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There are many ways playing poker is different than playing gambling games like slots and roulette. One way is you are competing against live people.

Just like you, they seek to go home winners; but few achieve that goal. It has been estimated 80-90 percent of the players are losers. An occasional win keeps them coming back for more.

Playing poker, you are matching your skills against those of the opposition. They may act friendly and be all smiles, but they are your opponents – the enemy – and have a hankering for your chips. You can almost feel it as they size up your stacks. They may seem friendly and engage you in pleasant talk, but, make no mistake, they are your foes at the poker table.


Fortunately for you, the majority are PokerPigeons. The term was coined by a dear, departed friend. Dr. Phil T. was a highly successful medical doctor who owned a large medical treatment facility and several healthcare facilities. It was he who taught my wife and me how to play winning poker.

For the most part, he emphasized starting-hand selection. That’s the biggest mistake PokerPigeons make. Were it not for them, we could not expect to go home winners most of the time.

Most are recreational players. Unlike pros, they do not play to earn a living, so they usually can afford to lose. And most of them will lose. One of the members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group asked me a logical question: How can you tell who are the PokerPigeons at your table?

Good question. My response was straight to the point. Just look to see who are the players who consistently pay to see the flop more than one out of four hands dealt, especially from an early position. I don’t think it’s any secret. According to the Hold’em Algorithm, the vast majority of hole cards dealt to you are not worth your investment. Save your money. Muck your hand; then sit and watch the game as it is played out.

At the showdown

Here is an opportunity to get valuable information. At the end of the hand, even if you are just an observer, try to see the hand each player started with. If nothing else, it will confirm your assessment of each opponent.

The Table

We love to have lots of PokerPigeons at our table. They provide the money to make the game profitable as well as enjoyable for the rest of us. We call the winners PokerSharks. Fortunately, there are relatively few at most poker tables.

Indeed, if there are three or more PokerSharks at your table, you may want to change tables. It is hard to win against the PokerSharks. Why try? If you prefer, you can always take a break from the table. Sometimes, as players come and go, the character of the table will change during that time. Incidentally, that’s one reason I prefer cash games over tournaments.

Sometimes they win

Of course, there will be occasions when the Pigeon has a great starting hand; and then, too, he is entitled to his share of good luck. If you happen to lose a hand to him, just grin and bear it. “Nice hand,” you smile to him – while deep down you think, “Darn it!”

But, remember, in the long run, you are the PokerShark and will add his chips to your stacks. Besides, if he never wins, he may decide to quit the game. Let’s keep him coming back for more.

“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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