During vacations, when I'm at my parents, I typically find myself watching TV, and lots of it. A while back, I watched the 2005 World Series of Poker. About ten years ago, poker, specifically, Texas Hold 'Em Poker went stratospheric.
Normally, card games were of the spades/hearts variety, the kind college kids played, but the kind you didn't see in real casinos. Those card games were considered, well, a for people who couldn't control themselves. But for some reason, Texas Hold 'Em captured the imagination-and addiction-of many who would never have thought of it anyway. They had a taste of why gambling compels people like a form of drug addiction.
Perhaps it was the film Rounders, which was about a law student who used to play poker, but has now gone away from it to lead a straight life, until he meets up with a former buddy of his who needs his help. Maybe it was The Travel Channel showing these matches on television that sparked the interest.
The World Series of Poker has to be the most open of open tournaments. Anyone can play provided they put up the entrance fee. Six thousand players started off the tournament in 2005. This means players, even great players, have a difficult time making the final table. While there's skill, there's a great deal of luck.
And skill? Many can pick up skill by playing online, or against a computer. When you play online, you can play several games at once. Games are played at a rapid pace. You learn to play the cards more than play the person.
One unlikely guy to make the final table, who wasn't so unlikely after all, was a guy named Brad Kondracki. Kondracki, announcers would tell us, was a law student at Penn (presumably, University of Pennsylvania).
It's less well known that Kondracki did his undergraduate degree at Cornell, and even less well known that he majored in computer science. Apparently, Kondracki spent a year after graduation playing poker all the time, getting good, good enough to place eighth overall.
But as I said, it's tough to do consistently well. A player may do well one year, then you never see them again. Do a Google on Kondracki and you don't much see him, except references to his 2005 success. I suppose it's odd to think that the guy knew something about NP completeness as much as betting on the river.
There's perhaps some irony that this thought, which hasn't crossed my mind much since that vacation day, would come on a sleepless evening, when ESPN would rerun the 2005 event.
One wonders what Kondracki does these days, after a brief, shining moment, where he was at a final table with a chance to win it all.
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