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Or can it be an eclectic mix of both?

Roy Cooke, one of my favorite poker columnists (there are several I admire), recently made a rather challenging (to me) statement incidental to his Real Poker column on “Protecting Your Psyche” (Card Player magazine; July 14, 2010): “Poker is an art, not a science.” The rest of his statement I completely agree with; i.e., “It (poker) requires constant clear-thinking to adjust to constantly changing conditions.”

Having spent most of my life as a scientist/engineer, and accumulated lots of real-world experience (I’m now 83), I decided to delve into this question for the readers of GamingToday:

Is the game of poker an art or a science?

The word “science” is derived from an ancient Latin word meaning “knowledge.” According to Wikipedia, the online dictionary, science involves gathering knowledge. Isn’t that what we do in playing poker?

Having basic knowledge of the laws of probability can be essential to success at the poker table as we use the poker odds to make decisions on investing to make our drawing hands, or betting for value; or tossing that hand into the muck.

We seek out tells from our opponents’ actions and reactions to gain more knowledge. Likewise, observing how our opponents play provides information – knowledge – that helps us to make wiser decisions.

It has often been said that poker is a game of information; the more information we can glean, the better our chances of winning. Information is “knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Recently I wrote a series of columns on the “Dirty Dozen” notorious mistakes to avoid. Knowledge of these mistakes can help us to steer clear of the pitfalls that are so costly when playing poker. So, yes, winning poker relies on science – knowledge.

What about art? Is poker also a game of art?

Art is most often associated with human expressions and creations in painting, music, literature, film, photography and sculpture; but it is much more than that.

Indeed, according to my handy Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “art is a skill acquired by experience or study.” It is the “systematic use of knowledge or skill in making (such as works of art) or doing things (such as playing poker).” The latter is the venue in which we use the term “art,” when discussing our beloved game of poker.

In other words, applied to the game of poker, “art” is the skill whereby we are able to apply the knowledge – science – that is essential to helping us go home with winnings in our pockets (or purses). Those who have the knowledge (science) and can use their skills (art) to effectively employ that knowledge are among the minority who are consistent winners at the poker table. (It has been estimated that 80% – 90% of poker players are NOT winners. My columns are designed to help those who seek to be among the 10% – 20% who are the winners.)

Whether you play poker for recreation or as a profession, winning is the goal. While more and more people are playing the game of poker as a profession, depending on it to make a living, most of us actually play for recreation and the enjoyment of the game – perhaps to challenge our skills, with the money won (or lost) as a measure of success. And, as my wife Irene, used to say: “The more I win, the more fun it is.”

I agree!

So, in the final analysis, the game of poker is BOTH science and art. As a popular song used to say, “You can’t have one without the other.”

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted 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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