Poker Tips By George: The WHY of Poker

By George Epstein
July 14, 2020

It has just three letters, but the word “WHY” overshadows all other words in playing poker. In fact, it is so important that you can rarely win if you do not often ask yourself that question – WHY?


The Importance of WHY Outside of Poker

Prior to my retirement, I used to work an engineer in the aerospace industry. From personal experience, I can tell you that an engineer working to resolve a costly space vehicle failure that has been tracked to the rocket motor needs to know: Why did the rocket motor explode during launch? There was a reason. To prevent its recurrence, he or she must determine why – and then take steps to prevent it. There may be several possible reasons. Time and resources permitting, the team will evaluate all of the possible reasons. If there isn’t enough time or resources, the team will limit their exploration to the most likely.

A doctor examines a patient to learn why he has that rash and cough; only then can the patient be treated with the right medication. It may require several tests and some speculation based on past experience. The doctor may need to consult with professional colleagues, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum of seriousness, if you’re European and enjoy gambling at online casinos, you need to ask yourself why Netherland’s online casinos tend to be more popular than those from other countries. Maybe they’ve got a wider variety of games? Maybe the payouts and jackpots they offer are superior to those at other sites? Basically, it always helps to understand WHY!

Poker is no different – except you usually need to think much more quickly. With a typical hold’em hand running only about two minutes, fast thinking is essential. And you are on your own; no one to discuss it with. It’s quite a challenge. Of course you can discuss hands with your poker friends after the session, but in the heat of the moment you need to make decisions quickly.


In life, there are exceptions. When the doctor is in the Emergency Room with a patient who is barely breathing, that person’s life depends on the doctor making a very quick decision! No time to ponder, WHY? The doctor must rely on past experience. The aircraft pilot’s airplane has suddenly lost power. Lives are at stake! Think fast or else! In such cases, you don’t have time to ask WHY. So, yes, there are exceptions. But not in poker: You only have seconds to act, but a skilled player can handle it. There are no exceptions if you want to be a winner. Do not rely on luck.

Poker Hand Analysis

Since “WHY” is so important in playing poker if you really want to be a winner, let’s look at a typical $4-$8 limit hold’em poker example to best explain.

You call to see the flop from the Under-the-Gun (UTG) position, holding 10h-Jh. All the other players fold to the Button who raises your bet. Then the two blinds muck their hole cards. Now it is just the two of you. You ponder: Why did the Button raise my bet?

To best answer that question, there are several possibilities to be considered:

  • Is he a tight player? If so, he must have a strong hand.
  • Is he a LAG – a loose-aggressive player?
  • Could he be trying to steal the pot? If he does that often, that may be the best reason for his raise.

Based on your previous observations, the “tight player” reason is most likely. You estimate the odds that he holds the best hand is 3-to-1 against him. How does that compare with the money odds? With $18 the total amount bet, subtract the rake plus Jackpot drops ($5 + $1 = $6) leaving $12 for you to win. To call his raise will cost you another $4; so you are risking $4 in the hope of winning $8. Your money odds are just $8/$4 = 2-to-1. His best-hand odds are higher than your money odds. Fold your hand and wait for a better opportunity.

And it all started with the question, WHY?

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Written By.

George Epstein

After a long and productive career as a leader in the aerospace industry, upon his retirement in the 1990s, George Epstein chose poker as his “second career.” George has been widely recognized for his many significant accomplishments and contributions to our society. These include pioneering and innovations in various materials, testing and manufacturing technologies for […]

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