Pigeons are there for the plucking

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I often use the term “Poker Pigeon” in my columns and discussions with my poker compatriots. The other day, a poker buddy asked the inevitable, “What’s a Poker Pigeon?”

I promised I would devote a full column to respond to her question.

We all know that a pigeon is a bird. There are a wide variety of pigeons — probably many more that you would guess. But there is another definition of “pigeon.”

Picture, if you will, a person who is a sap or a sucker, a chump or a dupe. These are all common synonyms used to describe a person who is a “pigeon.” It’s a pleasure to have such players at your poker table. In the long run, they are bound to donate their chips to you and the other players.

Green Pigeon

Actually, I was not the one who created the term, “Poker Pigeon” to describe individuals who are chumps at the poker table. It was our dear friend, Dr. Philip Treiger who tried so hard to teach my wife and me how to play winning poker (Dr. Treiger died many years ago). You won’t find Poker Pigeons among the pros or skilled recreational players. When a Poker Pigeon competes against skilled players, he is likely to quickly empty his wallet.

Perhaps more often, you will hear players referred to as “fish.” According to Michael Wiesenberg’s The Official Dictionary of Poker, a fish is “a very loose player . . . one who loses regularly.” A Poker Pigeon goes a couple of steps further. Not only does he play very loose, playing starting hands he should have folded before the flop, but he also makes other mistakes that can only hurt him at the poker table.

What distinguishes a Poker Pigeon? In a few words, a Poker Pigeon came to play. He may hope to go home a winner, but that rarely happens. In the long run, he is a loser — probably a big one — well above the cost-to-play.

He knows little of winning strategies and tactics. He doesn’t even consider obvious tells from his opponents. On the other hand, without realizing it, he offers many tells to his smarter opponents.

Here’s some other examples of the Poker Pigeon’s frequent mistakes and poor thinking:

If he changes his seat at the table, it’s not because he wants to position himself so that he doesn’t have to act before a maniac (one who often raises). If he asks for a table change, it’s only because he hopes the next table will bring him more luck.

After failing to connect and improve his hand on the flop, he is likely to remain in the hand, calling all bets — including multiple raises. With only a few outs (he doesn’t bother to estimate the number), he chases by calling all bets in hope of catching a miracle card.

He pays no attention to his opponents’ playing traits, so he calls with a small pair when a tight player raises the pot on the river. He rarely bluffs, and has no idea of what can be done to be successful at it, and passes up good opportunities to semi-bluff.

Meanwhile he drinks alcoholic beverages, one after the other and he is having such a good time! Often, his attention is not on the game in play, but rather on the basketball game being shown on the TV up on the wall. He also likes to flirt with the pretty cocktail waitress as she serves his drink.

When he gets lucky (it will happen to every player) and his hand improves to a monster on the flop — say, a full house — he fails to make the most of it.

While most of us would slow-play in such a case, he bets out or raises, causing most opponents to muck their cards. He doesn’t consider all the additional chips he could have won. He probably didn’t consider check-raising on the turn when the bets are bigger.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s so much fun to play against Poker Pigeons. Just make sure you are not such a player.

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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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