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George, how can you say that poker and boxing are much alike? Boxing is so violent: two men in the ring trying to hurt each other using their fists… It can be brutal! Violent! Vicious!

How can such a vicious “sport” be anything like a friendly game of poker?

To begin with, both activities require skill – expertise – to be a winner. And both have winners and losers. The skills are somewhat different, to be sure.

The boxer must evade or block punches from his opponent – the “enemy,” and he “fakes” a move to catch his opponent off guard as he seeks an opening so he can land an uppercut to the jaw, trying to knock his opponent to the ground.

Well poker is not as violent, but a winning player does similar things: He tries to “read” his opponent’s hand – so he can avoid losing to a stronger hand; he bets/raises for value when believing he holds the best hand (just as the boxer does when the moment seems appropriate to aggressively go after and attack his opponent).

The player has developed the skill to quickly estimate the poker odds to get a positive expectation.

And a smart poker player knows how to bluff – “faking” the strength of his hand, using the best tactic, so he can take advantage of his opponent, getting him to fold a hand that would have bested his.

The boxer seeks out his opponent’s weaknesses and tries to take advantage of them. That’s exactly what a poker player does. We call it gaining an edge.

Both the boxer and the poker player need to develop their skills if they expect to win. The boxer does it mostly by practice and with expert help. Likewise, the winning poker player seeks opportunities to develop and sharpen his poker skills.

There are many poker books out there that can help. There are classes, seminars and workshops a player can attend. It’s also possible to seek private lessons from experts, or discuss selected hands with other players.

Players can get good experience by playing a poker game of choice. I advise my students to select one variety of poker game and learn to play it as well as they possibly can – rather than divert and divide their efforts among several different games.

Just as the boxer wants to be in good “shape” when entering the ring for the boxing match, the poker player should be alert (not tired out from a hard day at the office) AND prepared for a long evening without distraction.

Both learn from mistakes.

Is there a poker player who never makes a mistake? Usually you have to learn from your own mistakes. Sometimes you can ask a friend to watch the game and let you know of any mistakes you might make inadvertently.

Many years ago when cigar smoking was allowed in the poker rooms in Las Vegas, my wife, who was playing at an adjacent table, came to mine and called me aside. “George,” she looked at me, “you have a huge tell. When you make a good hand, you puff on your cigar and the end glows bright!”

Tells – giving information to your opponents – are a form of mistake we need to avoid if we want to be winners. Of course, seek them in opponent’s play.

Dare I say that participating in a poker game is very much like any competition involving two or more opposing players – each targets his skills to beat the others.

Sure there is some luck involved in any competition, but in the long run, the more skilled and better prepared player will emerge the victor.

For comments, questions contact “The Engineer” 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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