Monday, April 16, 2007

Harry Truman: Poker Player

I thought we all needed something a little fun to start off the week!

Raymond Geselbracht, in an article in Prologue, shows us a different view of Harry Truman – as a poker player. He begins his article with this:
When Harry Truman was asked in a televised Person to Person interview in 1955 what he did to relax, he responded, "Well, my only relaxation is to work." This was no doubt almost true, but Truman forgot to mention something he loved to do, something that took a lot of time, demanded close attention, consumed a certain amount of emotional energy, and must have caused him some anxiety from time to time. But it probably couldn't be considered work. Truman forgot to mention that, for relaxation and to enjoy the company of friends, he played poker.

Geselbracht talks about Truman’s poker playing throughout his life, including as President:
Truman's favorite poker venue while he was President was the presidential yacht Williamsburg. "You know I'm almost like a kid; I can hardly wait to start," he wrote to his wife, Bess, as he looked forward to a poker outing on the Williamsburg in the summer of 1946. The President, together with some of his regular poker buddies, and perhaps some special guests too, would typically board ship on Friday afternoon and sail on the Potomac River until Sunday afternoon. Truman liked an eight-handed game best. His cronies joined him around the table. Fred Vinson, secretary of the treasury and later chief justice of the United States, was his favorite poker companion. Other regulars included Clinton Anderson, secretary of agriculture and later a senator; Stuart Symington, a Missourian who served Truman in several positions, including secretary of the air force; and longtime friend Harry Vaughan, now Truman's military aide. Future President Lyndon Johnson sometimes joined these games too, his attention focused more on the political talk than on the cards. Truman's young naval aide and later special counsel Clark Clifford organized the games. Clifford had replaced a naval aide who told the President that he didn't drink and didn't play cards. Truman listened to this with interest and very quickly found the man a good job somewhere else. He liked Clifford better; his new naval aide did drink and play cards, the latter so skillfully that he usually won a little money.

He goes on to talk about some of Truman’s poker buddies – including Winston Churchill. He ends with these thoughts on Truman’s poker playing:
Truman loved poker for some of the same reasons that he loved politics. There was a vitality in the game that let him share in the lives of people he liked and see them as they really were, underneath whatever formalities they usually had to adopt when they dealt with a judge, senator, President, or former President. Poker also gave him a chance to make his friends happy in some small ways, which was very important to him. "I've tried all my life," he wrote to Bess in 1937, "to be thoughtful and to make every person I come in contact with happier for having seen me." There's no record of anyone ever leaving a poker game with Harry Truman feeling unhappy.

No comments: