Why we play poker

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I always enjoy Oklahoma Johnny’s column in GamingToday. I value his sage advice and admire him for all he has contributed to the enjoyment of the game, especially for us senior citizens.

Although at age 84 I am a year older than OK-J, in a sense he has been sort of a mentor for me. I was particularly interested in his recent column in which he explained why seniors play poker. Perhaps I can contribute somewhat to his observations.

Most seniors, OK-J explained, play for recreation. They are not professionals in the sense that a pro plays poker to earn his living. In fact, at my poker classes and poker lab sessions at the Claude Pepper Sr. Center, a prerequisite is that each person holds up his/her right hand and recites: “I will never, never, never ever play for the rent money.”

Our seniors play only with money they can afford to lose. I do teach only winning poker – including the Basic Rules for Winning.

Of course, no matter how well you master the game of poker, you will not always be a winner. However, using and obeying the Basic Rules should result in winning the majority of your sessions.

It’s a matter of learning the key strategies, using the Hold’em Algorithm and the Esther Bluff. Once done, you might even win 70-80% of your sessions.

While playing for recreation, we recognize “the more won, the more fun it is!” Credits for that axiom go to my lovely wife, Irene, who died about 15 years ago.

By the way, I agree with Johnny that most low-limit players are not winners. I am convinced that’s probably because they simply do not obey all of the Basic Rules.

Johnny also wrote that we play for sociability. Interaction with other people is important in our lives. While working, we were in contact with others on a daily basis. After retiring, we can interact with others in various ways – volunteering for a charitable organization; being involved in senior citizen center activities; exercising at a gym along with others; cruising.

Too many of my friends who became “couch potatoes” deteriorated mentally and physically, and then died relatively early after retirement. Poker in a casino or home game provides opportunity for socializing.

Consider that poker is a game of decisions. Every hand, even when you fold pre-flop, involves making decisions. To make the best decisions, we seek information – analyzing our opponents, estimating the poker odds, looking for tells. This exercises our minds.

Like your body muscles, brain exercise makes it healthier. The synapses attached to the brain cells grow stronger. Furthermore, there is ample evidence a healthy mind leads to a healthier body.

The evolution of our poker group at the Claude Pepper Senior Citizen Center in L.A. is strong evidence of the value of the game for seniors. We started seven years ago with just six members. Today there are over 150.

They participate in our poker activities – the poker class, poker lab, seminars and workshops presented by some of the top people in the poker world. Our “poker days” are hosted by the Normandie Casino and other local casinos.

In May, we will hold a four-week poker workshop that will include hand analysis, looking for and “reading” tells, using the Hold’em Algorithm, and discussing troublesome hands and situations.

Ours may be the only senior citizen center in the world with two regulation poker tables, donated by Tracy Edwards when he managed the Hustler Casino poker games. Edwards is now the director of poker operations at Normandie Casino in Gardena, California.

Thanks again to “my mentor,” OK-Johnny Hale, for raising the issue as to why seniors enjoy playing poker and what we gain by playing. Even young players in their 20’s and 30’s will one day become seniors.

(Note: George “The Engineer” can be reached 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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