Gary Trask
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

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New poker thinking society attracts legends

17 October 2007
By Gary Trask

CAMBRIDGE – When Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson first contacted Howard Lederer back in April to tell him about his plan to create a "poker thinking society," it didn't immediately register as an ingenious idea.

But after considering the source, Lederer, one of the most widely known poker players in the world, didn't instantly advise the professor to throw his plan into the muck pile.

"Professor Nesson is an amazing guy," Lederer explained. "He has this knack of saying something to you and your first instinct is to say, 'What?!?' But then two days later you say to yourself, 'Hmm. That's brilliant.' That's what happened with this one. The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was something that would be great to be a part of."

So there he was on Monday night at Hauser Hall on the campus of Harvard Law School sitting at the head table, alongside poker pioneer Crandell Addington for a forum moderated by Nesson titled, "Poker: A Game of Truth in Life and Law." The event was the first of series that will be held at Harvard this semester as part of Nesson's recently founded Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society (

On Oct. 1, Harvard Law School formally approved the GPSTS as an official student organization and, with Harvard Law School student Andrew Woods helping to organize it, saw 62 students sign on as members. Chapters are now being formed across the U.S. on campuses such as Penn State, UCLA and Stanford as well as at universities in Singapore, Finland and the United Kingdom.

Nesson was thrilled with the outcome of the first lecture.

"There was a lot of intelligence in the room tonight," said a beaming Nesson moments after the lecture and minutes before he, Lederer and about 15 students adjourned to another classroom to play – what else? – poker. "There was intelligence in the audience and intelligence up on that head table. It made for a great evening."

A major goal of the GPSTS is to create an open online curriculum centered on poker in order to promote open education and Internet democracy.

"Poker teaches many lessons that are transferable to challenges in life, including strategic understanding of risk, resource management and self control," said Nesson, a tenured Harvard professor for almost 40 years. "It's also a way of teaching people how to think liberally. It forces you to see things from someone else's view. That's the essence of the game."

In making his case, Nesson probably couldn't have come up with two better featured guests than Addington and Lederer.

Lederer, who turns 43 next week, is nicknamed "The Professor" because of his analytic style at the poker table. The New Hampshire native attended Columbia University, where he discovered poker. In 1994 he relocated to Las Vegas and has since claimed two World Series of Poker bracelets and more than $3 million in winnings.

Lederer's success on the world-wide poker stage probably wouldn't have been possible without the work of Addington, the Texas native who is one of the WSOP founders. The Poker Hall of Famer has reached the Main Event final table a record seven times, but his fortune comes from the business world where he founded an oil and exploration company that he ran for 30 years. He is currently chairman of Gold Reef International, a precious metals exploration company that he founded. In addition, Addington, 69, is CEO and chairman of Phoenix Biotechnology, a cancer drug research firm.

"Poker was integral to my success," said Addington, who was decked out in his customary suit and tie. "It taught me a lot of things, but most of all it taught me the lesson that failure is not a permanent condition. Also, it teaches you how to be disciplined and that's important because if you're pursuing an economic interest – which is what playing poker is to me – you better be disciplined."

The GPSTS continued Tuesday at Harvard with a discussion of Antigua's World Trade Organization dispute with the U.S. over online gambling. On Nov. 10, poker historian Jim McManus will join Mike Sexton, considered one of the most skilled poker players ever, for another forum on using poker as an educational utility.

"Tonight helped drive home the point that when you can talk about something you care deeply about in a way that's civil and interesting, it can be a great teaching event," added Nesson. "And that's exactly what this is all about."

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