“Harrington on Hold ’em” Review, Part 3

[II] “Volume II1 was the real eye-opener for me”, Iggy the Improver admitted to Roderick the Rock. “I mostly played cash games before I joined started playing here, so I’m not really used to the dynamics of tournament play. Ever-increasing blinds, short stacks, money bubbles, deal-making…”

[RR] “And that’s without even mentioning table balancing, dead buttons, reentries, and add-ons”, Roderick contributed.

[II] “The book actually starts with Making Moves, which isn’t specifically for the endgame. That chapter really should have gone into Volume I, which was 64 pages shorter anyway.”

[RR] “He probably had a publishing deadline to meet ;-).”

[II] “Good stuff nonetheless: bluffing, continuation betting (and defense against), probe bets, squeeze plays, semi-bluffs, back-alley muggings, dark tunnel bluffs (okay, he advises against that one), slow-playing, massaging the pot, check-raise bluffing, Post-Oak bluffing, BSB play, and smallball versus longball. He probably could have expanded each of those into an entire chapter if he wanted to.”

[RR] “If he’d written five volumes instead of three, he might have scared too many potential readers away. You were already complaining beforehand about its current length.”

[II] “The next section was the best. I’d already heard of Harrington’s colored zones,2 but it was interesting to get the details from the horse’s mouth. But I don’t like the name ‘Inflection Point’. In math, the term means that the curvature has changed direction. Green-to-yellow-to-orange-to-red is really more of a rainbow continuum. I think you make the same play whether your M is 10.1 or 9.9.”

[RR] “I think that he was referring to the sharp changes when you win or lose a big pot or the blinds go up. In some faster tournaments, a blind increase can halve your M instantaneously. A drop from 12 to 6 certainly qualifies as a significant difference.”

[II] “Fair enough. But I think it’s the zones that matter, not the somewhat arbitrary and mathematically infinitesimal ‘points’. Even Harrington himself rounds all his M calculations so roughly that he could think he was in one zone when he’s actually in another. To use the Crayola 64-color scale, between orange and red, there are orange red and red orange crayons, which are so close to each other that most men can’t tell them apart. As long as you know roughly what color you are, you can adjust properly.”

[RR] “His colored zones are probably the most famous thing he’s ever written about. I especially like his football analogy, even if ‘Red Zone’ has completely different meanings in the two contexts.”

[II] “Agreed. The Green Zone is like having plenty of time on the clock. Then as you work down toward the Red and Dead Zones, you need to hurry up, abandon the running game, and avoid the middle of the field unless you’re at the two-minute warning or are prepared to use a timeout.”

[RR] “Stealing the blinds is a sideline completion for a first down. It gets you a little closer but not much (buys you one more loop around the table).”

[II] “Folding is like spiking the ball to kill the clock. It gets you another hand but otherwise hasn’t helped your cause.”

[RR] “Pushing all-in with a small pair is a Hail Mary. If it gets intercepted… game over!”

[II] “Except that if you get called and double up you still have a long way to go to win.”

[RR] “So it’s more like scoring a touchdown when you’re down 21 in the 3rd quarter.”

[II] “Also, both sides can be in Harrington’s Red Zone as one side drives toward a potential game-winning score in the final seconds, like being heads up to win a tournament with crushing blinds.”

[RR] “Of course, some hyperaggressive maniacs act like the clock is running out all game and run a fast-tempo, no-huddle offense for four quarters.”

… {to be continued}


  1. Harrington on Hold ’em, Volume II: The Endgame. See the introduction in Part 1 from two weeks ago.
  2. See More About M.

“Harrington on Hold ’em” Review, Part 2

[RR] Mingling before the tournament, Roderick the Rock sought out Iggy the Improver to see how his studying1 had gone. “Are you ready to join the hopeful hordes of Harringbots?”

[II] “Heartily! I devoured all three Harrington on Hold’em books in less than a week, so I even went back and reread some of the sections that I thought were the most important”, Iggy confirmed.

[RR] “Such as?”

[II] “Well, certainly the Elements of a Hand that you mentioned. I read that a few times. The Betting Patterns chapter about paying attention to what hands people are playing and how they play them was short but good. I definitely need to improve my powers of observation. Probably my memory too!”

[RR] “Don’t we all.”

[II] “The Hand Analysis chapter wasn’t entirely new to me, but Harrington states it very succinctly, summarizing all the preflop hand matchups on just over one page.”

[RR] “Is that the section where he says that everyone bluffs at least ten percent of the time?”

[II] “Yes. He calls it Harrington’s Law of Bluffing.”

[RR] “Dan was clearly talking about players better than this field! Mildred the Mouse would probably sweat and shake uncontrollably if she ever tried to bluff.”

[II] “She’s probably the only one here who bluffs less than you do though; if she’s as tight as a snare drum, you’re a bass drum.”

[II] “In the problems at the end of that chapter, he said one thing that really stuck in mind: if you’re first to act on the river with less than the pot left in your stack, you should bet your less-than-great hands any time you think you’d call a bet anyway. You might get a call from a weaker hand (and I suppose you also gain fold vig).”

[RR] “That’s very chess-like thinking. If I check, how will I respond to what my opponent does? A three-ply search tree.”

[II] “The Betting Before the Flop chapter was amazing. I got the general idea fairly quickly, but he went into so much detail I’ll probably never remember everything he said.”

[RR] “That’s where he says exactly what percent of the time you should limp and what percentage of the time you should raise to different amounts, right?”

[II] “Again, he’s talking about stronger players than we have here. I get it that you can’t make the same play every time, but he seems to give people credit for computer-like perfect memories.”

[RR] “Agreed. We’re neither that observant of nor that sensitive to preflop bet sizing.”

[II] “The Betting After the Flop was good but way too short, relatively. I understand that the complexity prevents a complete analysis, but Harrington copped out by telling you to ‘carefully study the problems’ at the end of the chapter. How do you carefully study almost 50 pages?”

[RR] “He had a lot of good ideas but couldn’t find the unifying themes, so he tossed out a ton of random advice and hoped some of it would stick.”

[II] “Same thing for the turn and river. He mashed them together into a mere fourteen pages, followed by seven problems. Great stuff but way too brief.”

[RR] “Funny, last month you were complaining that the books were too long; now you’re saying they’re too short!”

… {to be continued}


  1. See the introduction in last week’s article.

“Harrington on Hold ’em” Review, Part 1

[RR] “Here you go, Iggy”, Roderick the Rock said as he handed Iggy the Improver a set of three books. “If you want to learn how to play No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em tightly, the Harrington on Hold ’em trilogy is what you really want to read. The three volumes cover Strategic Play, The Endgame, and The Workbook. You can borrow all three books at once because I’m sure you can get through them all by next month’s tournament.”

[II] “Thanks. Sure seems like a lot of reading though. Maybe I should just take Volume I for now”, Iggy responded.

[RR] “There are almost 1,200 pages in total, but it moves pretty quickly. None of Harrington’s concepts are particularly difficult, and many of the pages are examples. Like a good novel that you don’t want to put down, you’ll look forward to each new chapter. Even better, once it ends in book two, you’ll have a whole ‘nother volume to enjoy to reinforce what you’ve learned. Since Harrington was a chess master, let me use a chess analogy. You don’t want to read just Volume I because it would be like only learning opening moves and middle game play. If you want to win a tournament, you need to know how to play the endgame, too, and that’s Volume II. Volume III is mostly practice time, but it does includes some additional tips.”

[II] “Can I at least skip the beginning of Volume I?”

[RR] “Sure. You can jump over the introduction and rules of the game, but you should read the rest of Part One of Volume I. Even the simply titled Elements of a Hand, which lists eleven things to consider as you look at your hole cards, is a must-read. If you run out of time and can’t finish Volume III, that’s okay. It’s a bit lower quality than the other two books and nowhere near as educational.”

Title Harrington on Hold ’em (3 volumes)
Author Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie
Year 2004, 2005, and 2006
Skill Level Intermediate to Advanced
Pros Thorough explanation of how to play No Limit tournaments, adjusting for the size of your position, your chip stack, and your opponents.
Cons A little too tight for most casual players (who might get bored folding so much even if it works).
Rating 4.5 (out of five) for Volume I and Volume II; 2.5 for Volume III

“Phil Hellmuth’s Texas Hold’em” Review

[DD] As the players are moving to their tables to start the tournament, Deb the Duchess discovered that Iggy the Improver and Roderick the Rock would be sharing the felt with her again. “So Iggy, did you finish the book, what was it…?”

[II] “The Everything Hold’em Book“,1 Iggy answered. “Yes, I’m already half way done with the next one.”

[RR] “Which would be?” Rod inquired, hoping to obtain some very useful information.

[II] “Phil Hellmuth’s Texas Hold’em.”2

[RR] “You must have a very strong stomach.”

[II] “How so?”

[RR] “Phil spends half the book bragging about hands that he’s played and tournaments and bracelets that he’s won. I’ll give him credit for not going overboard, but he also shills for the now defunct Ultimate Bet and his own web site, where you get to listen to him brag about all the famous people he hangs out with.”

[DD] “So you really like the book ;-).”

[RR] “I wouldn’t have bothered reading it, but my wife gave it to me as a gift, so I sort of felt obligated. Definitely an hour of my life I’d like back though.”

[II] After folding every hand for almost an hour, Iggy finally raised under the gun to two times the big blind. Everyone folded. The button orbited three more times around the table before the Iggy opened again, this time a min-raise in middle position with the blinds at 200/400. Again everyone folded, and Iggy grumbled, “I finally get a hand, and nobody wants to play.” Roderick and Deb glanced at each other with a smile but said nothing. Ten hands later, Iggy was short-stacked enough to shove a pair of Nines in late position. The button called with A♦Q♦, hit a Queen on the flop, and sent Iggy packing.

[RR] In the postmortem after Rod and Deb had busted out just inside the money, Rod had some advice for Iggy, “So, not only were you playing Limit Hold ‘Em in a No Limit tournament today, but you were playing so tight even Figaro the Fish noticed.”

[II] “I was just doing what Phil told me to do. He’s won umpteen bracelets playing tight.”

[DD] “He wants everyone to think that so he gets respect for his bets.”

[RR] “Tight play can work in a deep cash game, but in a tournament the blinds will eat up your stack, as you saw. I take it you were playing just his top ten hands: a pair of Nines or higher, Ace-King, and Ace-Queen?”3

[II] “True.”

[RR] “That’s just five percent of all hands. You can’t win a tournament if you’re only playing one out of every twenty hands!”

[RR] “When you get to the No Limit chapters, you’ll see that Hellmuth opens up his playable range to the top fifteen4: any pair, Ace-King, and Ace-Queen. That’s still only eight percent of all hands, or one out of every twelve hands. I’m probably the tightest player here normally, and that’s way too tight even for me. You’re not a beginner, so Hellmuth says you can add suited Aces. That gets you over eleven percent, more than one in nine hands. That’s pretty close to what I play not including limps in multiway pots and blind steals.”

[RR] “But I honestly wouldn’t even bother finishing the book. If you like tight play, read the Harrington on Hold ‘Em series instead.”

Title Phil Hellmuth’s Texas Hold’em
Author Phil Hellmuth
Year 2005 (originally published 2003)
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Decent introduction to Texas Hold ‘Em. Plenty of poker stories.
Cons Mostly about Limit Hold ‘Em, with just a couple short chapters on No Limit. Recommends play that’s too tight.
Rating 2.5 (out of five) for No Limit players; 3.0 for Limit players


  1. Covered in last week’s article, “The Everything Texas Hold’em Book” Review.
  2. The link provided above points to the 2009 Kindle version, as that includes a “Look Inside” feature with the table of contents, introduction, and first chapter. You may prefer the paperback version.
  3. Hellmuth ignores suitedness. Most players count suited and offsuit hands as different starting hands, so the top ten is really the top twelve.
  4. Again, that ignores suitedness, so actually seventeen hands.