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Alumni Profiles
reed magazine logoSummer 2008


Poker with Reed’s Rat Pack

By L.D. Kirshenbaum ’84 and Michael Perlstein ’84

Mike and Mike couldn’t make it this year, but Mike, Mike, Mike, and Mike are at the tables, flush with cash. Of the original poker players from the Doyle laundry room game, circa 1979, we have the four Mikes, Humphrey, B-Ross, and Tor. They are joined by a bunch of Portland-area guests who are bold enough to try their luck against the Reedie regulars. It’s a little slice of Las Vegas that’s invaded the annual Reed reunions weekend. The Reedies are knocking back booze, flipping cards, and tossing chips so cavalierly onto the green felt that the townies are getting their hopes up.

Mark Humphrey '85

Mark Humphrey ’85

Bill Ross ’84 flew in from Jersey. Paul Huffman ’87 is here from Boston. Tor Jernudd ’84 drove down from Seattle, but with the usual I-5 traffic, the game started with his chair empty. “Playing poker isn’t about the money,” Tor says, groaning when a promising hand lets him down. “It’s a pride thing.”

With careless magnanimity, Tor hands out plastic cups of top-shelf whiskey and artisanal cognac. Like Bill, Tor kind of wishes Mark Humphrey ’85 would cut it out already with the printouts of formal rules. Reed poker always pushed Hoyle’s Rules to the limit; players count on adding new twists to traditional games.

The open-ended style was set back when the Doyle dorm mom scooted the late-night, high-decibel players to the basement, next to the washing machines. The game has stayed loose and exuberant ever since, through the years in the Coleman and MacNaughton social rooms, Pete Shirley’s (’85) living room, the 15 or so get-togethers at Alan Su’s (’82) place in San Francisco, and a series of Las Vegas hotel rooms. These days, at least, there’s no cigarette smoke and the officially sanctioned room—Gray lounge outside Kaul Auditorium—has brought the game back to its origins, just steps across the quad from its shaggy roots in Old Dorm Block.

Mike Levine ’85 says all the televised attention to professional poker is to blame for the addition of tournament play. Mike De Christopher ’83 even plays professionally, now that he’s no longer running his bowling alley pro shop outside Portland. Mike O’Rourke ’66 is taking the game back in time, representing players of the early ’60s.

In one of the biggest breaks with tradition, Mike Parkhurst ’88 has accomplished what no player has done until tonight: he’s introduced a dame to the game. His wife, Nicole Floyd, has bought in. The novelty of her presence is barely discussed, something that can’t be said about Humphrey’s insistence on ESPN-style Texas hold’em tournament play.

Humphrey ignores the good-natured back talk from the old-timers. He’s busy taking care of the bank, reaching into a sleek black case loaded with chips and a wad of cash. On his way to the game, he made his annual stop at Costco for a half-dozen new packs of cards, then hit an ATM for his own stake for the night.

“Five,” someone bets. “Ten,” the next player responds, signaling a confident raise. And so goes the evening, with antes, calls, bluffs, and check-raises interspersed with nostalgia, wisecracks, and erudite trivia. To the uninitiated, the reunion talk sounds familiar, but the poker banter is quick and coded enough to give the game a clubby touch of mystery. The names of the dealer’s choice games are even more exotic: 727, six-with-a-twist, down-the-river-high-low-roll-your-own. Once Humphrey’s “tournament” is over, those are among the quirky games the regulars get back to playing. Heck, they invented some of them.

Morgan O’Toole-Smith ’94 and Michael O’Rourke ’66

Morgan O’Toole-Smith ’94 and Michael O’Rourke ’66

After a particularly satisfying round, the plastic glasses clink in celebration. Mike Parkhurst is the first one out, leaving behind his $42 buy-in, but he has to wait for his wife to lose as well. Conveniently, she and her $42 are out third, leaving the happy couple free to wander around campus listening to alumni bands and finding former classmates.

Tor playfully browbeats his old crew and they respond with zingers of their own. When Mike De Christopher walks into the room, Tor runs over to plant a kiss on the shiny bald pate that once sported an impressive Afro. At first, Mike declines a seat, aware that his time at the professional tables might threaten the bonhomie nurtured over the past two or three decades. But Tor isn’t having it. This is the crowd that watched Mike’s aw-shucks style of play develop for nearly 30 years. “Sit! Of course you’re playing!” Tor urges, and before long Mike is checking his own hand of cards.

As a group, the townies at the table don’t do so well. Most are out a C-note or two by the time they call it a night. The Reed originals go on until 3 a.m.—not quite the epic match of 1984 that ran continuously for three days and nights, but with the same spirit.

The first year the group played as students, they used markers in place of cash. Dean of students Jack Dudman stepped in and voided all IOUs when a couple of players found themselves deep in the hole, some say by as much as $10,000. Morgan O’Toole ’94 says the problem came back when he played in the early ’90s. “We created secondary markets for the debt,” he says, “and one of the guys became a professional gambler.”

Hey, ya never know. Maybe someone will hit it big enough to make good on the markers, taking the Honor Principle into uncharted territory. Humphrey says he stashed a few somewhere. At the end of the night, Bill and Tor split the final pot. Bill, having earlier tied with O’Toole for top spot in the tournament, walks away with about $500 on the night. Tor nets about $150. On Sunday morning, tired but content, Tor donates the cash to the Annual Fund before heading back up the interstate until the game resumes after another 364-day bathroom break.

L.D. Kirshenbaum ’84 wrote about Reedies and religion in the Spring 2008 issue of Reed. Michael Perlstein ’84, one of the poker game’s charter members, was unable to bring his quiet-but-lethal style to the table this year, but already is making plans for next year’s reunion. 

reed magazine logoSummer 2008