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Playing poker, usually we regard our opponents as our enemies — our foes; albeit, they are friendly enemies. It’s much like the professional boxer who shakes hands with his foe as the match is about to get started, while he hopes to knock him to the canvas — bruised and bloody. Akin to the poker player, he really doesn’t hate his foe; but that’s the game.

At the poker table, it’s our opponents’ money (chips) to which we aspire. Otherwise, we wish them no harm. For us, it matters not how hard they worked to earn those chips, nor how many books they read in hope of learning strategies and tactics on how to go home a winner.

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We often lie to them by being as deceptive as possible in our efforts to pile their chips into our stacks. It’s no different than the football player who fakes a head-and-body motion to his right as he abruptly makes his move in the opposite direction to catch the pass from the quarterback. We call it bluffing.

How could you do this to a “friend” at the poker table? On the other hand, we will greet and smile on them, even shake hands.  Sometimes we buy a “friendly” neighbor a glass of wine — after beating him out on the river. Do our opponents realize that it’s all a ruse — a scam? We want them to feel good as they lose their chips to us.

We won’t discriminate.  Everyone is welcome to “donate” their chips to us.

Frankly, let’s admit it:  We treat them well because it’s all to our advantage. We want them to enjoy the game and accept our victory over them with a friendly smile — even though it may disturb their innards no end. After all, who in his right mind enjoys losing those chips that once belonged to him — hand after hand? How would you feel as you watched your “friend” rack up “your” chips — while you had to call for a chip runner so you could stay in the game a bit longer?

What brought this to mind? Recently, Marilyn and Gene P., an elderly, married couple who excel at low-limit recreational hold’em and once were my poker students, gave me a poker book as a thank-you gift while our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group and friends were being hosted to a special low-buy-in limit hold’em poker tournament that I helped organize at the Lucky Lady Casino in Gardena, Calif.

“Your Worst Poker Enemy” is the title of this book written back in 2007 — but still relevant — by an old poker friend, Dr. Alan N. Schoonmaker who many of us regard as the world’s leading poker psychologist.  Since then, he has written many other highly informative books and poker columns. The cover immediately caught my attention: A huge black spade bearing the title in large yellow letters, on a green background.

There may be a special message there. The author’s name in modest-sized red letters appears just below the title.

At the very start, Dr. Schoonmaker quotes the famed poker expert, Stu Ungar: “At the table, your worst enemy is yourself.”  Ungar proved himself to be a top poker player, winning three WSOP main tournament events of Texas hold’em before his life ended on Nov. 22, 1998 at the age of 45 due to his dependence on cocaine. Indeed, he was his own “worst enemy.”

Once you start reading Dr. Schoonmaker’s book, it’s hard to stop — even if it’s time to get seated at a hold’em poker table. The content is incredible. There are five parts of the book:

• Logic vs. Intuition.

• Evaluating Ourselves and the Opposition.

• Understanding Unconscious and Emotional Forces — including “Why Do People Play So Badly?” Topics include Destructive Emotions; Anger; Arrogance; and Preventing and Handling Tilt.

• Adjusting to Changes — including The Struggle to Survive; and Quantifying “It depends.”

• Handling Stress — including Losing Streaks; Why You Lose in Card Rooms;  and Don’t Take Poker Too seriously.

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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