He Sought Refuge in Online Poker: ‘This Is Never About the Cards’

The author is not good at the game. But games played online while meeting on a video call with strangers provided connection at the right time.

By Sopan Deb

One of my closest friends is Myki Bajaj, a 30-year-old film and television producer in Los Angeles. We see each other every week, and we usually speak multiple times. Our conversations span from the mundane — sports and culture and the like — to more serious topics, like family and being brown in America. We mull traveling together and frequently talk about projects on which to collaborate.

What makes our friendship unusual — or perfectly normal based on 2021 standards — is that I have met Myki in person one time. It was last year at a chance work meeting on the West Coast, just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Our friendship blossomed through a medium I never would have expected: online poker served with a side of Zoom.

I won’t miss the pandemic, with the suffering and isolation it has caused across the planet. And I am one of the lucky ones. Knock on wood: I am healthy and have remained employed throughout the last year.

But, I will miss one thing about quarantine life whenever it’s over. I have developed real bonds with people through poker, which is, ironically, a game inherently built on mistrust.

Immediately after much of the United States went on lockdown last March, Myki offhandedly invited me to play a poker game with his college friends in the midst of one of our first catch-up conversations. He is an avid player. Before last year, he would host a low-stakes game on Fridays in his backyard for everyone to de-stress from their workweeks. I am whatever the opposite of avid is. Sporadic? Occasional? Oh, actually, the words I’m looking for are not good.

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