The Main Event of the 49th Annual World Series of Poker concluded in Las Vegas, with the nine remaining players from a field of 7,874 vying for a championship bracelet and a first-place prize of 8.8 million dollars. 2,500 miles away, a somewhat smaller and less lucrative poker tournament series took place in the Friend Center Convocation Room at Princeton during the 2017-2018 school year – the Princeton Series of Poker.
Like the World Series of Poker, the PSOP attracts a mix of serious and recreational players to compete in the great game of No Limit Texas Hold’Em. Over the course of the year, the PSOP hosts seven or eight tournaments, which each attract somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 - 75 Princeton students looking to win prizes and earn points to climb the official PSOP leaderboard.
In many ways, the PSOP epitomizes the ways in which Princeton benefits its students. For one, the generosity of the University allows it to subsidize tournaments, providing dinner and giving students the opportunity to win prizes without having to pay an entry fee. (In a somewhat amusing twist, poker has been classified as a wholesome enough activity to receive money from the Alcohol Initiative Committee, which funds “late night social alternatives.”) Also, the tournaments receive attention from companies, particularly quantitative trading firms, interested in recruiting Princeton students. A number of such companies have sponsored tournaments and dispatched employees to deal tables and interact with students. One company even sent Jerrod Ankenman, the author of the well-known book The Mathematics of Poker, as a representative.
The most enjoyable aspect of the tournaments, however, is the ability to play with other Princeton students. The atmosphere is always friendly and energetic, as poker enthusiasts and newbies alike casually chat about hands, relishing the opportunity to apply their capable analytic abilities to an activity other than problem sets or papers. To me, these tournaments serve as good evidence for prospective students unconvinced that Princeton students do anything besides study – they show that a consistent group of students are willing to put their work aside to eat pizza and play a game, at least for a few hours.