Gambling and War

Risk, Reward, and Chance in International Conflict
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Published:October 15, 2017

The Los Angeles Review of Books considers Justin Conrad’s Gambling and War in Gambler-in-Chief: The Declining Value of Strategy in Trump’s World.

Gambling & War Teaching Guide by Naval Institute Press.

PRESS RELEASE: "Gambling and War: Risk, Reward, and Chance in International Conflict".

EXCERPT: Gambling and War: Risk, Reward, and Chance in International Conflict.

In 1914, as Germany mobilized for war, Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg remarked to the country’s legislators, “If the iron dice must roll, then God help us.” War has often been compared to a game of dice or a lottery. Just as frequently, however, it has been compared to a game of pure strategy like chess. Napoleon’s shocking successes during the early years of the Napoleonic Wars, for example, are often attributed to strategic superiority and his ability to see the conflict in the same way a player sees the pieces on a chess board. The business of negotiating with adversaries, fighting wars, and ending wars is more complicated than a game of chess, where each player can see all the pieces on the board and knows the possible moves they can make. War is far more chaotic and unpredictable. Yet international bargaining and conflict is not a simple dice game either, where human beings have no control over the outcome.

Justin Conrad bets that war is more like a game of poker. Gambling and War brings readers a war college course taught at a Las Vegas casino. To succeed in poker, it is not enough simply to anticipate the actions of other players and try to outsmart them. A successful player must also understand and appreciate the role of randomness. Additionally, players must confront the reality that all human beings are prone to errors in judgment, which in turn cause them to make suboptimal choices under many circumstances. Taken together, these challenges make poker a fascinating and highly unpredictable game, much like the dynamics of international conflict. Any comprehensive analysis of why wars occur and how they are fought must consider a variety of factors, including strategy, human error, and dumb luck.

Gambling and War applies lessons learned from poker, blackjack, roulette, and other games of chance to the study of international conflict. Drawing on scholarly insights from a variety of fields, including probability, statistics, political science, psychology, and economics, Conrad offers thoughts on how we can better manage and prevent international conflict, the costliest game of all.


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Product Details
  • Subject: Strategy, Tactics, Operations
  • Hardcover : 256 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press (October 15, 2017)
  • ISBN-10: 1682472194
  • ISBN-13: 9781682472194
  • Product Dimensions: 6 X 9 in
  • Shipping Weight: 19.68 oz
  • Gambling and War is an interesting book which explores a handful of important theories about international relations, specifically concerning conflict, through a discussion focused on poker.” —RUSI Journal
  • “Scholars and members of the public alike often refer to war as a gamble, but how and why this is the case and the resemblance between war and games of chance are rarely plumbed as interesting and carefully as they are by Justin Conrad. Whether you are preparing to play poker or to study a war, you can learn a lot from Gambling and War.” —Robert Jervis, author of How Statesmen Think: The Psychology of International Politics
  • "In this innovative and exciting study, Justin Conrad explores the intersection of strategy and psychology in war through analogy with the game of poker. With careful scholarship and well-selected examples, Conrad shows that international politics is the most dangerous game humans play." —Stephen Benedict Dyson, author of Other Worldly Politics: The International Relations of Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and Battlestar Galactica
  • "Justin Conrad has crafted an exceptional work that goes well beyond the familiar comparison of international conflict and games of chance and addresses a fundamental challenge for international relations scholars—bridging-the-gaps between the academy, the public, and policy makers. The result is an excellent introduction to conflict theory for students, interested observers, and practitioners. At a time when the global conflict environment seems increasingly chaotic and unpredictable, Gambling and War provides an excellent exposition of relevant international relations theories and makes a strong case for the value of information and credibility in navigating a risk-laden world." —CDR. Matthew “Tut” Testerman, U.S. Naval Academy
JUSTIN CONRAD, PHD, is associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dr. Conrad has published studies on international conflict and terrorism in leading academic journals. He is also an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and a terrible poker player.

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