|Winner at the games of poker and life: George Epstein
It happens when you
get older," says George Epstein '48, as gallantly as if his visitor
weren't in the generation right behind him. "You forget things!"
The upside of aging, says the retired aerospace
engineer and Angeleno of nearly five decades, is that "life gets
a lot easier." No having to get up at a certain time, he says. No
rushing around to get breakfast and get out the door. "No flying
back East in the winter and getting in late and having to find your hotel
when it's cold and dark and wet out!"
The downside, notes Epstein, is losing friends,
family, and your train of thought. But for the latter, at least, he has
coping mechanisms. Finding himself one too many times at the gym standing
shivering, wet, and keyless in front of his fully secured locker, Epstein
introduced a policy "Before I shut the locker, I say to myself
'George, do you have your key?'" and a technical improvement:
"I put a long yellow coil on it so it's hard to lose."
Technical improvements and systematic thinking
have been Epstein's lifelong preoccupation, and he shows no sign of throwing
in the towel. A UMass chemistry major who went on to MIT, his forte has
been the development of unconventional structural materials, especially
in space systems, and he's received a number of awards and honors for
his accomplishments. Formally retired from the Aerospace Corporation since
1991, Epstein continues to teach, consult, and publish. His quarterly
Composites & Adhesives Newsletter - a window onto the world of filament-winding
and honeycomb-bonding and so forth that underlies the lofting and longevity
of modern satellites - is in its fifteenth year, with a circulation of
some 50,000. The savvy scientist cherishes his playful side, however.
Even as an undergraduate he enjoyed games, playing baseball and soccer
and serving as Collegian sports editor. As a grown-up, he's grown ever
more expert at his hobby of poker.
Why poker? For one thing, the game is complex,
with its own little galaxy of variables encircling each decision. "And
what do engineers like to do? Take complex things and make them simple!"
exclaims Epstein triumphantly. In his good-natured way, Epstein also likes
to triumph, or anyhow win. And while he's clear on the fact that where
there are winners there must be losers one of his maxims: "There
are two kinds of players: poker pigeons and poker sharks"
he enjoys sharing card-shark insights as much as engineering expertise.
He's distilled the former into four rules and a set of strategies which
if faithfully followed, he contends, will result in victory about three-quarters
of the time.
To his professional roles, then, Epstein
has added those of regular columnist for Poker Digest, author of the Greatest
Book of Poker for Winners, and frequent lecturer on "winning at the
games of poker and life." It's gratifying to think, he agrees, that
there are satellites circling overhead that wouldn't have gotten off the
ground without the kinds of materials he pioneered. And maybe, too, he's
made the world a little safer for a few former poker pigeons.