Poker

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The Independent Culture
SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC is not a good poker player. Saddam Hussein is. One can make these broad judgements in the light of recent conflicts involving these two leaders. War has sometimes been described as diplomacy by other means. In poker, as in war, the winner is the player who understands his strengths and his weaknesses and those of his opponent, and takes action accordingly.

Milosevic was a player who kept on winning small pots - for years he succeeded in resisting the pressure of the international community. What he failed to realise was that his main opponent, the US, had far more chips than he did. It was a no-limit game. If he went on long enough, he was going to be busted. And so he was. A prudent player would have hung on to the small gains he had made and found a way of ending the game (by negotiating a settlement) while he was still ahead. Milosevic had the chance and missed it.

Many poker players commit this error. If you are playing above your natural or "comfortable" level, you must know when to get out.

Saddam Hussein, by contrast, was a small player who got so carried away by his own rhetoric that he upped the stakes with a huge bet, the invasion of Kuwait. Certainly, he talked a very good game. But unlike Milosevic, the moment the Iraqi leader saw that he was up against overwhelming odds, he folded. He left a lot of chips on the table, in the form of losses in men and material. But he survived, to fight again. Saddam is a master of the losing play, of hanging in there as long as possible, needling his opponent and then backing down at the last moment. What's more, he is still doing it.

And what about our own side? The Allies' strong card was total air superiority. Bill Clinton seemed like a weak weak player, who did not want to commit himself (with ground troops). But he had a strong partner in Tony Blair. The analogy is not, of course, exact; but in war, as in tournament poker, it sometimes pays to have a partner.

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