A New Card Shark Emerges

Summer 2020

Second-year student Amber Hamelin had a plan for the poker tournament hosted in January by Avi Rubin, a computer science professor and technical director of the JHU Information Security Institute, at his home in Baltimore County. An avid poker player, Rubin has competed with professionals on TV’s Poker Night in America.

If she had a chance to play against Rubin and win the highly sought-after “Professor Bounty” chip, a circular golden token given to the player who could take Rubin out of the tournament, she would stay in the game, regardless of her hand. “If I knew it was just going to be the two of us, I’d take any odds to win because I feel like it’d be worth it to knock him out,” says Hamelin, an applied mathematics and statistics major.

On the night of the tournament, Hamelin, who was one of nearly 250 students who took Rubin’s Intersession course, Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Poker, entered Rubin’s basement with its oval-shaped poker tables and felt like she was walking into a casino. Although most of the students won their spots at this live tournament by performing well in online poker tournaments, Hamelin earned her place by answering a poker riddle that Rubin had written on the board during the first week of class. She would be one of 52 students competing.

After a slow start, Hamelin, whose previous poker experience included games with friends in high school, began playing more aggressively to build up her chips. The strategy worked: As the night wore on, she was one of 17 people left in the game with a seat at Rubin’s table.

In one round, Rubin went all-in with pocket queens. The other players at the table folded. But Hamelin, who had an eight and a nine, one of which was a club, stayed in the game. “Even though I had pretty bad cards, I decided to go for it,” she says.

After Hamelin called, three cards were turned over for the flop, two of which were clubs. Rubin was still winning. The next card was turned over: another club. Still, Hamelin only had a 1-in-12 chance of winning. Then the dealer flipped another club for the last card, the river. Hamelin had a flush, which was enough to knock Rubin and his “bad beat” hand—a hand he should have won if not for bad luck—out of the tournament.

Hamelin plans to use her prize—the golden Professor Bounty chip with four fanned-out aces on the front and “Johns Hopkins Poker Class Tournament 2020” on the back—as a card protector in future poker games.

“This class made me realize how poorly I was playing poker before,” says Hamelin, who learned strategies for betting and how to calculate odds. “I’m excited to go back home and play with my old friends now.”

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