Bridge versus poker


From Animal Spirits, by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, which I highly recommend as background for understanding what’s happening in the current economic crisis:

The post-1920s cultural change manifested itself in other ways, for instance in leisure activities. In the Depression years of the 1930s, the card game contract bridge, first played in the United States in the late 1920s, blossomed. By 1941, the end of the Great Depression, a survey by the Association of American Playing Card Manufacturers revealed that contract bridge had become the most popular card game in the country, and that 44% of U.S. households played it. Contract bridge is a game played by partners, who must cooperate — a social game that from the beginning was frequently recommended as a way to make friends or even find a beau. It was recommended as a means of learning social skills (though the game occasionally ended friendships or caused divorces). Contract bridge has only rarely been played for money.

Yet in the first decade of the twenty-first century contract bridge is in serious decline, viewed as a game for the elderly, with few younger enthusiasts. In contrast, in recent years poker — and especially its twenty-first century variation, Texas hold’em — has surged forward. These games are played by individuals for themselves alone, emphasize a type of deception variously called bluffing and “keeping a poker face,” and are generally played for money.

Of course we know there may be no link between what is taking place at the card table and what is taking place in the economy. But if card games played by millions of people shift the role of deception, wouldn’t we be naïve simply to assume that such shifts do not also occur in the world of commerce?

As someone who played bridge reasonably seriously a very, very long time ago, and who never played poker, these paragraphs ring true to me. But I wonder if Akerlof and Shiller remembered that Jimmy Cayne, the disastrous head of Bear Stearns, was a international-level bridge player?

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