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Sir Francis Bacon and Poker

Money is like MUCK, not good except it be spread.” —Francis Bacon during the Age of Reason (“Of Seditions and Troubles,” Essays, 15; published in 1597)

 Sir Francis Bacon (Jan. 1561 – April 1626) was an English philosopher, statesman, spy, freemason and essayist. He was knighted in 1603. He began his career as a lawyer, but is best known as a philosophical advocate of the scientific revolution. He developed an inductive methodology for scientific inquiry—the Baconian method. His literary works include his Essays, as well as the Colours of Good and Evil, and the Meditationes Sacrae, all published in 1597. Bacon’s life goals were discovery of truth, service to his country, and service to the church. He also is famed for his widely quoted aphorism, “knowledge is power.”

 What does this have to do with the game of poker? Let’s look at Bacon’s use of the term, “muck.” In our poker world, the discards are often called the muck. In comparing money and muck, Sir Francis Bacon referred to “muck” as barnyard manure used to fertilize farm crops. He was warning that money “be not gathered into a few hands;” it should be distributed (spread) among all of the people. That hints at communism, which was intended to change the distribution of wealth in timers when a few lived in luxury, while the masses lived in poverty. The ideas of communism have enjoyed occasional popularity but have seldom, if ever, worked in practice.

 But poker is NOT an economic system. It is more a demonstration of “survival of the fittest”—Darwin’s theory of evolution. In that sense, poker is more akin to a sports competition. In the long run, the fittest—the more skilled—gain the rewards. Sure, a little luck helps. It seems to me that this concept is more natural and preferable to Bacon’s idea of distributing the wealth. We play to win, not to share our winnings with others at the table. The more we win, the happier we are. Here’s a fascinating example to illustrate.

 In a $3-$6 hold’em game at Hollywood Park, I was dealt pocket queens in the big blind. It was a loose game with modest preflop raising. Almost everyone called to see the flop. In the big blind, I raised to build the pot in case my queens held up or improved. The pot odds were good. Everyone called my raise. I could hardly believe the flop:

I had flopped a set of Queens! With such a coordinated flop, someone must have hit a strong hand, possibly even a straight. In the big blind, I decided to check to avoid giving more information about my hand and to keep marginal drawing hands in the pot. A middle-position player made the bet and was called by several of us. I was anxious to see what the turn would bring. It was Js, giving me Queens-full-of- Jacks! I kept my cool.

 This was a good situation for a check-raise. The middle-position player again made the bet. After two callers, the button raised. Interesting. . . But I believed I held the best hand, even if it wasn’t the absolute nuts. I re-raised. Three players called, including the button. What a pot!

 The river was a brick. I felt assured that I held the winning hand. I bet out on the river and was called by two opponents; then the button raised. Could she have kings full? I called.

 Showdown: The button had Jacks-full-of-queens. Another, showing A-10, had flopped an Ace-high straight. My pot!

 I now owned most of the chips on the table. Contrary to Bacon’s concept of sharing the wealth, I liked that “wealth”—all mine! Bacon also is credited with recognizing that “knowledge is power.” Knowledge is skill; and skill helps us to be the winners... I like that too!

 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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