How The Debt-Ceiling Negotiations Are Like Poker If you take away the politics and talking points from the debt-ceiling showdown, you end up with something that looks a lot like a Texas Hold 'em poker game. Both sides are posturing, taking risks, making big bets and, of course, bluffing.
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How The Debt-Ceiling Negotiations Are Like Poker

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How The Debt-Ceiling Negotiations Are Like Poker

How The Debt-Ceiling Negotiations Are Like Poker

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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While the battle over the debt continues here in Washington, another high- stakes battle is playing out in Las Vegas, at the World Series of Poker. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports on the strategy at play both in cards and politics.

SONARI GLINTON: If you remove the talking points and the media from the debt ceiling showdown, what you end up with is something that looks or rather sounds kind of like this.

Unidentified Man #1: He's going to raise it to $1.8 million.

Unidentified Man #2: The best defense against an aggressive player is a good offense.

Man #1: (Unintelligible) will take down that pot.

Man #2: Antonio is reeling.

Man #1: Get the life coach on the line stat.

GLINTON: Extremely, insanely high stakes, no limit Texas Hold'em poker. You got your posturing, risk taking, betting and of course bluffing.

ANTONIO ESFANDIARI: It's a war zone. And you can't be a top- notch poker player without bluffing.

GLINTON: Antonio Esfandiari is a champion poker player. He's won millions at the tables.

ESFANDIARI: I know when I throw $100,000 out there, and I'm on a stone cold bluff, deep down, I'm praying please don't call. But at the same time, I'm trying to show face. I'm trying to keep it as cool as I can.

GLINTON: Esfandiari is an announcer for the World Series of Poker. I reached him by cell phone from Las Vegas, where the tournament is going on now. Esfandiari says the rules of poker carry over to Washington, and right now he says both sides have to be asking a fundamental question.

ESFANDIARI: You know, what is my opponent's comfort threshold? That's a very key factor in moving forward with bluffing and negotiating. At what point is my opponent going to crack? And everyone has their cracking point.

GLINTON: What's the cracking point? That's like the trillion-dollar question. To find out, we travel from the world of poker to academia, which in this case isn't that far.

ADAM GALINSKY: My name is Adam Galinsky. I'm a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

GLINTON: Galinsky studies and teaches negotiations. He says if this were just about money, it would be very easy for both sides to figure things out, but of course it's about much more.

GALINSKY: What do I believe government should look like, and should I fight for that? There is the, you know, direct effect on the economy. So you have principle, you have politics, and you have, you know, you could call it, prosperity to make it three Ps, right. And all of those things may matter differently to different people who are negotiating.

GLINTON: Galinsky say it's all kind of like a poker game to the millionth power. He says that tension makes the negotiators' brains go kind of haywire.

GALINSKY: As the stakes go up, and we feel greater pressure, and we feel sort of more psychological closeness to the thing that we care about, it's harder for us to see the big picture.

GLINTON: When things get really tense, Galinsky says we fall back on to scripts, ideas we have about what negotiations should look like. You know, I make an offer, you counter, I make another offer, we split down the middle, that's a script.

GALINSKY: I think in the political world, the script you're dealing with right now is that people don't budge until the last minute. We have a script in our politics that says, you know, we don't budge, we don't budge, we don't budge. And then finally we budge when, you know, the deadline is looming very, very large.

GLINTON: What remains to be seen in the debt negotiations is who's got the better hand and who's bluffing - well, that is if anyone's bluffing at all.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News.

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