It is important for teachers and writers to define poker terms

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Many years ago, I was a young graduate student at MIT, recently returned from serving in the U.S. Navy aboard a Destroyer Escort-Minesweeper. (Off-duty in the evenings, while at sea, we frequently played poker in the Radar Shack.)

World War II had just ended, thankfully, and we were getting our lives in order after the war. Majoring in chemistry (focusing on materials) with a minor in math, I was enrolled in a special physics course.

An eminent, world-renown MIT professor, author of many physics books, gave the weekly lecture to a room crowded with students – undergrads as well as graduate students working for an advanced degree.

The problem was his lectures often were well above the heads of almost everyone there, including the grad students, most of whom were majoring in a course other than physics. He used terms many of us did not recognize. It was difficult enough to understand the concepts he taught, but adding the complication of unfamiliar terms made it all the more thorny – to say the least.

So it can be in the game of poker.

We use many terms that relate specifically to the game; and they are fascinating to contemplate. Would someone with limited poker experience – wanting to learn the intricacies of the game – understand expressions such as “fish,” “weak-passive,” and so many others?

Beyond the definitions, as writers and lecturers on poker, we have a duty to elaborate so the student/reader can fully understand the message in the context offered to him. Otherwise, we fail in our function to impart knowledge.

An example: I won’t cite the individuals involved or the publication where this recently appeared, but while being interviewed for a particular magazine, a fairly well-known young poker professional was discussing repeated raises before the flop in a cash game with deep stacks.

 The interviewer asked a key question: What types of hands would you call with after a four-bet preflop by a fish?

To a large extent, it depends of the types of players you are up against, the pro explained. In elaborating, he noted that there are “two types of fish.”

OK, he didn’t explain what a “fish” is but almost everyone who has played any poker at all can envision that a “fish” is a player who usually loses, often because he plays too loose. (Personally, I prefer to refer to such players as PokerPigeons.) Then he listed the two types of “fish”: (1) “weak-passive” and (2) “crazy-loose.”

We can readily understand that “crazy-loose” is a very aggressive player who often bets and raises. He might even be a “maniac.” But what is a “weak-passive” player? If you look it up in Weisenberg’s Official Dictionary of Poker, you will quickly learn a weak player is “one who plays timidly or nonaggressively,” and probably loses for that reason. And a weak-passive player is one “who calls a lot and rarely raises.”

The poker pro discussed playing against both types of “fish.” Having studied the column, I now understand the young pro’s point. In this particular instance, the weak-passive fish was not playing in accordance with his usual pattern. He was playing quite aggressively when he made the four-bet (a third raise) preflop.

There are two possible considerations here. First, the young pro may have been mistaken in labeling that fish “weak-passive.” Perhaps that particular player should have been classified as “crazy-loose;” that label certainly seemed to better fit how he played this hand.

The second alternative: Assuming they had played many hands together so the pro was certain this player definitely was “weak-passive,” then this fish’s four-bet was good reason for the poker pro to fold his “second-best” hand.

Bottom line: When endeavoring to enlighten their readers and students, poker writers and teachers serve best when they take pains to clarify and elaborate key terms and messages.

“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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