Reading, writing, and Texas Hold 'Em? Charles Nesson, a Harvard University law professor, says that a key to a well-rounded education may be to learn poker. He even presented a paper on why poker works as an educational tool at a conference last week in Singapore.

Professor Nesson joins us now from Harvard.

Thanks very much for being with us, Professor Nesson.

Professor CHARLES NESSON (Law, Harvard University): It's a pleasure.

SIMON: So what can poker teach us?

Prof. NESSON: I tell my students when they come to Harvard Law School that if they want to do something useful with their spare time, they can't do much better than learn to play poker. It's just a great game for learning how to size things up for yourself, getting into risk management, learning how to channel aggression. A student that comes through and can hold it on at a poker table, I just don't have any worries about them when they go out in the real world.

SIMON: And when should children start learning poker, professor?

Prof. NESSON: The place where it would really make a difference is when kids are just at the point of dropping out of math. Algebra is a killer for kids in school. And it's just at that age that I think poker has the capacity to grab them, draw them into numeracy and probability, and risk assessment, and just carry on with getting sharper and seeing things that have subtlety.

SIMON: Is there a poker game you prefer?

Prof. NESSON: Texas Hold 'Em, as a game to teach kids, and is the most accessible and yet the most profound game. It's amazing. It's something that you can start with a group of dead beginners and have them playing the full World Series of poker-style Texas Hold 'Em within one seated session.

SIMON: And poker as an alternative or a supplement to chess or blackjack or, for that matter, old maid?

Prof. NESSON: Chess is a wonderful game, but it hasn't got the indeterminacy of the other person's action as an element in it. Blackjack is a game that's played against the house. Poker is a game you play against equals, and skill is what things you could return.

SIMON: You have said that to be a successful poker player, you have to know how your opponents are thinking. And the mental exercise of being able to determine what is best for them from their point of view is invaluable in any kind of strategic enterprise.

Prof. NESSON: I teach evidence as my law school course. That's how you prove the truth in court, such as the truth in court is. And a key to persuading anyone is that you first let them understand that you understand the problem from their point of view. Until a person you're trying to persuade understands that you understand the problem from their point of view, they're not really listening to you. Seeing from another's point of view is like a key advocacy skill.

SIMON: Well, Professor Nesson, very nice talking to you, sir.

Prof. NESSON: It's been a pleasure.

SIMON: Harvard law professor Charles Nesson speaking from that casino known as Harvard University at Cambridge.

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