Ignore bad advice

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Being an engineer (MS from MIT in 1952), I believe authors and lecturers have a responsibility to avoid proffering misinformation that can lead to wrong conclusions and concomitant errors. A recent column in a poker magazine made the bristles on my remaining hair stand on end; comparing online versus live poker, the author made statements that are not factual.

Most significant, he stated: “You do not have the facility to take notes while playing live.” Consequently, he warns, you will not be able to distinguish the weak from the good players in live games.

Not so! I regularly keep notes about my opponents while playing low-limit live games at my local casinos, and have lectured on techniques for note-taking. At the table, opponents frequently question me and make comments about my note-taking.

That’s their right. Responding, I nod, smile, and continue taking notes. Nor does it require special computer software, as the author of the article indicates – only a small piece of paper and a pen.

Within the first half-hour of play, I know who are the Poker Pigeons (bound to lose) and the Poker Sharks (likely to win), the tight versus loose players, the passive versus aggressive, the range of hands they are likely to play, and even more information about my opponents. It’s all in my notes.

Furthermore, I know whether this is a “good” table for me.

Poker is game of partial information; the more you glean, the more edge you have. Keeping notes helps.

Then the author states as fact that live games play “no more than 30 hands per hour.” I have seen this figure published elsewhere – a misstatement seen often enough can gain wide acceptance.

Being an engineer (50+ years of experience in the aerospace industry, lecturer at UCLA and five NASA centers, and industry consultant), I understand the scientific method for gathering data to arrive at valid conclusions. I decided to test that statement.

My data is too limited at this point to permit a statistically confident conclusion, but I will share my observations with GamingToday readers: Of 14 measurements during $3-$6 live games, three averaged 37 hands/hour, two at 33 and two at 30 hands/hour.

There was one each at 26, 28, 31, 35, 38, 42 and 53 hands/hour.

The average was 35 hands/hour. While the variance is too great to draw a final conclusion, this data indicates that the 30-hands-per-hour figure in live games may be far off the mark – something we players should be aware of.

For example, our results suggest that it costs players considerably more than previously believed (based on 30 hands/hour) to play poker in a casino – considering the rake, the drop for the bad-beat jackpot and tips to the dealer.

There’s another statement in the article that I challenge: “True poker skill can really only be arrived at by playing the game.”

Skills can be gained many ways – reading books that explain strategies and tactics; attending seminars and classes that analyze hands and teach poker skills while offering the opportunity to ask questions; reading informative columns in poker publications (as distinct from most interviews of “celebrity” players); and discussing hands with buddies.

Certainly, playing experience is important in gaining skill; but, as I pointed out in another column, just playing for many years may not help you avoid a mistake that you continue to make. You need to question yourself: Why did I make that play? Should I change?

Finally, the author failed to mention the social benefits of playing live versus online games. Physically interacting with other humans is a big plus, especially for senior citizens like me.

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted 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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