Michael Beschloss recalls the history of poker-playing presidents, including FDR, Harding, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Truman:
Harry Truman was the president most publicly identified with poker, which seemed natural for a product of the Kansas City political machine led by the back-room Democratic boss Tom Pendergast.
Truman preferred what was described as a “frantic” high-low poker, which he called Vinson, after his favorite partner, Fred Vinson of Kentucky (whom he later named chief justice), playing with poker chips he had ordered specially embossed with the presidential seal. Truman’s famous motto, “The Buck Stops Here,” which was emblazoned on a sign atop his Oval Office desk, was a poker expression.
In March 1946, on the night before the Cold War started in earnest, Truman sat down to poker with Winston Churchill, who was wearing his zippered siren suit. The two men were riding aboard the presidential train, which was rushing across Missouri.
Churchill had played poker for decades. “This man is cagey and is probably an excellent player,” Truman had quietly warned his advisers. “The reputation of American poker is at stake, and I expect every man to do his duty.”
“Boss, this guy’s a pigeon,” scoffed Truman’s roguish aide (and World War I Army pal) Gen. Harry Vaughan, who added, “If you want us to give it our best, we’ll have his underwear.” By the time the game stopped at 2:30 a.m., the former British prime minister had indeed lost about $250.