So much in life is like the game of poker

So much in life is like the game of poker

August 08, 2017 3:00 AM


The following is from a letter my co-columnist and poker mentor, George “The Engineer” Epstein, recently sent to the Los Angeles Times newspaper. He shared it with me. I thought it quite relevant to the game of poker. So, with his permission, I quote him verbatim:

“Re: ‘Revised health bill is even worse’ by David Lazarus

“David Lazarus’ analysis of the latest GOP health bill is right on. In fact, it would make U.S. citizens’ health and well-being more like pure gambling.

“So, here’s another perspective: Those choosing the lower-cost insurance programs would be strictly gambling with their health. As a poker player, columnist, book author and teacher, I know that a wise person plays the game of poker as an investment – the reward is always much greater than the risk based on probability.

“Alternatively, one can play poker as a gambler, where it’s only a matter of luck (chance). “In the long run, ‘investors’ will come out ahead; ‘gamblers’ will be the losers.

“This analogy applies to healthcare, as well as everything in life. Is it wise to gamble with your health and well-being – and risk the consequences?”

So much in life is like the game of poker. You can play each hand as you would an investment or, on the other hand, as nothing more than an outright gamble, relying solely on luck (chance). In dealing with our healthcare, it seems that the politicians are wont to gamble with our lives as if they were but the chips in the game of poker.

But, healthcare is so vital. We are all bound to need medical attention as we go through life. No matter how carefully you control what and how much you eat, no matter how much exercise you get, and even if you are fortunate and don’t get hurt in an auto accident, the time is bound to come when you need to seek help from a medical doctor and/or at a hospital. (Hopefully it’s not serious or an emergency.)

You don’t need to be a genius to realize gambling with your health is not the way you should play the game of life. Nor is gambling, as such, the smart way to play poker – not if your goal is to be a winner. Even an amateur or recreational player seeks to go home with more money in his pocket than he had before sitting down to play. Best he “invests” rather than “gambles” with his chips.

Gambling is when you fail to make sure the reward (chips you hope to win) will be much greater than the risk you take while playing a hand of poker. Gambling is relying on pure luck (chance) over which you have no control. Reward is determined by the number of chips in the pot versus what you must “invest” to see the next card. We call that the pot odds.

With a drawing hand (as is more often the case during a hand of hold’em) – one that must improve to win the pot – risk is determined by the card odds as estimated by the number of outs you have. How many unseen cards from the deck will make your hand? The more there are relative to the size of the pot, the greater the reward you can expect. When the pot odds are more than the card odds against you, then you have a “Positive Expectation.” In the long run, you will come out a winner. Some may liken it to earning a Return-on-Investment (ROI) – as does the successful businessman.

In both healthcare as a part of life, and the game of poker, it pays to avoid “gambling.” Do not rely on luck. Make sure you are always “investing” wisely. And, tell that to your Congressman who is voting on our healthcare.”