Dear Mr. Byrd: My Letter to a High School Principal
There was a recent article in the Washington Post about a high school in a Virginia suburb that formed a poker club for its students. The article notes, “[The club] has quickly become one of the most popular extracurricular activities at the Falls Church high school.” Color me astonished.
Of course, the anti-gambling groups are all over this – that the school is sending its students on a path to addiction and so on. I decided to write a letter to the principal of the school expressing my support for the club and giving him a few pointers on dealing with upset parents. Here’s my letter:
Dear Mr. Byrd –
I recently saw the Washington Post article about the poker club that has started at George Mason High School. I took a great interest in it because I am quite passionate about poker and even more passionate about education and raising good young adults and citizens.
I have a unique perspective because I not only work in the poker industry, but also helped raise two boys who (I believe) are now fine young men; I see both sides of the coin better than most.
To state the point briefly, I think that your poker club, properly managed, can be an extraordinary resource and teaching tool for your students.
· Life in the modern world is a series of gambles; one has no choice in the matter. You buy home and auto insurance knowing that both are bad bets in a pure monetary sense (if they weren’t, insurance companies wouldn’t stay in business). But most of us choose (or are forced) to make those purchases. Studying poker requires you to study odds and “expected value,” the return you can mathematically expect from a gamble. This is exactly the sort of calculation that thinking consumers must make in answering questions such as, “Should I buy an extended warranty,” a question that your students must face every time they walk into Best Buy.
· I note that the Commonwealth of Virginia actively entices its citizens to gamble on its own lottery (VALottery.com). Go to that website and see if you can distinguish it from any other gambling or casino website in cyberspace. I encourage your poker club sponsor, Mr. Snyder, to take an hour and teach the numbers, the statistics, and the expected value associated with playing the Virginia Lottery. I think you’ll find that your poker club members quickly become immune to its siren call and thus you have made them smarter consumers.
· Your school sits in the long shadow of the Washington Monument and marinates in the power politics of its region (I know the feeling; I grew up in Potomac). Because it is a game of incomplete information (unlike, for instance, chess), poker is an excellent model for many diplomatic negotiations, national stalemates, and even wars. Long academic treatises have been written about the poker-like nature of many Civil War battles and the poker skills of the various generals. Terms such as “bluffing” and “raising the ante” will appear on the front page of the Washington Post regarding the most pressing issues in geopolitics; this is not an accident.
· As one of your students says in the Post article, “I don’t know whether math class is helping me with poker, or whether poker is helping me in math class.” A vein of math runs throughout poker; prick the game and it bleeds numbers. I fought (mostly in vain) to make math relevant to my sons when they were in high school; now they bemoan their ignorance of the subject as they try to work out mortgage calculations and home project measurements. Poker instantly makes math relevant to students and gives them their first taste for the usefulness (and power) of numbers. Listen to the question mentioned in the Post article: “What’s the ratio of getting an out here?” And, suddenly, 18 students are furiously doing division in their heads.
Mr. Byrd, as you well know, it’s a tough world out there that your students are headed for. Poker is a wonderful tool to help them frame the myriad choices and, indeed, gambles that they will have to make over the coming years. Properly taught (as I’m sure it is in your club), it can help them use mathematics and logic to make those decisions and make them more educated consumers and wiser citizens. I can’t think of a stronger endorsement for your poker club.
As a final note, one or two of your club members may recognize my name (I’m a C-list celebrity in the poker world). If you would like, I would be delighted to visit a meeting of the club and give a short talk. My parents still live in Potomac and it would give me an excuse to come see them.
Many thanks for your time and thank you for everything you do to help educate Falls Church’s kids.
Lee Jones is a veteran of the poker industry and the author of “Winning Low Limit Hold’em,” which is still in print over 15 years after its initial publication.
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