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As many of you know, I take notes while playing poker – short notes, on one side of a 4½ x 5½ inch sheet of paper.

(How many of us took notes in high school and college? It sure was inconvenient when I broke my right elbow playing football in high school. Had to learn to use my left hand.)

As for poker, the notes help me during the session as well as afterwards. I do get questioned about it. Some even sneer and scorn. That’s their privilege. The fact of the matter is that taking notes helps my game, sometimes in an unexpected way.

An interesting case in point:

Being an engineer (M.S. from MIT in 1952), I enjoy applying my engineering expertise to the game of poker. Sometimes it’s just a matter of curiosity. A few years ago, I wondered how many hands of poker are dealt during a poker session.

I took notes over a period of about a year and found, on the average, in a limit hold’em cash game with a full table, there were approximately 33 hands dealt per hour. That was an interesting statistic that I tucked away in a cranny in my “weather” and (now) age-beaten little brain.

I did use the info when the casino decided to raise the rake in response to a new minimum wage fiat. (I found it benefited the casino much more than the staff. But that’s not what we are concerned with today.)

I wondered:

Times have changed. Since the political powers in Washington have virtually eliminated online poker, many aggressive young players are moving into the brick and mortar casinos. This is bound to translate into changes in the games as played there.

So, “curious George” as I am, I started tracking the numbers again. They were running rather consistent, very close to our previous 33-hands-per-hour figure, when suddenly the data jumped to 40 per hour. I was prepared to let it pass, just another “outlier” as often occurs when gathering data. (In the long-term, the data will normalize.)

But there was something different here. Hand after hand, only two players remained to see the flop. The game became very tight. Almost always the two players agreed to “chop” the pot: split the chips – except for the House’s one chip drop, of course – and prepare for the next deal.

Well, this readily explained why so many more hands (40 vs. 33 hands per hour) had been dealt than usual. From the player’s standpoint, it means the cost-to-play has increased. Only the House gains a reward when there is no flop. And the blinds come around more frequently.

But there is much more to it.

The tight play carried on throughout each hand, even when we got to see the flop. Few hands reached the river. With only two or three players staying beyond the flop in a limit game, the pots are bound to be small.

It’s a “crying shame” to be dealt pocket aces and win just a few bets. Worse yet is to have to chop before the flop. Bet after the flop and win ZIP when your two remaining opponents muck their hole cards. And even worse than that, at such a tight table, only a powerhouse calls your bet on the flop and then takes the pot away from you when he makes two-pair or the nut flush on the river.


And, from the dealer’s standpoint, he loses out on tips. No one likes such a table! But, most important for me, I don’t like it …It’s just TOO-TIGHT for me!


Such TOO-TIGHT tables are not for me. How about you? In a tournament, you don’t have much choice: You have to play at the table and seat you were assigned when you registered for the event. But in a regular ring game, YOU are the “boss.” If you don’t like that table, get up and ask for a table change.

“The Engineer” is the author and teacher of poker in West L.A. and a member of the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame. Contact him 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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