Nuclear poker game

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Anchor Marco Werman speaks with journalist and poker player James McManus, who brings his poker skills to his observations of North Korea and Iran. He's been watching those countries' leaders to find patterns in how they portray their nuclear capabilities.

MARCO WERMAN: Sometimes handling a national security threat requires knowing how to call a bluff. That's according to James McManus. He is competing in the World Series of Poker right now in Vegas. McManus wrote a recent piece in Foreign Policy magazine entitled "Playing with a Full Deck: Lessons about Nuclear Deterrence from the Poker Table". McManus says modern diplomacy has become a deadly real life version of poker.

JAMES MCMANUS: Ever since we entered the nuclear age, it has become more and more important to be able to figure out what our adversaries are willing to do or what they're simply pretending that they might do. And figuring out the answer to such questions uses a very similar logic to what poker players deploy.

WERMAN: Explain how this works in action. If we take Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week his country would not agree to talks on nuclear weapons if the U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions. But the council voted for the sanctions Wednesday. How do you figure out when you can call what Ahmadinejad says a bluff?

MCMANUS: Both sides are interested in misrepresenting the strength of their hands. We are willing to take military action with conventional weapons or we are not. Israel might attack the scientific bases Iran with a nuclear weapon or they won't. Iran is trying to enrich the uranium to build a bomb, or as they say, simply to provide more electricity for their people. But what a poker player would say looking at that situation, they would notice a tell. The senior ayatollahs have issued fatwas sanctioning the use of nuclear weapons. Iran has a super abundance of oil, so there's not a terribly compelling reason to think that they need more electricity. All the signs, all the tells, all the patterns, lead us through poker logic to a conclusion that Iran is trying to enrich the uranium in order to build a nuclear weapon or several.

WERMAN: When you say these bluffs are a misrepresentation of the strength of hand, are you able to tell whether the misrepresentation is low balling it or high balling it?

MCMANUS: Poker and diplomatic stand offs, there's always hidden information. You develop a knack for noticing the preponderance of evidence, the patterns of a poker player's previous betting, the look on their face, the amount of chips that they might have left all help you come to a conclusion that they are or aren't willing to go all in, to do the unthinkable, to fire a weapon on Israel, or the Israelis to fire a weapon into Iran. Since we can never know the other side's intentions with 100% accuracy, we need to deploy poker logic to make the best possible guess.

WERMAN: I guess my question then is what is President Obama, from a poker player's perspective, supposed to do to figure out just how Tehran is misrepresenting its hands?

MCMANUS: Well he's in a very tough situation. Obama is a cool, rational sort of poker player. I called him a small all artist. His inclination is not to make a series of wild all in bluffs; he's more of a coolly rational calculator.

WERMAN: Do you think American diplomats these days get these poker concepts for the jobs they do? Are they bluffing and betting with the best of them or are they just not aware that they may have poker skills they could apply to their jobs?

MCMANUS: Whenever there is a nuclear negotiation going on, senior people, they are fully aware of the implications of game theory and that they are fairly precisely calibrating, as closely as possible, what the opponent is willing to do, might do, is capable of doing all the time and that's the art of diplomacy in the nuclear age.

WERMAN: And Jim, I guess the most important question, how are you doing in the 2010 World Series of Poker?

MCMANUS: Now that we've got the small issues covered, I can talk about how I'm doing in the World Series? I'm in the second day; these are three day tournaments. I just made the second day of the $5,000.00 No Limit Hold 'Em Championship.

WERMAN: No limit?

MCMANUS: No Limit Hold 'Em.

WERMAN: Okay, we'll let you go. James McManus, a professional poker player and author of "Cowboy's Full; The Story of Poker". He joined us from the 2010 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Jim, continue the good luck.

MCMANUS: Hey my pleasure. It's not luck, its skill.

WERMAN: Okay. Continue the good skill and luck.

MCMANUS: Okay, thanks.