Poker tables are pure meritocracies. The pecking order of respect at Charles Town is determined by how good you are at the game. Other players may like you personally, but if you’re a bad player you’re a bad player, and nothing about your status in the outside world makes any difference. For readers with high-powered degrees and high-powered jobs, let me suggest that nothing will do more to keep your feet on the ground than to start playing poker in a public casino. Poker is a game of incomplete information involving complex intellectual tasks, self-discipline and the courage to take properly calculated risks. When you are outthought and outplayed not just once, but regularly, by a skinny 28-year-old wearing a football jersey and with his baseball cap on backward, it is hard to condescend to him because he doesn’t wear grown-up clothes and never went to college. It will also do you good to be in the deference-free zone that is a poker room — as in recently, when I was cashing out and the woman in the cashier’s cage, noting my stack of chips with the patterns on the edges carefully aligned, said confidentially, “Your O.C.D. is showing, baby doll.”
Apart from putting overeducated elitist snobs in their place, the dealers and players at Charles Town could give lessons to the rest of the country about making the melting pot work. In the year and a half I’ve played there, I have not experienced a moment of tension arising from anything involving race, class or gender. I’m not saying such moments never occur, but they’ve never occurred around me. Better than that, it has been as if those issues don’t exist.