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How Did Poker Help Richard Nixon Get Into Politics?

Richard Nixon's poker prowess during his Navy service in WWII wasn't just a pastime; it honed his strategic thinking and bankrolled his first political campaign. His winnings demonstrated a sharp mind and resilience—traits that propelled him into the political arena. How did these skills translate to the cutthroat world of politics? Join us as we uncover the story.

In 1944, U.S. Navy Lt. Richard Nixon was stationed at an airbase on Green Island, part of Papua New Guinea. It was a quiet place, and a dramatic change of pace after the action he had seen on Guadalcanal. It was on Green Island that the 30-year-old Nixon learned how to play poker. According to History.com, Nixon came to the base without any knowledge of the game, and simply watched other officers play cards during their downtime, fascinated with the bluffing and bravado of the game.

Apparently, Nixon was a quick study, because before long he was winning – and winning big. In just a few months, Nixon had amassed at least $6,000 USD (or possibly as much as $8,000). Either way, that was a tidy sum in the 1940s (roughly $100,000 in today's money), and it would help the future president finance his successful candidacy for a California congressional seat in 1946.

Richard Nixon, card shark?

  • “He was the finest poker player I have ever played against,” said former Navy comrade James Udall in a 1970 Life magazine interview. “I once saw him bluff a lieutenant commander out of $1,500 with a pair of deuces.” In the same article, another comrade reported that he had never seen Nixon lose.

  • It’s said that Nixon used the principles of poker in his diplomatic forays as U.S. president. He’d concede the little pots, such as making concessions in his talks with China or the USSR, as long as he could win big on issues of national importance.

  • Nixon grew up in a religious Quaker family in California, where gambling, drinking, and swearing were not acceptable. Ironically, his Quaker background would have excused him from military service during WWII, but he chose to enlist at age 29.

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    • Richard Nixon helped fund his first congressional run in 1946 with poker winnings from his World War II naval service.
      By: semmickphoto
      Richard Nixon helped fund his first congressional run in 1946 with poker winnings from his World War II naval service.