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It’s 8 o’clock on a Wednesday night just before the holidays and a crowd of chic, impeccably coiffed women is filtering into Lotus. Nothing unusual about that, but at the door, they whisper to the security guards, who promptly lower the hallowed rope and escort them back to a room with an entrance concealed by a heavy curtain. These are not your average Meatpacking District party girls looking for tables to dance on and an open bar. They are fashion fixtures and they’re here to learn how to play poker — no-limit Texas Hold’em, to be precise.

Behind the velvet curtain, a serious didactic session is taking place around a custom-made poker table.

“That’s called an ‘Anna Kournikova,'” explains David Rabin, Lotus’ co-owner and the group’s unofficial poker guru, to stylist Leslie Fremar about her ace and king. “It looks great, but doesn’t win.”

Rabin is helping decipher the rules of poker for his pupils, who don’t bat an eyelash at mastering each season’s new silhouettes, but might confuse a full house and a flush, or forget what a “Dolly Parton” is (a nine and a five). As waiters swirl, taking orders for white wine and Diet Cokes and proffering miniboxes of summer rolls, chicken satay and pad thai, most of the students look on raptly, scribbling notes. Rabin pauses to rebuke jewelry designer Dani Stahl for chatting with Michael Kors fashion director Anne Waterman. (Side discussions range from the best way to get to Aspen to whether it’s worth hitting the latest Oscar de la Renta sample sale.)

“You’re going to go to detention,” he warns.

The poker lessons are Waterman’s brainchild: Knowing her good friend Rabin is a serious player (he hosts a “boys’ game,” with a $1,000 buy-in, in his office every Monday night), she came up with the idea of a “girls’ game,” and contacted a few of her fashionable friends.

Though the usual habitat of these fashion mavens — which on this night includes KCD’s Bonnie Morrison, consultant Karen Duffy and Harrison & Shriftman’s Ferebee Bishop — might be glitzy benefits at the Guggenheim Museum or fashion dinners at Bergdorf Goodman’s BG, they’ve been regulars at their Lotus lessons about every six weeks since September.

This story first appeared in the January 4, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I started because I wanted to learn how to play,” explains Oscar de la Renta’s vice president of public relations, Nacole Snoep. “And beat my husband, obviously.”

“I have been surprised by how much it’s grown,” admits Rabin, who has at least 40 women on his informal e-mail list and gets several requests a week to host more sessions.

Rabin does his best to keep his pupils in line, but the local betting style would definitely confuse the professionals in the World Series of Poker.

“When are you going to throw that Chanel watch in?” Fremar asks Rebekah McCabe, senior vice president of p.r. at Chanel, joking, “I’ll see you a Chanel clutch and raise you a Muse bag.”

Stealing chips from friends is a rampant, if accepted, practice.

“Do you want to borrow from the Chase Morrison Bank?” teases Morrison, after winning a particularly large hand.

While the bets are merely chips at this point, a fierce, competitive spirit pervades the games.

“You’ve been practicing, haven’t you?” the wary group accuses Earnest Sewn’s p.r. director, Eleanor Ylvisaker, already the resident card shark.

“I haven’t,” she protests. “When Jon [Ylvisaker’s husband] was playing on the PlayStation, I just watched over his shoulder.”

And the lessons have been going so well that many in the party feel they’re ready to graduate to real cash bets.

“I’m training a little poker army,” boasts Rabin. “Now there’s a bunch of guys who want to join, but I’m going to have to convince the girls. They’ve been pretty protective of their space.”

— with contributions from Emily Holt

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