When a group of recent Columbia Law School graduates gathered for a friendly game of poker back in 1952, little did they know that they were starting a tradition that would span six decades.
The original cast of players in those early years included Dan Berkson ’52, George Dwight ’52, William Karatz ’52, Al Feinstein ’52, Art Steinberg ’52, Jim Fletcher ’52, Peter Kenton ’52, Donald Robinson ’52, and Bill Sharpless ’52. The initial ensemble was later joined by Robert Green ’52, Gene Rossides ’52, Shirley Brinsfield ’52, and Russell Fairbanks ’52.
“In the beginning, nobody had any money,” Green says. “It was just nickels and dimes, and everyone chipped in for sandwiches and beer. As everyone became a little more affluent, we began rotating hosts and providing cocktails, and the game became more of an interesting dinner and mutual support group.”
Fellow classmates E. Allan Farnsworth ’52, Alan Rosenberg ’52, Thomas Farrell ’52, and Dan Stack ’52 made occasional appearances at the gatherings, as well.
The game continues to this day. Berkson, Green and Karatz are the only members of the original class still playing, and they take pride in the fact that there has never been a significant disruption in their monthly meetings.
“I have a feeling that if the Guinness Book of World Records knew about us, they’d include us as the longest continuing poker group,” says Berkson. “Certainly from the Law School, and I bet probably in the whole world.”
Generally the low-stakes gamblers take a break in July and August, and occasionally they miss another month during the year, Green says. “But there has never been a single significant break,” he adds. Over the years, they have boosted numbers by bringing in players from other law schools. Theodore I. Botter ’48 and Green’s son, Peter—who attended Columbia’s Graduate Schools of Business and of Journalism—have joined in the fun as well.
For some participants, the game served as a career networking night, and as a forum for verbal sparring over politics and dissecting one another’s casework, the players say. But regardless of differences of opinion, the atmosphere has always remained cordial “This may sound hard to believe because we’re talking about poker, but I can’t recall a single serious argument or disagreement that we’ve ever had,” Berskon says.
The game is always dealer’s choice, and the financial stakes still remain low despite a 100 percent increase in the value of the blue chip since the game was launched. (That chip is now worth 50 cents compared to 25 cents in the beginning).
“Some of our players are very well off and very successful, but it doesn’t matter,” Green says. “You can’t lose more than 10 or 15 dollars on a given night.”
The games, Green adds, have never been about the money.
“Poker is presumed to be a zero-sum game,” he says. “But not in our group. Every one of us is a winner.”