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I Hope Phil Gordon Wins the World Series of Poker

The main event of the World Series of Poker gets underway today at the Rio in Las Vegas. Why do I want Phil Gordon to win?

It’s not just because he’s such a nice guy, or because he’s so smart, or because of his philanthropic endeavors, or even because he’s so tall.

It has to do with the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, a.k.a. Rochambeau. As Levitt blogged a few days ago, he was in Vegas this past week to do research with a bunch of world-class poker players. Part of that research included a 64-player Rochambeau tournament that Phil Gordon organized, and which Annie Duke won.

I flew into Vegas just for a couple of days, mostly to see the Rochambeau tournament and to see what might be worth writing about in SuperFreakonomics. I also got to spend time with Gordon and a few of his Full Tilt Poker pals, including Rafe Furst, another terrific and very bright guy who just won his first WSOP bracelet.

One night, Full Tilt threw a big party at Pure, the sleek nightclub at Caesars Palace. It was big and noisy and really fun, and I had a long and interesting conversation with Phil Gordon about a number of things. In the end, talk turned to Rochambeau. Words were exchanged and suddenly there was a challenge — me against Gordon, head-to-head in Rochambeau, best of nine throws for $100. I think I was the one who challenged him to play; he was the one who suggested we bet the $100.

Levitt held the money. Then Gordon, who is about 8 inches taller than anyone I know, leans over into my face and says, “I’m starting with Rock.”

And he did. I threw Scissors, so he beat me. Score: 1-0.

But I had something up my sleeve. I started the match throwing a Seamstress — i.e., a three-throw gambit of Scissors, then Scissors, then another Scissors. Gordon, after his initial Rock, threw a Paper, then another Paper. I was up 2-1.

Finally, on the fourth throw, Gordon threw a Scissors. But I had thrown my fourth Scissors in a row, which meant we tied on that throw, leaving the score at 2-1. That’s when Gordon leaned into my face again and said, “You do know that you can throw something besides Scissors, right?”

But my four consecutive Scissors throws (let’s call it a SuperSeamstress) had plainly shaken him. He recovered to tie it up at 2-2, and then took the lead briefly at 3-2, but I tied him, then went up 4-3. He managed to tie me at 4-4 but, never in doubt, I threw one more Scissors and beat him, 5-4. He looked pretty stunned. Poor guy. It turned out that he really hate to throw Scissors.

So why do I want him to win the WSOP? Not because I feel sorry for beating him. Now more than ever, I believe that Rochambeau is a game of luck, and I happened to get lucky against a guy who is a really good poker player.

No, the reason I want Gordon to win is simply so I can tell my grandchildren someday that I beat the WSOP champ at something, even if it was something as meaningless as Rock, Paper, Scissors.