support base, favorability with the activist Tea Party. But she is betting weakly right now (actually she’s checking in the early going – refusing to make a bet) because she wants to force her opponents to bet aggressively on their hands and perhaps tip their hands (which she figures are at best second-best).
Here’s how it works in a game of seven-card stud:
In a seven-card stud game, Ted’s first three cards are all fours. Alice with a king showing bets first, Ted raises and Alice calls. On the next round, Alice catches another king, and Ted miraculously catches the last four (making four-of-a-kind). Ted suspects Alice has two pair or three kings, and Alice suspects that Ted has two pair or three fours. Alice bets again, and Ted just flat calls. Ted decides to just call for next round or two, and maybe even check if Alice doesn’t bet, rather than raising, for several reasons. Ted’s hand is so strong that the chance of getting beaten is negligible, so he doesn’t need protection. If Alice just has two pair and Ted acts strongly, Alice may think Ted has three fours and fold if she doesn’t improve. By allowing Alice to continue for smaller stakes, Ted hopes that Alice will improve to a very strong (but second best) hand that will induce her to bet, raise, or at least call in the later betting rounds.
It’s easy to see in poker why you would sometimes want to not show your strength or appear to be passive in the face of your opponents, especially when you’ve got a killer hand. Slow-playing and bluffing are both integral to the game of poker as is deception. It’s not really the cards you’re dealt but how you play them of course that determines whether you win or lose.
Some people might be asking … if Governor Palin has such a strong hand, and everybody knows it, why not just go for it and bet aggressively forcing everyone to fold? Because not everybody knows it and there’s no guarantee of forcing folks to fold if they think they have a strong hand as well. Not all the cards have even been revealed yet. In some circles folks might think Governor Palin is bluffing, that she is remaining marginally in the game with a weak hand. She can play off being underestimated. But continued aggressive betting by her opponents is to her advantage. After Bachmann raised, it forced Pawlenty to fold, and encouraged Perry to join the betting. Perry’s continued bluff (that everyone has now caught on to) has sweetened the pot even more for Governor Palin. She hasn’t risked much so far while others are mortgaging the farm and betting aggressively.
The most important consideration of all in a slow-play, of course, is that you’re conserving resources while making you’re opponents burn through theirs. They underestimate your strength. And you’re still in the game. Governor Palin is very much “in the game” … she’s not revealing her hand at this point, but at some point she’s likely to be discovered to be holding the political equivalent of a royal flush.
That’s my guess!