Knowing When to Fold in Poker and Politics


In poker, most successful competitors only play 15-30% of the hands they’re dealt. They play “tight aggressively,” meaning that players only play a limited number of hands, but do so aggressively by betting and raising often. There are some other very good poker players who play more loosely, between 30-50% of the hands they are dealt.

Although this “loose aggressive” style works for some players, it brings with it volatile results resulting in more frequent losses and bigger swings. Whether a player plays many hands or few, they always have to know when the odds are against them, and not be afraid to fold their hand when they realize they can’t win.

Politics is similar in this respect. When done correctly, a smart politician knows when to play, to be aggressive when they play, and—ultimately—when to fold. In 2015, I interviewed to manage a top-tier congressional campaign in the Midwest. In speaking with the candidate over the course of a few weeks, it was clear that he understood why this could be his moment to win.

He saw a district where a first-term Republican in a Democratic area barely won in 2014. He also knew that the year he was running, 2016, would be a presidential year—meaning that turnout among Democrats could be expected to be significantly higher than it was in 2014.

Once the candidate decided to play, he was aggressive. He raised over a half-million dollars in the first three months of 2016 (for context, his chief Democratic opponent in the primary raised about $300,000 during that period). Unfortunately, news stories came out about indiscretions from his past, enthusiasm was sapped from his campaign as endorsements went to his chief opponent (who was an elected official who had run for office before), and the candidate ended up dropping out early.

In the end, the eventual Democratic nominee ended up losing to the Republican incumbent. This meant that the candidate I interviewed with left the race with most of his dignity intact. Thanks to his early recognition that he should drop out, he was able to refocus his efforts on more promising endeavors. He knew when to fold what seemed like a good hand as new information became available.

Understanding these fundamentals is crucial to success in politics and in poker. The candidate saw an opportunity, and then picked his spot to be aggressive. When he realized he couldn’t win, he made the best possible decision he could which was to let go of his hand. Regardless of the results, he played it for maximum value. You can’t win any battles if you don’t pick the right hands in the right position. In short, if you play like this candidate, more times than not you’ll end up playing a solid game you can be proud of.

Thank you to Bharat Krishnan for sharing his personal experience in the world of political campaigns; co-authored by Josh Silverstone, Pokerpreneur® at Aces Raise. 
“Bharat Krishnan has traveled across the country for ten years, managing Democratic campaigns at the local level from Los Angeles to Louisiana. His proudest professional achievement will always be President Obama’s 2008 victory at the Iowa caucuses, but a close second would have to be his time in New Mexico, where he raised a six-figure budget from scratch and gained national press coverage for a state house race. In his spare time, Bharat loves to read and cook.”
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