Poker strategy helps with geopolitics

A recent issue of TIME magazine featured a fascinating – and rather worrisome – piece entitled “Nuclear Noises From North Korea, but Watch the South.” The writer, Mark Thompson, declared it “a geopolitical poker game.”
We all know poker is a card game played by two or more people who bet on the value of the hands dealt to them.
And, indeed, there are a wide variety of poker games. Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular today. There is also Omaha, Razz, Stud and on and on. But geopolitical poker? Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?
Anything with “politics” in its makeup has to be taken seriously. “Geopolitical” infers world-wide implications. What’s at stake is much more than a few dollars – so much more.
Without a doubt, geopolitical poker is not fun like the games we play in casinos, or home games, or online. Does it have winners and losers? Does it ever happen that both competitors in the poker game come out losing? (Sure, if the casino rakes most of the players’ chips.)
In fact, the end of a poker hand is well defined: You get to the river and have a showdown. When does a geopolitical game of poker actually reach the end. And, if there actually is a showdown, then what?
According to Thompson, “the geopolitical poker game” between North and South Korea “could blow up any second” with potentially dire consequences for our entire world. This game involves more than just the two key players. The U.S. is heavily engaged; so are Japan and China. Other parts of the world are bound to be impacted one way or another. The stakes? Well, they are enormous, albeit not well defined.
Perhaps North Korea is bluffing. Can we be sure? How well can we “read” their hand?
In this “game,” it seems “North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, the 30-year-old man who recently inherited the dictatorship from his father, wants to show new South Korean President Park Geun-hye (a woman) who’s boss.”
Kim has taken over an impoverished nation of 24 million people, relying on his military partners to back up his bets. His ace-in-the-hole is nuclear weapons capability! That’s even more powerful than pocket Aces.
Playing his hand of geopolitical poker, Kim recently conducted a nuclear test, the third for North Korea – in case anyone had any doubts. He has also displayed missiles he claims can reach as far as the U.S. West Coast, not to mention Hawaii and U.S. ally Japan. It’s for self-defense, he says.
Supporting its ally, South Korea, the U.S. called for more sanctions by the United Nations against North Korea and has conducted war exercises over South Korea and vicinity. In this game of geopolitical poker, it’s not exactly collusion. (That would be cheating.)
Concerned the U.S. may raise the betting too high, new Secretary of State Charles Hagel called off a major U.S. Minuteman missile test launch. (Note: Our friend, George “The Engineer” worked on that program in its early development.) By postponing the launch, perhaps things might cool off. Meanwhile, the U.S. plans to bolster missile defenses “just in case.”
Now, North Korea has pulled out its workers from an important industrial park jointly operated with South Korea, which had been a key economic bridge between the two countries. The U.S. intelligence believes “as before, the stoppage is temporary.”
North Korea may need the income from those industries even more than does South Korea. Lest anyone think he is bluffing, the young North Korean dictator has now announced he will resume production of nuclear weapons.
Indeed, it’s hard to get a decent “read” on the players in this geopolitical game of poker. Who is bluffing? Perhaps the U.S. might call on Mike Caro or other tells experts to see if he can provide some useful insight.
As for the rest of us, I think we would all rather play good “old-fashioned” Texas Hold’em – win or lose, although winning is much more fun.

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