Machiavelli and Poker

sugar maple leaves in fall

As I drove home for fall break, I could see all the leaves on the trees in my neighborhood changing colors. Fall was finally here. That meant, at least in my family, that it was time for the poker nights. My family has a tradition of inviting many of our family friends for a friendly game of poker during those chilly autumn evenings. That night, as I looked around our makeshift poker table (it was our dining table), I started to see similarities between the way the actual game of poker is played and how Niccolo Machiavelli advises princes to remain in power in his novel, The Prince. 

Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian historian and political theorist during the Renaissance. His advice from his novel is still relevant today, especially in the game of poker. For example, each player in the poker game is like a prince. The players are fighting a “war” to win all or most of the chips and, in the same manner, princes are fighting a war to gain property and wealth. Additionally, these players and princes have similar ways in measuring their wealth. The number of chips each player has, the higher the better, serves as a way of counting their wealth and strength. Likewise, the number of weapons, wealth, and armed men serves as a way of counting the strength of a prince. The more wealth one has, the greater the loss one can sustain. For instance, poker players with a great amount of wealth can make risky bets without fear. If they lose money, then they still have much remaining and nothing to worry about. Princes that have reinforced their defense or have a large standing army also do not have much to worry about. As Machiavelli states in Chapter X, “…whoever shall fortify his town well, and shall have managed the other concerns of his subjects in the way stated above, and to be often repeated, will never be attacked without great caution, for men are always adverse to enterprises where difficulties can be seen…”. Taking a closer look, this means that if an enemy, or any other player, sees that a player or prince has a large amount of wealth, he or she will think twice about attacking, or as is the case in poker, betting against the wealthy player.

Poker table, cards, and chips.

This leads me into the next topic that is inspired by Machiavelli. I’m sure that everyone has heard of the famous question, “…whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved?” That question was from Machiavelli himself in Chapter XVII of his novel. Machiavelli says that as a prince, “…it is much safer to be feared than loved”. For people will betray those whom they love quicker than those whom they fear. The benefits of being feared can be seen in poker as well. My father is known to be a card shark in his circle of poker friends. He has won quite a few times which results in fear from the other players. For example, if my father bets a large amount, all of the other players fold. It does not matter if he has the worst cards in the world, if he bets, everyone else folds.

I am not the only one to see the connections between the game of poker and Machiavelli’s theories. Author David Apostolico wrote an entire book on how to use Machiavelli’s writings to get better at poker. I’m sure that if Machiavelli was alive right now, he would have been a force to be reckoned with at the poker table.

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One comment

  1. abklee · October 15, 2014

    This is an interesting comparison that you make and not one I would immediately think of. It leads me to wonder if being a good leader has anything to do with being a good poker player, or visa versa. It would be interesting to see what kind of connections could be drawn between the fact that poker is a game, and Machiavelli’s writings were about politics and leadership. David Apostolico’s book seems like something I would like to read as it connects an ancient text with a modern pastime.

    Liked by 1 person

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