Meeting a hero: Nate Silver

Nate Silver
Lee Jones poker writer
Lee Jones
Posted on: March 08, 2023 08:54 PST

Meeting your heroes can, indeed, be a fraught experience.

Thirty years ago, I randomly encountered one rock 'n roll hero (a household name) and simply expressed my appreciation for the musical joy he'd given me. You'd have thought I said his glasses were out of style.

On the other hand, ten years ago, Rod Stewart responded to the same general sentiment with an, "Oh darling!" and a big hug (in a men's room at the Savoy Hotel in London – not a word of a lie).

I take my chances out there. If somebody changes me and/or my life for the better and the universe decides to cross our paths, I tell my heroes they matter to me. Maybe they're appreciative, maybe they're not, but they definitely won't be either unless I say something.

Which brings me to this past December during the big tournament series at the Wynn in Las Vegas.

What are the odds?

I was in the Wynn poker room and headed toward the podium when I saw Nate Silver headed out the door.

I was aware that he'd been in the $1,100 HORSE tournament, and the players were in the money. I also sensed that Silver had probably just busted out which is not the best time to approach a poker player. Especially a poker player who uses the game to escape from an impossibly busy and high-profile existence. But this was Nate. Silver.

Nate who, you ask?

Very briefly: Silver is the founder of Five-Thirty-Eight, the data-driven politics and sports reporting site. he became famous for correctly predicting the winner in 49 of the 50 U.S. states during the 2008 presidential election. He improved on that record in 2012. His irreverent but spot-on political analysis is a breath of fresh data against a smog of mindless punditry. He was also a professional poker player in a previous life, and poker vocabulary permeates his political commentary (a 538 headline in early November 2012: "Mitt Romney is drawing to an inside straight").

How has Nate Silver changed my life?

Well, he made me a small fortune in the November 2012 election – I simply bet his lines, rather than the "This is going to be a close one!" drama that the Big Players were trying to sell.

But honestly, what he did for me in the last two months was far more important. I had a certain amount of money set aside to send to political candidates, but I wanted to spend my dollars where they'd do the most good. I researched 538 and found three candidates who they said were in tight but winnable races. I put all my funds into those three buckets and managed to hit the trifecta. Nate would be the first to say that I was running pure to accomplish that, which is fine. But I got my money down good, and that's solely because of him and his team.

Anyway, I introduced myself and said I was a big fan. He was incredibly gracious, though he had, indeed, just busted 25th in the HORSE event. He thanked me and even said nice things about my prior role in the poker world. For me, that was like Tony Gwynn complimenting my batting stance. I didn't keep him long – he looked like he needed a beer and some quiet time. But just those couple of minutes were the high point of my week – to say thank you to a guy who makes the world a much better place.

I don't bat .667 at everything I do, so Rod Stewart and Nate Silver have given me the confidence to express my appreciation to the next hero I encounter.

P.S. To inject some politics into a mostly poker-oriented website, I'll run a brief contest. The first person who contacts me and correctly names the three candidates to whom I sent support dollars will win a $100 donation to the charity of their choice. Here are all the clues you need:

  • These races all had national legislative import. No gubernatorial races were involved. You could persuade me that secretary of state races have national import, but I didn't send any money to such candidates.
  • I supported three candidates all of whom won by close margins.
  • I picked the races where I thought my donations, such as they were, were most likely to have an impact.

I consider this contest eminently winnable. The T&Cs of the competition are whatever I decide they are.