When playing poker your job is to win as many chips as possible

May 8, 2012 3:00 AM

Greed is often cited as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. (The others are wrath, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony.)

Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, with the intention to keep it for one’s self, far beyond the dictates of basic survival and comfort. The implication is that greed is a personal trait to be abhorred and avoided, as we teach our children. Yet we find greed throughout our society, even among highly regarded successful people.

A basketball star negotiates a multi-million-dollar contract. Is he greedy? The L.A. Dodgers were sold to a group led by former basketball star Magic Johnson for $2.15 billion, netting owner Frank McCourt a profit of about $1 billion. Was he greedy?

The CEO of a corporation is paid millions of dollars while the company lays off workers on the production line. Is he greedy? Every time the price of gasoline goes up 1 cent, the big oil companies pocket $200 million in quarterly profits.

Greed?

But some do not agree that greed is bad.

In the 1980s, Ivan Boesky, an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Business, turned to stock trading. By using illegal insider trading, Boesky became exceedingly wealthy – until 1986 when he was prosecuted. He was fined $100 million and sent to jail.

Boesky even made the cover of Time magazine. In May 1986, he gave the commencement address at UC-Berkeley School of Business Administration, where he stated:

“Greed is all right…I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”

This speech inspired the 1987 film Wall Street, featuring the famous line, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

What about poker?

When finding yourself ahead after an hour at the table, are you being greedy if deciding to continue playing in the hope of winning more? It depends on your viewpoint: You could accept Boesky’s view or you might treat greed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

I have a somewhat different perspective: You made the trip to the casino to play poker. Your goal was to win money. The more money you win, the happier you are.

It’s the same as a professional basketball player striving to score as many points as he can. He’s not being greedy in any sense of the word. He’s doing his “job” to the best of his ability. That’s commendable.

It’s the same playing poker: Your “job” is to win as many chips as possible. It takes skill and good luck. The more skilled you are, the more likely you will win more money over the long term.

The one big difference is variability – ups and downs in your good fortune. Luck is another way of saying probability or chance. Very rarely will you hold the nuts – a hand that cannot be beaten by an opponent. More likely: Your two-pair aces and 10’s is the best hand until the river.

An opponent with pocket 3’s, calls your bet to see the river. Sure enough he catches a third trey for a set. He was a 22-to-1 long shot. Bad luck for you. In the long run, your opponent will lose money playing his hand that way. But, right now, he has taken some of your profits. Then you catch four-to-the-nut flush on the flop. The card odds are less than 2-1 against your making the big flush.

It’s a multi-way pot, so you bet or raise for value to maximize your wins. The pot odds are much in your favor. I don’t have to tell you the rest of the story. Another losing hand.

It is inherent in the game (especially when the house is raking the pot), as your fortune rises and falls, the only way to consistently overcome variability is to use some form of money management while playing.

Have a money management system – such as described in my book, The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners! (See ad) that flashes the red light, warning you to quit while you are still ahead. It takes self-discipline. Are you up to it? Otherwise greed will do you in – sooner or later. Good luck.

“The Engineer,” noted author and teacher in West Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame. Contact him at [email protected]