11 Quotes About Game Theory to Understand Our Gambler-in-Chief

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Once you stop looking for an underlying strategy in the Trump Presidency – which, from a modest distance, seems to lurch from moment to controversial moment without regard for what came before or what might come tomorrow – you begin to see evidence of the kinds of theories and fallacies that humans are susceptible to when they sit at the roulette table.

Game and puzzle designer Mike Selinker has taken note, issuing two essays (one in July and another in August) tracking Trump’s response to the Russia investigation and the Charlottesville protests through the eyes of a dedicated gambler. The results provide fascinating insight into why humans behave the way they do, when confronted by systems that baffle us with their complexity. According to Selinker, Trump believes he’s “due for a win.” Is he? Or is that just the mentality of a person who’s never played for such high stakes and is now riding for a fall?

Referring back to a batch of authors who’ve weighed in on matters of fate, hubris, and simple human nature – including one former president – it’s tough to reach a firm conclusion. In the meantime, our leader could at least stand to revisit that Kenny Rogers song, which advises: “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table, There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.” 

Alexander Pushkin, “The Queen of Spades,” 1834
“Play interests me very much,” said Hermann: “but I am not in the position to sacrifice the necessary in the hope of winning the superfluous.”

Jennifer Crusie, Bet Me, 2004
“Where were all the women gamblers? It wasn’t as if being a woman wasn’t a huge risk all by itself. Twenty-eight percent of female homicide victims were killed by husbands or lovers.

“Which, come to think of it, was probably why there weren’t any women gamblers. Living with men was enough of a gamble.”

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1906
“The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the business known as gambling.”

Harry Truman, longhand note to Democratic Convention, 1950
“There is a lure in power. It can get into a man’s blood just as gambling and lust for money have been known to do.”

Jeanette Winterson, The Passion, 1987
“Gambling is not a vice, it is an expression of our humanness. We gamble. Some do it at the gaming table, some do not. You play, you win, you play, you lose. You play. It’s the playing that’s irresistible. Dicing from one year to the next with the things you love, what you risk reveals what you value.”

Charles Bukowski, Slouching Toward Nirvana, 2005
“Gamblers are dry and empty souls, their hearts have been sucked dry, there’s no music in their walk, they are colorless and condemned.”

Sara Sheridan, Brighton Belle, 2012
“If the universe was scientific and just left to itself, then we’d have statistical probabilities to rely on. But once people are involved it sometimes becomes much more problematic because they’re erratic. People do crazy things that don’t make sense.”

Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road, 1963
“I don’t gamble, if you will concede that poker is a game of skill.”

Jack London, The Men of Forty Mile and Other Tales of the North, 1899
“Life’s a game and men the gamblers. They’ll stake their whole pile on the one chance in a thousand. Take away that one chance, and – they won’t play.”

Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye, 1982
“Never bring a lot of money to where a poor man lives. He can only lose what little he has. On the other hand it is mathematically possible that he might win whatever you bring with you. What you must do, with money and the poor, is never let them get too close to one another.”

Ian Fleming, Diamonds Are Forever, 1956
“The first thing he noticed was that Las Vegas seemed to have invented a new school of functional architecture, ‘The Gilded Mousetrap School’ he thought it might be called, whose main purpose was to channel the customer-mouse into the central gambling trap whether he wanted the cheese or not.”