BY PETER OSTROVSKI
Five titans of the Harvard Law poker world entered the solitary Sterling Building with a hunger for victory. They would be taking on the best players Yale Law could offer in the ultimate test of poker expertise: heads up no limit Texas Hold ‘Em.
Each would play his respective opponent until one of them had all the chips on the table. In order to maximize the prevalence of skill, which the Harvard players were confident was on their side, this process would be repeated until a “best two out of three” winner was established. Such a winner would score one point for his school. The first team with three points would take home the title.
The event was the optimistically titled the First Annual Harvard-Yale Poker Tournament and took place the Friday night before the schools’ storied football game. Organized by the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society (GPSTS) and its chapters at each school, it was the first of what the group hopes will be a proliferation of such inter-school competitions across the country.
As soon as the Harvard team came in, it was clear that they were ready for business. Decked out in team jerseys (t-shirts on sale at the Coop), they sat down to play for the inaugural trophy and, more importantly, bragging rights.
But despite the competitive spirit stirring within the players, all five matches got off to a slow start. Both sides were hesitant to make big moves and instead collected information about the opposition. Over forty minutes into the tournament, not a single player had won the first match against his opponent, and blinds, or minimum bets, were raised to unanticipated levels.
Finally, fifty-three minutes into the competition, Harvard’s Ryan Adrian scored an important moral victory for Harvard by winning the first match of the tournament. Peter Ostrovski (the author of this article) and Andrew Woods also won their opening bouts. While these victories would not necessarily have implications for the final score, they gave the Harvard team a strong boost of confidence that would carry over into later games.
The next round also featured deliberate play, and over thirty minutes passed before a shout of “all in” was heard. It came from Adrian, who had forced a Yale player to commit all his chips with an inferior hand. After another community card was revealed, Adrian’s hand held up, and he raked in the chips and the first official point for Harvard.
Harvard player Justin Liu’s victory followed soon after, but he still needed one more win to score a point under the tournament format. Wholeheartedly believing he had deciphered his adversary’s play, Liu vowed to get the decisive win before anyone else.
Liu’s promise came to fruition, as Woods slowly lost his chip stack and Ostrovski suffered two unlikely pot losses to worse hands that improved. Their matches were now tied at one a piece, while only a few minutes later, Liu finished off his opponent and helped Harvard take a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the prospects for the other three points were looking grim. Jon Montgomery, faced with the arduous task of playing Yale’s best player, was low on chips in his elimination game, and Woods was off to a slow start in his tiebreaker. Even Ostrovski, who seemed to have an impeccable read on his opponent’s play, was struggling to keep, let alone gain, chips. In this dire situation, Ostrovski (a completely unbiased author) went on the offensive.
Seeing the low chip stacks of his teammates, he stepped up his game and entered his playing zone. Both making large bluffs for all his chips on inferior hands and getting top chip value on superior hands, he slowly built a significant lead over his adversary. While Woods took a loss, Ostrovski encouraged the team by assuring them that he would get the necessary victory.
And after a few more hands he did just that. Getting his chips in with the best of it, Ostrovski brought home the trophy for Harvard with win number three. Montgomery, with little motivation to continue, soon gave up his match, making the final score of the tournament 3-2 Harvard. Players for Yale promised to make a stronger showing next year, but Harvard assured them that the showdown would not get any easier.