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Sweet Shark


Photo: George Epstein

Winner at the games of poker and life: George Epstein '48

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.

– Patricia Wright

 
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