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A smart poker player makes decisions that will earn lots of money (chips). Recently a friend sent me an anecdote about a lawyer and an elderly retiree.

If he was already a poker player, this retiree surely would have been a big winner. He knew how to use the odds to his own best advantage. That’s what good poker players do. The poor lawyer just didn’t know what he was up against.

The Anecdote

“A lawyer and a senior citizen are sitting next to each other on a long flight. The lawyer is thinking that seniors are so dumb he could get one over on them easily.

“So, the lawyer asks if the senior would like to play a fun game. The senior is tired and just wants to take a nap, so he politely declines and tries to catch a few winks.

“The lawyer persists, saying the game is a lot of fun. ‘I ask you a question, and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me only $5. Then you ask me one, and if I don’t know the answer, I will pay you $500,’ he says.

“This catches the senior’s attention and, to keep the lawyer quiet, he agrees to play the game. The lawyer asks the first question: ‘What’s the distance from the Earth to the Moon?’

“The senior doesn’t say a word, but reaches into his pocket, pulls out a $5 bill and hands it to the lawyer.

“Now, it’s the senior’s turn. He asks the lawyer, ‘What goes up a hill with three legs, and comes down with four?’

“The lawyer uses his laptop to search all references he can find on the Internet. He sends e-mails to all the smart friends he knows; all to no avail. After an hour of searching, he finally gives up. He wakes the senior and hands him $500.

 The senior pockets the $500 and goes right back to sleep. The lawyer is going nuts not knowing the answer. He wakes the senior up and asks, ‘Well, so what goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four?’

“The senior reaches into his pocket, hands the lawyer $5.00 and goes back to sleep.”

In this anecdote, not only did the senior get a big edge on the odds, but he knew how to use them to his best advantage. The poor lawyer should learn to play winning poker. For the sake of his clients, I hope he is much more astute when he pleads their cases in a court of law.

Favorable Odds

Everyone knows that, preflop, pocket Aces are an odds-on favorite over each of your opponents. But, believe it or not, your A-A becomes an underdog if more than four opponents stay to see the flop. To keep the odds in your favor, bet or raise to reduce the size of the playing field (RSPF). 

Since your objective is to win as many chips as possible (not just win hands), it would be best to play against three, perhaps four, opponents – but no more. 

Any time when the poker odds are in your favor (pot odds higher than the card odds), try to get as much money (chips) as possible into the pot. That’s betting for value! Toward that end, knowing your opponents’ playing traits can help. 

For example, a Calling-Station will call your bets, no matter how big, all the way to the showdown. Tight or timid players are likely to fold if you raise – unless they have a very strong hand. In that case, make sure your hand is strong enough so that the odds are, in fact, well in your favor. (Do you have the Nuts?) 

A loose-aggressive player is ideal to slow-play. With the odds heavily in your favor, a check-raise is a great strategy to get more chips into the pot. Like the senior in the anecdote, consider money-making strategies that take advantage of the odds-in-you-favor situations. 

“The Engineer,” noted author and poker 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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