POKERFACE: How Poker Plays A Hand In Politics and Politicians Have ALOT In Common 

POKER is a game in which players literally have to keep their cards close to their chest, have a strong hold of their emotions, and the ability to deal with high-pressure situations. Similarly, politicians also need to share these attributes when they address the House of Commons or speak to members of the press.

With nearly everything high-profile members of parliament do coming under close scrutiny from political analysts, the need for these government officials to keep a poker face is essential. The tactics they use to deal with high-pressure situations could be taken directly from the poker table. One could almost suggest that politicians are constantly playing a game of poker, only without the cards.

Politicians Often Need to Keep a Solid Poker Face

Because of the fact that they are constantly in the public eye and everything they do is open to interpretation, politicians need to use the classic poker face technique to conceal their emotions. In live poker, one of the techniques that expert players try to do is bluff their opponents by making them think their hand is stronger or weaker than it actually is. In order to do this successfully, they need to suppress any sort of unconscious cues, or tells, that might give them away.

Part of the game of poker is for players to try and spot these tells and work out when another player is aiming to deceive with their bets. One way to get to the top of the game is to be able to do this. Daniel Negreanu is a prime example of a player who is notoriously hard to trick. The Canadian card shark is famous for putting players on hands, and has often seemed wizard-like in his reads.

If politicians are able to develop a solid poker face, it will be easier for them to be more economical with the truth when under scrutiny. Politicians may have to make statistics and figures look more positive than they are, and if they are able to do this without drawing too much attention to them then they may not be asked to explain them in more detail. The ministers in the top jobs also have to have a poker face to conceal their emotions. They face a lot of difficult situations but can’t allow themselves to get angry or upset, as this would undermine their authority.

There are numerous occasions that this poker face is required in politics, most notably when a politician is in the line of fire from rigorous questioning. This can occur during debates in the House of Commons, on Question Time, or during Prime Minister’s Questions.

When Could Politicians Make Use of Poker-based Tactics?


Theresa May could have done with using a poker face when giving her resignation speech.

At the end of her resignation speech, Theresa May broke down and let her emotions get the better of her. The former Prime Minister is only human, and she was clearly extremely upset after pretty much being forced out of Number Ten. But for someone whose mantra had been “strong and stable” throughout her tenure, she should have tried to live by her own words when showing herself to the public. When she eventually cracked towards the end of the speech, it felt like a culmination of all the pressure she had faced in the preceding months finally taking its toll.

One of the reasons that John Bercow stepped down as Speaker in the House of Commons was down to the fact that he found it hard to remain impartial over Brexit. He regularly made his feelings over the matter clear in interviews, and at one time stated that he thought Brexit was “the biggest foreign policy mistake in the post-war period.” In his role in the House, Bercow was supposed to be unbiased and keep his own feelings to himself. If you were to compare it to a poker situation, it would be like a player announcing to the table the cards they were holding.

May and Bercow both clearly misjudged times which would be referred to as pressure-cooker situations in poker. This is when the stakes get high and there is a lot riding on your decisions. Only players with strong mental resilience are able to keep their cool and stick to their planned strategy. Poker mental strategy, therefore, is something that poker experts try to teach. In any variant of poker from Texas Hold’em to stud, once this area of the game is refined, players are able to use a level head in even the tightest spots. The best politicians are able to use this type of technique when dealing with tough political situations and debates.

How Could an Everyday Person Utilise these Skills?

Politicians could learn a lot from playing poker in live scenarios and developing a stone-cold expression in front of their opponents. But it isn’t just members of parliament who could benefit. Most people face tough and tricky situations in their everyday lives which bring about feelings of stress and pressure. Being able to navigate these moments without losing control is a skill which would help anyone.

If you feel like you need to develop in this regard, you could try playing some online poker tournaments for medium stakes where there is pressure to win. When it gets to the final stages of the game, you will feel a whirlwind of emotions. Joy, excitement, anger, and dismay all come into play, and the poker table provides a great opportunity to learn to cope with these feelings.

Being a politician is one of the most stressful careers on the planet, and there are constant pressure-cooker situations. Politicians who are able to use poker techniques to control their emotions have a better chance of success.

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