Off the Clock: It’s All in the Cards for ‘The Professor’

Posted: January 17, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Clifton Sutton
Clifton Sutton
Creative Services photo

Clifton Sutton knows how to hold ‘em and he knows how to fold ‘em. And he also knows how to win.

Sutton, associate professor of statistics, is the current leader in wins, most final tables and most points in Texas Hold-Em in the Capital Poker League (CPL). He started playing in the league less than a year ago, after a former employee in his office told him about the local group.

“For me, it came at the right time,” says Sutton, who explains that he hasn’t had a lot of hobbies during his 19 years at Mason. “This is my outlet, instead of going home and watching television. I like to get to know the people. We (players) all get along well.”

The Capital Poker League has 282 ranked members and more than 700 total members, according to its web site. Sutton says many league regulars are Mason students.

“Part of my fascination with it is the interaction with the students,” he says. “It has given me a lot of insight into how they operate. They are like me: they like to work their schedules out so they can play poker.”

Mark Dikun II, owner of the CPL, says Sutton is a popular player in the league, where many players have nicknames.

“Everyone calls him ‘The Professor.’ The majority of my league is made up of males between the ages of 21 to 30. A lot of young people enjoy hanging out with him. When they find out he is a statistics professor, that can be kind of intimidating.”

The local league meets five nights a week at various restaurants and bars in Northern Virginia. Players can attend as many nights as they want, and there is no charge to play. Sutton tries to play at least three nights a week; the more a person plays, the better chance he or she has of accumulating points and wins.

As a youth, Sutton played Strat-O-Matic, a dice card game based on the actual statistical performances of professional baseball and football players. He was introduced to poker when he was about 11 years old.

“Dad had some red, white and blue poker chips around. I knew how to play standard five-card draw,” says Sutton, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Virginia and has a master’s and doctorate degrees from Stanford University. “I have always liked card games, and I like to analyze them.”

Sutton admits his background in statistics comes in handy when playing Texas Hold-Em. As he walks or drives to play in the league, he will try to figure out the probability of certain sequences.

For instance, Sutton figured out that if he started his hand with a pair of kings (in a group of nine players), the probability of one of his opponents being dealt a pair of aces is about 0.039, or slightly less than a one in 25 chance.

Sutton says when other players find out he’s doing well, he becomes a favorite one to beat.

“They get an extra thrill when they knock out ‘The Professor.’”

Write to at