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Occasionally I find a special column that I tear out to reread at a later date. One such piece was “Why I Play Cash Games” by the late Barry Tanenbaum.

Many will recall Barry died in November 2011 at age 66 from kidney disease. He was one of poker’s most admirable figures. Shortly after his death, poker legend Jan Fisher summed it up: “The poker world has lost a true hero, a real champion of the game…Always a gentleman…A class act.”

Linda Johnson, the First Lady of Poker, added: “Barry made the world a better place.”

Barry wrote a special column explaining why he preferred cash games over tournaments. Let’s examine some of his reasons; I will offer my comments where appropriate.

While tournament play – especially no-limit games – has become increasingly popular, many of us much favor limit cash games. Tanenbaum preferred $30-$60 limit games, and he won often enough to make this his source of livelihood after “retiring” from the computer industry and moving to Las Vegas with his wife, Betty, his life-long poker partner.

It’s steady income. Of course, with the element of chance ever present, there are bound to be “good days and bad days, and winning streaks and losing streaks,” Tanenbaum noted. “But cash play tends to average out these streaks more quickly.

Tournament play has far more ups and downs. In a field of 200 players, perhaps 18-21 get paid. And most of them don’t get paid very much (after getting their buy-in back.)”

Contrary to Barry, I have always regarded poker as a recreational activity, especially for retirees and seniors. In my poker classes, I require all my students to hold up their right hands and repeat after me: “I will never play for the rent money.”

Then I explain we are playing poker strictly for recreation; although the more I win, the more fun it is. So, we are not seeking a “steady income.”

It’s more social. “Many players come to cardrooms to pass the time in a friendly environment,” according to Barry. This aspect is especially important for retirees and seniors. Humans need to interact on a social level with others. It’s not healthy to get stuck in front of the television. Like Barry, this is one of the main reasons I never got involved with online poker.

Interestingly, a recent series of columns by poker legend Robert (“Chipburner”) Turner warned against casinos losing the human touch – social awareness.

I saw that happen at a local casino when a new manager was brought in. The new management instituted rules that made the game less enjoyable from a social aspect. That casino now has many empty tables, and has been sold.

I play when I want to play. Play poker – start and quit – at your convenience. You need not schedule your day around the start of a tournament. It’s no fun having to play long beyond your body and mental limits, as often required in tournaments.

The luck factor is lower. “Luck dominates short-term results” in tournaments “for a far longer time than it does cash games.”

I sit where I want to sit. Like Barry, I prefer certain seats for comfort and visibility reasons. And I, too, will “make changes for strategic purposes when it seems important.” Barry didn’t specify, but it is preferable to be seated to the immediate left of a “maniac” who frequently raises and re-raises.

Then I can see how he bets before I must make my decision, and can get away without investing in a marginal drawing hand, or take advantage of the maniac’s raise by re-raising to force out the opponents behind me, perhaps even isolating the maniac.

The same applies to changing tables when I deem it in my best interest. In a tournament, you have no choice.

“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].

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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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