George Epstein, 95; he was a winner at poker, and at life

| April 28, 2022 | 0 Comments

I met George Epstein in 2013 when he was teaching his favorite game to a crowded room of poker players at the Claude Pepper Senior Center.

He also taught engineering courses at UCLA and for NASA, and he developed military defense systems for the Air Force, Navy and Army.

But on this day his poker skills were in play.

His gig at the center started after he was invited to give a talk on the merits of the game at the center on La Cienega Boulevard in 2005.

“I had no idea it was going to work out like this. It’s just incredible,” the then 86-year-old area resident said of his classes, which had grown to 250 members.

GEORGE EPSTEIN, left, in 2013 at the Claude Pepper Senior Center, with assistants Pat Box and Shirley Tye.

“He’s the pioneer behind all of this,” center recreation facility director Gregory Glenn said at the time.

Epstein died March 29 after battling a heart condition at the age of 95.

In his final years, George “The Engineer” Epstein’s Poker for All column was a regular feature on the back page of the Larchmont Chronicle.

And, at City Hall on April 5, the Los Angeles City Council adjourned in his honor.

“In the city of Angels, George certainly earned his wings, here on Earth and beyond,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, Fifth District.

“George was a loving, kind and absolutely brilliant man who cared so much about his family and the city that he lived in. George read a stack of newspapers every morning and regularly submitted letters to the editor to local publications …”

The Chronicle was among those that received his regular letters, whose subjects ranged from potholes on local streets to city politics.

Approximately 100 people attended his funeral April 1 at Hillside Memorial Park, according to his daughter, Sue Epstein. Her father was a caring family man, a pioneer in the aerospace industry and an enthusiastic poker player, but most of all, she stressed, he was a humanitarian and a “thinker. He was always thinking of ways to help people, to make the world better,” she said.

Studies have shown activity keeps you young, he told me back in 2013. It keeps the brain’s synapses firing. He refrained from playing with his poker students, instead travelling to area casinos where, he told me, he tested his luck at Texas hold’em until 2 a.m.

“I couldn’t leave. I was winning,” he smiled.

He started playing cards as a child when he helped his dad deliver laundry in a Boston suburb. He attended Boston Latin School (established in 1635, making it the oldest existing school in the country), the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During World War II, stationed in Virginia on a destroyer, he played cards to pass the time. As head of radar, he became a hero on the ship after he found the cause of recurrent failures.

His expertise would follow him throughout his career as an aerospace engineer. He specialized in adhesives and composites — materials and structures used in rockets and spacecraft. He worked for North American Aviation, Aero-Jet General, Ford Aerospace and the Aerospace Corporation, from which he retired in 1991; he remained active as a consultant in the industry. He also worked closely with the Society for the Advancement of Materials and Process Engineering North America. In a statement, SAMPE North America CEO Zane Clark called Epstein “a giant in the composites industry.”

“The story of SAMPE would not have been written without Mr. Epstein and cannot be told without sharing his legacy.”

After retirement, his second career flourished. He wrote his first book, “Poker for Winners,” and, following some wrangling at the city, started teaching. Some people think it’s gambling, he explained.

He left little to chance, taking notes and sizing up his opponents’ body language. “It gives you an edge,” he explained. He won 70 percent of the time. Starting cards are key, as is the game’s algorithm; he even wrote a book about it. His third book was on the art of the bluff.

After the death of his wife of 45 years, Irene, in 1996, SAMPE started a scholarship program in her honor at Fairfax High School. The scholarships were expanded to include the Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA) on the Los Angeles High School campus.

Poker players still play at the Claude Pepper Senior Center on Fridays at 1 p.m., and until recently, Epstein was a regular.

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Category: People

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