A poker riddle: It’s 2003. Three college students – Art, Bob and Carl – see a poker tournament on television and decide to learn to play the game.
They start off in a home game with just the three of them, but as they pick up the basic rules – and in some cases even a few strategies – they eventually begin playing in friendly games with fellow students. Art, the economics major, wins the poker game more often than not. Bob, the English major, wins on occasion and loses about as often. Carl, who majors in Bob Marley and Jack Daniel’s, almost never wins (but he does meet a few cute girls along the way).
Then they discover online poker. All the patterns from their analog poker nights are accelerated. Art picks up the computerized version of the game scary fast, winning a freeroll and turning the $10 he won there into thousands within just a few months. Bob loses a few deposits before he jumps online and starts looking up strategy resources that turn him into a break-even player. And Carl becomes an ATM for both the online poker room’s rake and the sharks who wait around for players like him. He trades cash (or buds or booze) to his friends, they send him money online, and they repeat the cycle. (Good thing Carl’s dad is a businessman!)
With graduation day approaching and their lives set to move in differing directions, Art, Bob and Carl play in one last college home game together. It’s an all-night affair that ends up exactly as you’d expect: Art takes Carl’s chips early and then slowly grinds Bob’s stack down to nothing. Up late, drunk, and buoyant with their hopes for the future, the three make a pact to reunite in 20 years and travel to Las Vegas together, to spend the summer locked in competition with the world’s best poker players.
Twenty years go by.
Art never deposits another dime of his own money and continues to win, so he leaves his trading job a year after graduation and becomes a professional poker player. His move up the stakes ladder isn’t dramatic enough to make headlines, but he is respected by his fellow players and he never has to answer to anyone but himself. He travels around the world playing big tournaments and even manages to win a few of them; once he even makes the cover of one of the world’s biggest poker magazines. He makes a lot of friends, has a lot of great experiences, and in his 30s he meets a woman who can handle what he does for a living. Every time he sits down at or stands up from a poker table, Art thinks to himself, “Life is good.”
Bob lands a corporate gig within a few years of graduation and starts moving up the company ladder. He also gets married and starts a family. His career allows him enough spare cash to play poker when he chooses, and while it’s at higher limits than he played in college his results are still the same: he wins some and loses some. Though he’s never really a big winner he does enjoy a few successes along the way, including a $10,000 score in one card room’s nightly tournament and a victory in the company’s annual poker tournament. That one impressed the CEO and went a long way toward helping Bob’s rise in the company. Everyday when he returns home from working hard at a job that poker helped to make for him, Bob sees his beautiful wife and children and thinks to himself, “Life is good.”
Carl has a life others would envy handed to him on a platter when he (just barely) graduates. His father sets him up as the head of a company and Carl promptly runs the company into the ground. The same thing happens a few more times, but each time Carl’s father and his father’s friends put him back on his feet again. He makes friends all along the way, whatever the bottom-line result of each company, and eventually some of those friends convince him to make a bid for the state legislature. Carl wins the race and becomes a career politician (not to mention the biggest calling station in the legislature’s ongoing poker game). When a poker players’ advocacy group eventually approaches him to get their favorite game legalized, he’s happy to support a bill to give them what they want. Every time a campaign check comes in from a poker player or he gets to defend the game on the public record for posterity, Carl thinks to himself, “Life is good.”
Late in the spring of 2023, Art, Bob and Carl reunite in the town where they went to college.
They’ve only seen each other sporadically over the years since they live very different lives, and none was sure how the meeting would go, but it’s just like old times. Everyone still gets along, everyone is happy to see each other, and everyone is ready to keep the pact they made. They’re ready to spend the summer taking on the poker world. The three men board a plane bound for Las Vegas. Somewhere over the Midwest the aircraft is hit by lightning, its electrical system fails, and the plane plummets to the ground. All three men die upon impact.
WHO’S THE WINNER?