Brown Poker Club isn’t just home to a two-time international championship team, it’s also a vibrant social group and an avenue to future careers dealing with statistics and finance.
Vice President Cottrell van Wingerden ’24 described the club as a “safe environment to learn the game” for both new and experienced players. At its weekly meetings, the club offers members lectures on poker strategy and theory as well as a space to play with others.
President Benjamin Shih ’24, who joined the club in his junior year, organizes monthly events where attendees can play, eat and socialize in hopes of boosting club participation and engagement.
“It’s a good place to start off learning poker,” he said. “You got food, you got desserts, you have drinks and you play for a free gift card.”
The club also provides its members with career advancement opportunities, Shih said. Recently, he has invited representatives from well-known quantitative finance firms such as Jane Street, DRW and IMC to speak with students, he said. Members use these networking opportunities to learn more about areas of interest, allowing them to gain access to interviews and mentorship opportunities down the line.
In addition to serving as the club’s vice president, van Wingerden runs Brown’s Intercollegiate Poker Association team. Each year, club members have the opportunity to try out for the IPA team, which competes against players from other colleges in an annual tournament. The team has enjoyed recent success at the tournament, with back-to-back wins in 2020 and 2021. Prizes have included thousands of dollars of cash.
Suzie Zhang ’24, who competed on the IPA team during her sophomore and senior years, remembered the excitement and shared joy surrounding the team’s competitive success. “This year, the IPA still hasn’t given much information about the tournament,” she said. “But once the season starts, it’s going to be exciting.”
Ariel Stein ’24, a member of the club since her sophomore year and a new addition to the IPA team, learned how to play poker as a child and returned to the game upon entering college.
“I came back (to college) after the COVID year and decided to go to one of the poker club’s meetings,” she said. “I had a really great time and made a bunch of friends, so I kept coming back.”
Zhang and van Wingerden highlighted that the club served as a source of social connection during a time of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Van Wingerden said he picked up the game during the pandemic and continued playing because it engaged him at a time when in-person activities were not an option.
Zhang, an international student, noted that the club has enhanced her social circle by encouraging her to form relationships with people who have a variety of lived experiences.
“As an international student, there is a tendency to socialize with … (people who have) similar backgrounds and the same experience, but college is about being challenged and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone when it comes to your social circle,” she said. “I think poker pushed me out of my comfort zone because I have to play with people who are very different from me and play in places where I don’t necessarily feel super comfortable.”
Zhang also noted the overrepresentation of men in the club. “The gender ratio in the club has been about ten to one,” she said. “It’s no one’s fault — it’s just that poker has always been viewed as a ‘guys’ club.”
Stein echoed this dynamic, reflecting on her experiences in a traditionally male-dominated space: “On the whole, my experience with poker has been pretty positive at Brown in terms of gender dynamics,” she said. “However, I have had some instances where things were said to me that I suspect would not (have been) said to players who are guys.”
Those comments were not made by club leadership or IPA team members, Stein emphasized.
Speaking on her experiences as president of the club in her sophomore year, Zhang said she feels her position as a female leader challenged the conventional depiction of a poker player.
Zhang encouraged more non-male players to try playing poker, affirming that the club is a welcoming environment that facilitates the formation of strong connections with other members as well as affording free opportunities to build skills.
“Poker involves psychology, math and randomness — it truly has something for everyone,” Zhang said, advising anyone interested in poker to give it a try. The club’s next monthly event will occur Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Petteruti Lounge.
Grace Hu is a Senior Staff Writer covering graduate student life. She is a freshman from Massachusetts studying English and Neuroscience.