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During the Middle Ages, “mammon” was commonly personified as the demon of wealth and greed. Early Christians used the word mammon as a derogatory term to describe gluttony, excessive materialism, unjust worldly gain, and greed – to be frowned upon. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” – from Matthew 6:19-21,24.

On the other hand, the ancient Hebrew usage regarded mammon as a form of business, concerning financial and property matters – not greed per se. Whether or not there is greed depends on how that wealth is used. Religious holiness is achieved not by shunning the world of money but by sanctifying it through honest business dealings and generosity to others in need. Thus we see two contradicting ways of life depending on one’s definition of “mammon.”

If you are a poker pro, winning money is essential to your livelihood. If you have a family, it is needed to provide for their welfare – food and shelter, education for the kids, etc. It is your responsibility. It would not be greed if you sought to win as much as possible to better support yourself and your family, and save for the future.

By far the majority of us poker enthusiasts play for recreation; we thoroughly enjoy the challenge and social interaction. The amount of money won (or lost) is a measure of our success. The more you win, the happier you are. That’s quite natural. In that regard, no one would accuse you of being greedy. But, greed, indeed, could enter into the picture. Let’s look more closely.

When you are playing poker and find yourself ahead after an hour at the table, are you being greedy if you decide to continue playing in the hope of winning more? It depends. 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 is not being greedy in any sense of the word; indeed, he’s doing his “job” to the best of his ability. That’s commendable.

In a sense, it’s the same when 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.

There is one big difference. “Variability” – ups and downs in your good fortune. We have all experienced “bad beats.” Very rarely will you hold the nuts – a hand that cannot be beaten by an opponent. More likely, your two-pair, aces and tens, is the best hand until the river.

An opponent with pocket 3s, foolishly (?) calls your bet to see the river. He has only 2 outs. But, sure enough, he catches a third trey for a set. He was a 22-to-1 longshot. Bad luck for you. Your opponent has taken most of your profits.

A few hands later, you catch four-to-the-nut flush on the flop. The card odds are less than 2-to-1 against you making the big flush. It’s a multi-way pot, so you bet or raise for value to maximize your wins; the money odds are much in your favor. Well, I think you know the rest of the story: You make the flush, but lose to a full-boat on the river! Another losing hand. And, now you are no longer a winner.

It is inherent in the game: As your fortune rises and falls, the only way to consistently overcome variability is to use some form of money management while you are playing. Have a money management system – such as described in my book, “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” – a system that flashes the red light, warning you to quit while you are still ahead. That takes self-discipline. Otherwise greed will do you in – sooner or later.

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

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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