by George “The Engineer” Epstein
“Life is the art of drawing conclusions from insufficient premises.” —Samuel Butler, British satirist (1835 - 1902)
Butler is best known for his utopian satire, Erewhon, and The Way of All Flesh, a semi-autobiographical novel, published posthumously. What does this saying mean? How does it relate to the game of poker? “Insufficient”—lacking to some extent; too scanty; we would like more information to be really convinced.
“Premises”—statements of fact or suppositions made or implied as a basis of argument (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
Since poker is a microcosm of life, it is reasonable to consider famous quotations ascribed to life issues as they might apply to the game of poker.
• Information is Essential. It is no secret that the game of poker involves the gathering of information from which you can draw conclusions and make concomitant decisions. The better informed you are, the better decisions you can make—and the more you can expect to win. We distinguish between factual information and conjecture, but both are important.
The value of your holecards is readily available to you; that’s a fact. This also applies to your opponents. On the other hand, gaining information of which your opponents are unaware, will give you a significant advantage—an edge over them. The problem is you will never have all the information you would like. Without your opponent revealing his holecards, you can only guess at the strength (or weakness) of his hand. But you can observe his playing style (tight, loose, passive, aggressive, deceptive). Based on the cards on the board and how he has bet or raised this hand, you might make an assumption as to the strength of his hand. You can look for tells; if you are adept at it, you might find some hints related to his hand. Of course, these latter bits of information are conjectures.
• Factual Information. It has often been said the “poker is a game of insufficient information.” Some readily available information is pure fact. For example:
• The value of your holecards. How high are they? Are they connected and/or suited?
• Your betting position. Late position gains you an advantage over early-positions since you can see what your opponents do before you must act. Also important is whether you are to the left or right of a “maniac.”
• How many opponents are staying to see the flop?
• Have there been any raises before you must act? (Raises make marginal drawing hands unattractive.)
• Relative stack sizes (especially important in no-limit games and tournaments).
• Does he always continuation bet on the flop after raising preflop?
• Does he bet or raise to steal the pot when he senses the opponents’ weakness?
• Your estimate of the poker odds after the flop. (This is very important! It takes just a few moments. Do you do it?)
• Conjecture. But much of the “information” is conjecture—speculation, assumption, just a guess. Here are examples of such information:
• Your opponent’s facial expressions, body movements, and other tells. What does each really “tell” you?
• What type of player is he—tight, loose, passive, aggressive, deceptive? Is he a Calling-Station? (Never try to bluff out a Calling-Station.) Is he a “timid” player—prone to fold after an opponent bets/raises? (Note: This information borders on fact, depending on your evaluation skill. How sure are you?)
• Is there likely to be a raise after you bet?
• Do you believe he is bluffing? Is he using the Esther Bluff against you?
• Is he trying to trap you?
• A tight player in an early position raises the bet. What do you put him on?
• What do you think your opponent is holding? How do you “read” his hand?
A winner will use both types of information—the facts and conjecture. With experience he might become quite skilled at gathering both types of information. It does take effort, especially the conjectural information. In the end, these skills will make the difference: WINNER or loser? Your choice.
Can you suggest other conjectures? A signed copy of the new 3rd edition of Hold’em or Fold’em? will be the prize for the best response. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently elected to the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame, 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. Recently, he started teaching poker to aged war veterans with special healthcare needs at a new CalVet facility at the VA in West L.A. Contact George at email@example.com.