Hamilton’s hidden world champion

By Maura Colley ’19

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Ascension, an online card game requiring intense concentration and complex strategy, garners hundreds of players every month from all over the world. The leaders in this online world are competitors in monthly tournaments—competitive matches between skilled players who play the game frequently, even every day. Every year, the player with the most monthly victories becomes the uncontested champion of that year. 

In 2016, this champion was none other than Hamilton College’s very own Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics, David Perkins. 

If you’ve taken a class with Professor Perkins, this may come as a surprise to you. He has a friendly demeanor, and doesn’t come across as super competitive. However, like many of the professors at Hamilton, Perkins has other interests and projects outside of the classroom. In this case, it’s casually being the world champion in an online card game. 

Perkins is a math professor, often teaching classes like Multivariable Calculus—a subject that requires knowledge of complicated and challenging mathematical concepts. But in Ascension, the math scholar says that the math isn’t actually that hard. Non-math people, fear not. Perkins says that in Ascension “there’s no fancy math, any more than the kind of math that poker involves.”

Being the best Ascension player in the world didn’t happen overnight, though. Perkins has been playing the game since 2011; he heard from a friend how fun the game was, and so he bought the very first iOS version of Ascension on the day it came out. He didn’t even have a smartphone then, “so I had to play my turns on my wife’s phone every morning before I went to work. She still remembers me pouring over her phone.” However, Perkins eventually got the chance to use his own phone for his competitions and began getting more involved in tournaments.

When Perkins has a passion for something, he takes action. On campus, Professor Perkins has spearheaded new projects and events to get students more involved in their local politics. For instance, he held an event that provided students with paper, envelopes and stamps, so they could write letters to their representatives. 

So it’s not surprising that as Perkins got more interested and involved in Ascension, he ended up starting a monthly tournament on a forum. 20 to 50 players participated in his forum to start with, though now almost 100 people a month participate in the tournament, and it is hosted on the official, larger Ascension forum. 

But how did Perkins get so good? He says a lot of it had to do with the tournaments he started. He won those competitions pretty often, and was getting pretty good. By March of 2016, the professor won a big tournament, which, combined with his successes in previous months, was enough to rank him as the number one player at the end of the year. 

As impressive as his ranking is, Perkins would be the last to brag about it. He doesn’t focus on himself, but is more excited about the increasing interest in the game, as he says, “the competition in recent years has only gotten better!” Perkins describes the game as being a fun and interesting side activity, and he emphasizes the fact that it is constantly changing (10 different decks of cards have been released between 2010 and 2017, which makes room for plenty of variations in gameplay). While he has enjoyed many victories, the most important part for Perkins seems to simply be the excitement of the game itself. 

In elementary school, we always thought that our teachers only existed at school—it was hard to imagine that they had lives outside of our classrooms. 

Even now, though we know our professors do more than just teach classes, we still sometimes forget that they have interests apart from their scholarly study. So take a few minutes to get to know your professors and what they do, because you never know—you could be talking to a world champion.

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