John Scholvin

John Scholvin

still can’t fit a half-stack in the trunk

05 Oct 2020

all in

I don’t play a ton of poker. Some charity tournaments here and there. I’m usually good enough to be one of the last players eliminated before the payouts start. Better than the random fish off the street, but not quite as good as the sharks.

Even after I inevitably get bounced, I stick around to watch the action complete at the final table. And I’ve watched a fair amount on TV, too. (Hush. It’s fun, and Norman Chad is one of the best color analysts working anywhere.) Late in games, I see a pattern regularly, which, if I were a little more serious, I might even know the name for. Often, when you get down to the final two players and one has a substantial chip lead over the other, there comes a time where the player in the lesser position gets to the “fuck it” point and, praying for a miracle, goes all in with a mediocre hand. He knows his night is about done either way, and he hopes that maybe he’ll catch a lightning bolt in the community. If it does, he can double his stack and fight a while longer. If not, well, he was going to lose soon enough anyway, and why not now, who cares, someone make him a stiff drink.

I can’t help thinking I’m seeing the same thing today as 45 declares that he’s beaten Covid, and marches out of the hospital to “prove” it. He’s all in with a crap hand. The polls and electoral forecasts continue to move against him, and time is running out with the election only four weeks away. He’s about to suffer the greatest humiliation of his life, and then, probably, face the law afterward.

If he’s right—if he really has beaten it, with the aid of every insane experimental juice they could pump into him—he can claim that he’s defeated the thing that most singularly defined his presidency as a failure: his capitulation to the pandemic. The maga crowd will see him as a conquering hero, possibly with enough time left to move to polls in his favor. And if he’s wrong—if he ends up getting sicker and going back into the hospital, or even dying—well, like the heads-up player on a short stack, his run was over anyway.

It’s of a piece with the rest of his adult life, really. Making absolutely insane bets on himself, safe in the knowledge that either he’d scrape out a lucky win, or at least not be stuck holding the bag if he lost. The difference, this time, is only the size of the bet. To be on the wrong side of this wager will, indeed, be his exit from the final table.