George Will

"Theory of Parlor Games" (1928) and, with Oskar Morgenstern, "Theory of Games and Economic Behavior" (1944) established the field of game theory. Another of today's leading professional poker players, Chris Ferguson, is the son of a mother who is a mathematician and a father who teaches game theory at UCLA.

When you play chess, Lederer says, there is symmetry of information:

Both players have all the information provided by the location of the pieces on the board, and both are equally ignorant of the opponent's intentions. A computer can be programmed to "play" a powerful game of chess, but not of poker, wherein your opponents' cards are concealed.

Lederer is confident that a brain scan of someone playing poker would reveal a lit-up frontal lobe, but the lobe of someone watching television would show up cool blue. A poker player -- unlike someone playing roulette, a lottery or "video poker" (which Lederer says is a misnomer; it is a game of chance governed by a machine) -- is trying to apply skill, acquired by experience, to increase the probability of winning each hand.

The son of an English teacher at St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, Lederer decided to spend a year studying chess before matriculating at Columbia University. Instead, he discovered poker. He started at Columbia but left, reasoning that he had found his vocation. He has won about $5 million.

But what is his stake in decriminalizing online poker? After all, he plays much more on green felt-covered tables than online. His interest is threefold. First, his libertarian temperament -- he lives in Las Vegas, where almost anything goes -- is offended by mother-hen government. Second, he wants as many people as possible to have access to poker's delights.

Third, the more poker players there are, the larger will be the ranks of competitors, and the television audiences, for professional poker competitions. Hence the larger will be the potential winnings. This year, Lederer says, there were 6,494 competitors in the World Series of Poker Main Event, down about 1,000 from 2006, largely because more players used to win their $10,000 entry fee in online tournaments.

It is a poker skill to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

Congress probably should fold its interference with Internet gambling, and certainly should get its 10 thumbs off Americans' freedom to exercise their poker skills online.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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