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In Defense of Gamblers

Danny Stock

Image credit: Katerina Lukina

High School students and faculty had the privilege of welcoming GDS alum Maurice "Mac" VerStandig ’02 for a visit during the Mathematics of Gambling Minimester. Mac's law firm in Las Vegas defends professional gamblers, individuals, and companies associated with the gaming business. Mac is also a professional poker player himself, and he was recently featured in The Washington Post. His GDS story features some treasured GDS faculty, a career change, a bit of poker, and a chance meeting with another GDS alum. 

GDS IMPACT
I spent 13 years of my life at GDS, and almost the whole of my adolescence at that; it is difficult to conceive of the manners in which GDS has not had a lasting impact on me. I’ll forbear from delving into the obvious (learning to tell time in the first grade proved immensely beneficial; being quietly counseled to not chew with my mouth open has paid equal dividends) and share, more macroscopically, that GDS instilled in me an ability to write with both confidence and character, a comfort speaking to groups, and a reassurance it is okay to challenge doctrinal norms. There is also a certain free spirit to GDS that no doubt informs my willingness to have ascended the corporate law ladder only to have abruptly departed so as to focus more intently on representing professional gamblers and carrying on myself as a professional poker player; with the exception of the fictitious realm of certain Dead Poets Society classrooms, I do not know of many other secondary schools that preach a mantra so capable of setting one up for such a bizarre and unorthodox career leap.

FACULTY INFLUENCES
There is a fear on my end that naming GDS influences will necessarily invite some accidental omission. But I will happily share no college professor better prepared me for law school than Richard Avidon; my days on Sue Ikenberry’s quiz bowl team run through my mind every evening as I take to the New York Times crossword; my undergraduate degree—which is in rhetoric—seems directly inspired by GDS’s High School English curriculum; and I think back to my AP stats class—taught by Cindy Rust—with some frequency as I sit at poker tables crunching probability calculations.

RETURNING
Returning to GDS [for Mathematics of Gambling Minimester] was every bit as surreal as I anticipated. There was an odd nostalgia seeing students seated on the floors of the building in bustling and vibrant social groups; there was, equally, a literal sense of confusion as I tried to make sense of a building very much changed in form from my days (parking in a garage was nifty; showing ID at a front desk was strange; hopes of recognizing classrooms were rapidly dashed). But meeting Ed Stern was veritably uplifting—my memories of GDS are not all positive, but he has a certain exuberance and enthusiasm that quickly reminded me of the charisma held by my favorite teachers a couple of decades ago. And getting to see Richard, Sue, Lisa Rauschart, and some new faces was rather spectacular.

A CHANCE MEETING
I spend an appreciable amount of time in Los Angeles where, among other things, I play in a broadcast poker game with some frequency. Once a month or so, that game consists entirely of a Malibu businessman, who I hold in close and dear regard, alongside eight of his friends; with time, the nine of us have grown close as a group as well as in various individual combinations. And last year, as I found myself chatting with one of the other regular characters—a California television host and announcer extraordinaire named Mark Thompson ’75—about growing up in the DC area, I rather quickly discovered he, too, is a GDS alumnus. So there I was, 2,500 miles away from 42nd and Davenport, being mic’d up in a television studio abutting the Hollywood Hills, waxing nostalgic about Gladys Stern.

 

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