All Hands on Deck: Poker Club goes all in on building knowledge and community through semiweekly games, meetings, beginner tutoring


According to some historians, the game of poker originated in the late 18th century in the United States. If this account is true, it would make the game one of the oldest in the nation. Therefore, it would only make sense that the College of William and Mary, one of the oldest academic institutions in America, would have a club dedicated to promoting and playing it.

The College’s Poker Club, which meets twice a week every Monday and Wednesday, is designed to be an outlet for experienced and novice poker players alike to play and learn about the famous card game. During most meetings, a series of games are played where club members are gradually eliminated until the players are whittled down to just five; afterwards, the remaining club members compete amongst themselves to determine the winner for the day.

“People start trailing off because it’s a tournament style,” Poker Club President Taylor Ratts ’24 said. “So they trail off until there’s a final table with the final five, and then until there’s one winner left.”

The high-stakes elimination games, in tandem with the high-stakes nature of the game itself, often have the club filling the entire room with competing players. This popularity is further enhanced by the lack of mandatory organizational dues or first-time entry fees, meaning the meetings are accessible to anyone interested.

“Everyone will get a stack of poker chips, we’ll fill the room, we’ll have a bunch of tables, and we will do a tournament,” Poker Club executive board member Ian Cobb ’24 said. “And if you lose your chips, you lose nothing because it’s for free.”

Due to the accessible nature of the Poker Club, many players, including novices and experienced players alike, attend the semiweekly meetings. The club works to accommodate the wants and needs of both groups, and as a result, anybody can participate in the games run by the organization, regardless of skill level.

“Some people get really into it and go to every single meeting,” Ratts said. “A lot of people, though, they just come to have fun.”

Despite the broad appeal of the Poker Club, the more skillful players still have a large incentive for winning. At the end of each meeting, the top five players who make it to the final table get points based on how well they did during the final game. This point system is continued throughout the semester, and earnings made from games involving small amounts of money are then distributed among the highest scoring members based on their rankings as prizes. 

“At the end of every single meeting, the people who place in the top five get points, and at the end of the semester, the top five people with the most points across the entire club get a prize,” Zaven Masih ’26, a club member, explained.

In addition to the game of poker itself and the cash prizes the semester winners receive, one of the principal benefits of joining the organization is its opportunities for social bonding. It’s common for brand new Poker Club members to walk in not just expanding their poker knowledge, but also their circle of friends.

“If you go, you could have a good time, and you could meet new people,” Cobb said. “And I think it’s a good social outlet too because there’s a lot of people who come to all the meetings because they’re competing for the cash prize, or they’re just there to unwind for a little bit.”

Masih further emphasized the deep social connections the Poker Club cultivates and creates.

“I’ve met multiple people there who I’ve done a lot of stuff outside the club with,” Masih said. “So it’s just a great way to meet people.”

At the Poker Club, the social aspect of the club and the game itself often go hand in hand. For people who are coming to meetings with little or no experience, talking with and learning from more experienced players can bolster their knowledge and skill. This is something that rings especially true for Ratts, who despite currently being the president of the organization, initially joined with little familiarity of the game.

“In my first semester, I asked a lot of questions, and people were very receptive to those questions, and you wouldn’t be able to ask those questions during a real game,” Ratts said. “And for the first time I came, I think that was a moment for me.”

A priority for the club in the coming years is placing an emphasis on helping new players get acquainted with poker so that any student will be able to reap all of the benefits the organization can provide. Currently, the group is planning on expanding upon its designated beginners’ table that typically lasts for the first weeks of the semester.

“We have a table that’s set up for beginners or people who don’t know how to play the game, and we only hold that table for the first couple of weeks, but I want to hold that table for the entire semester,” Ratts said. “I think it’s important that we’re not just a club where we play the game, but we teach people, and that’s one of the main things we do.”

This focus is embraced by both the executive board members and regular members of the organization.

“This is to teach beginners and welcome people into the game,” Cobb echoed. “That’s something that we want to emphasize.”

Regardless of the skill levels of the different members, the frequency of when members come to meetings and the new changes the organization seeks to implement, one priority has remained constant: above all else, have fun. The club’s penchant for being a gratifying  way to unwind after a long day not only brings new members in, but also encourages returning members to come back.

“[Poker] can seem really stressful and seem intense, but at the end of the day, the club is meant for people to enjoy themselves and socialize,” Masih said.


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