Correspondence

Poker Lessons

Letter From the Lower Right

(I didn't write this month's letter. My poker and fishing buddy Peter Donaldson did. Peter's an Irish Catholic boy from Brooklyn, but a fast learner. After he moved from North Carolina to Occupied Virginia, to take a job in DC, he sent back to the Chapel Hill Newspaper some reflections on what he missed. I couldn't have said it better, or as well, myself. —JSR)

I am a terrible poker player. I know exactly how bad I am because I once played with an empiricist—or finagler, depending on whether you think he was motivated by science or greed—who after each game calculated how much each of us won or lost. During the two years my friend collected data, I lost more than any of the seven regular players and had the longest losing streak. In my own defense, I should say that my two-year average combined a so-so year, during which I almost broke even, with a miserable year, during which I funded my friends' recreations.

I am a poor poker player because I think of poker as a relaxing diversion and an occasion for camaraderie. Better players understand the game as an exercise in discipline and a chance to outsmart one's neighbors.

The Chapel Hill poker game to which for eight years I devoted every other Thursday evening had a history of almost two decades, during which harsh words were exchanged only once. The limits of the game's goodwill startled visitors...

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