Friday, November 27, 2009

Does Obama Play Chess?

The excellent new book Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus begins: Poker skill didn't vault Barack Obama into the presidency. No cool-eyed read of a Hillary Clinton tell made it obvious he should reraise her calims to be an agent of change. Nor did he shrewdly calculate the pot odds necessary to call John McCain on his commitment to the Bush economic policies or extending the war in Iraq. At least not literally, he didn't. But when Senator Obama was asked by the Associated Press in 2007 to list a hidden talent, he said, "I'm a pretty good poker player." He seemed to be talking about the tabletop game, but the evidence also suggests he was right in the much larger sense.

Yet there have been many references to the POTUS playing 'chess'. Susan Polgar wrote on her blog of Thursday, February 14, 2008, The Obama chess background: "I was told that Barack Obama plays chess and he definitely supports chess. However, it is also known now that his wife plays chess as well." Susan does not mention who told her this, but does go on to quote from an article in the NY Times published that day, Michelle Obama Thrives in Campaign Trenches: "Mrs. Obama and her brother were expected to fill their time with books, chess, sports — and, critically important they both said, dinnertime conversations with their parents." (Source: NY Times)Bob Herbert of the NY Times titled his op-ed of Febuary 9, 2009, "The Chess Master".
A member of a British foreign policy think tank was quoted by the UPI and AP as saying : "While the U.S. has been playing poker in the region, Iran has been playing chess. Iran is playing a longer, more clever game and has been far more successful at winning hearts and minds."
I am reminded of the famous statement from the Cuban missle crisis from JFK: "They play chess. We play poker."
There is a chapter, 'Poker Ideology' in The King: Chess Pieces by J.H. Donner in which he writes: he writes (pp. 138-139):"The game of chess has never been held in great esteem by the North Americans. Their culture is steeped in deeply anti-intellectual tendencies. They pride themselves in having created the game of poker. It is their national game, springing from a tradition of westward expansion, of gun-slinging skirt chasers who slept with cows and horses. They distrust chess as a game of Central European immigrants with a homesick longing for clandestine conspiracies in quiet coffee houses. Their deepest conviction is that bluff and escalation will achieve more than scheming and patience (witness their foreign policy). "
On January 30th, 2009 tas, writing on the blog: Comments From Left Field asks: Is Obama playing chess with bankers, too? (
The asks: Obama--Playing Chess in a World of Checkers Perhaps he isn't just the best checkers player in a town of checkers players. Perhaps he is the only man playing chess in a city of checkers players?
On July 6 Spiegel Online published an interview with Henry Kissinger (see "Obama Is Like a Chess Master"). Kissinger was asked: SPIEGEL: Do you think it was helpful for Obama to deliver a speech to the Islamic world in Cairo? Or has he created a lot of illusions about what politics can deliver?
Kissinger: Obama is like a chess player who is playing simultaneous chess and has opened his game with an unusual opening. Now he's got to play his hand as he plays his various counterparts. We haven't gotten beyond the opening game move yet. I have no quarrel with the opening move.
On November 11, 2009, jaideepkhanduja writes on Technorati: Obama's Asian Chess Championship Itinerary. U.S. President Barack Obama, starting on 12th November 2009, is going for nine days to visit various Asian countries. Obama is going to play chess with the respective leaders of Japan, Singapore, China, South Korea, Russia, Indonesia, and Myanmar. The winning and losing will chalk out various resolutions and decisions with these countries in terms of their relations with U.S. and other countries.
I wonder why he is not visiting India and Pakistan? Maybe he knows there are very good chess players in India. And in Pakistan, they don’t treat well with the opponent after losing game.
Somehow I always feel that the U.S. leader’s visit to any country has a different motive always than it is stated. And the talks are never transparent and conclusive.Bon Voyage, Mr. Barack Obama. (
Like chess? Love Obama? You can even Play Obama Chess free! (
The chess reference I like best is a cartoon by Scott Stantis of the Chicago Tribune on October 28, 2009 (,0,2807119.cartoongallery
This month's German Go Journal cover features a photo of President Obama ostensibly playing go with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Board 1 at the U.S. Go Congress; the original photo was taken by Pete Souza and adapted by German Go Journal Editor Tobias Berben.
So what gift did the POTUS give the leader of China? A chess, maybe? Or playing cards, or poker chips? He gave him a Go set! Go figure...

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