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Epstein's Theorem for Winning Poker

A theorem is an idea that has been accepted or proposed as a demonstrable truth. In his book, The Theory of Poker, poker expert and writer David Sklansky presents his "Fundamental Theorem of Poker:" The best way to play your hand is to play it as if you could see your opponent's hole cards.

That's great, were it really feasible. Applied to limit hold 'em, the problem with this theorem is that, unless your opponent carelessly flashes his hole cards, you can't know what he is holding. You can only guess! You can try to read his hand depending on many factors: What kind of player is he? How does he play different hands-based on your observations over a period of time? Does position affect his betting? Does he bluff? Check-raise? How has the betting progressed during this hand? Any relevant tells?

Reading an opponent is guesswork. Think about it. At best you might guess at a range of hands he could be holding. The looser or weaker the player, or the more aggressive he is, the less accurate--the more wild your guess will be. Put him on a range of hands ... guesswork. Which are more likely? Have you ever tried to read a player's hand while watching the World Series of Poker (WSOP) reruns on TV when the hole cards are not shown? A wild guess. What's more, in the heat of battle, you have only seconds to act.

Another problem with Sklansky's theorem is that usually you are competing against more than one opponent for most of the hand. That makes the guesswork even more difficult.

On the other hand, my Theorem for Winning Poker takes the guesswork out of the task.

Epstein's Theorem for Winning Poker-Don't Play the Losers! Sure, I'll admit this is just another way of stating Basic Rule No. 3 for Winning at Poker, which is described in The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners! by Epstein and Abrams. Of our four Basic Rules, this is the most important: It's when you decide to invest your hard-earned money. Winning players already follow this rule.

It makes good sense. Starting with the best hand, you are more likely to end up winning the pot. Also, by avoiding hands that, in all probability, would have lost, you are saving lots of chips, thereby helping yourself to go home a winner. Sure, there is an element of luck (chance), but better starting hands will win out over inferior hands in the long run.

The beauty of this theorem is that it doesn't take any guesswork. Some poker books describe the preferred starting hands based on various factors. Better yet, you can use my Hold'em Algorithm, as explained in Hold'em or Fold'em?--An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision, which makes it easier to make that important decision. Less stress makes it so much easier to make good decisions and gives you an edge over your opponents. In practice, only about one-fourth of preflop hands merit consideration for investing our chips-fewer in early position or after a raise by an opponent.

Bottom Line. Using Epstein's Theorem along with other essential poker skills, such as understanding the difference between made and drawing hands, and using the concomitant strategies, applying poker odds to get a positive expectation, using the Esther Bluff tactic, and looking for tells, you are bound to win, even at low limits. It all starts with our theorem: "Don't Play the Losers!"

. . . So readers, what's YOUR opinion?

George "The Engineer" 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 and teaches poker at the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center in Los Angeles. Contact George at

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