A Town of Back Rooms

Washington is often thought of as a town of smoke-filled rooms, with leather upholstery, high-backed chairs, and good scotch served in crystal decanters. More often than not, though, most of us that live here never see that side of things. Tonight I was invited to join some friends for an exclusive game of poker with Howard Lederer and Chris Ferguson at the University Club on 16th Street. I was in for a glimpse into those smoky rooms for the first time since I moved here in 2000.

Big Winner

Why are luminaries from the poker world in Washington? There’s a bill in committee over in Congress called HR 4777 that would heavily restrict and potentially criminalize online gaming in its current form. That clearly concerns the Poker Players’ Alliance and so they came to Washington with some of their best ambassadors, the aforementioned Lederer and Ferguson as well as 2005 World Champion Greg Raymer. They gave testimony before Congress, met with influential politicians and lobbyists, and played some cards with soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Hospital.

Tonight, though, it was all about local bloggers and poker players. I arrived at the posh University Club just before eight and I was ushered into the billiard room on the second floor, with beautiful lush carpeting, a nice spread of food and a server running drinks from the bar. I ordered a Sapphire and Tonic and watched as Radley Balko from The Agitator recorded a podcast with Lederer and Ferguson. Before I knew what hit me, I was sitting at a table playing Texas Hold’Em with Howard Lederer and seven other players including the fabulous Julian Sanchez and my good friend Ben Stanfield.


Howard spoke very candidly about playing poker, about life as a professional poker player, about watching his Red Sox win the World Series in 2004, about pretty much every and anything. He was incredibly relaxed, and really enjoyed talking with all of us. I only got into one hand with Howard, but I came out on top, with a set of queens to his top and bottom pair. Afterwards, we talked a bit about how he liked Washington (He does, though he’d like to have seen more of it than he did on this trip) and about what he makes of the Department of Justice and the move toward banning online gaming (He’s against it, for reasons of civil liberties, anti-government-interference and DOJ overstepping their mandate), and a ton of other things. He even took a Metroblogging DC t-shirt and wore it on his shoulder most of the evening.

I left the evening feeling better than I’ve felt about Washington in a while. And not just because I’d taken down my poker idol in a hand of honest cards, either, but because Washington is the place where government is controlled and created. People come to this town itching for an honest discussion, whether it’s about free trade, poker, abortion, immigration or even balanced budgets (a novel idea in our time), they come here looking to engage in that most American of pursuits: petitioning their government for redress. And it was that, tonight, that put the spring in my step as I walked to my car through the cool spring evening.

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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