“Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers” Review

[LL] “Do you guys remember Byron Wolford?” Leroy the Lion queried.

[SS] “‘Cowboy’? Sure. He came in second in the 1984 World Series of Poker Main Event to Jack Keller”, Stan the Stat confirmed.

[LL] “And you know why he was called ‘Cowboy’?”

[SS] “I just assumed it was because he was from Texas and liked to wear a cowboy hat.”

[LL] “True, but Wolford was actually a real cowboy. In fact, he was a better calf roper than a poker player. His autobiography, Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers, which I just finished reading, has almost as many rodeo stories as poker stories. More than a few top poker pros excelled at a sport before turning to poker,1 but Wolford is one of the few who reached the very top of his sport. He started doing exhibitions when he was only six years old, turned pro at fifteen, and set records at several major venues, including Madison Square Garden. At 21, he won the Champion Roper title, the equivalent of winning the National Finals today. He won the championship at the Calgary Stampede twice and was elected to the now-defunct National Rodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame. But for all that success, Wolford found the other cowboys to be easy marks and often left town having won more playing poker than roping calves.”

[SS] “And poker was probably a lot easier on his body, too.”

[LL] “Absolutely, although at least he wasn’s a bronc rider. Still, as he got older, he had a fairly easy decision to turn to poker full time. He’d already been running poker games in his hotel room and was the best poker-playing cowboy in the world. Wolford even notes how similar the early days of rodeo were to playing poker: ‘Rodeos in the old days were something like poker tournaments in that we all traveled from town to town entering the competitions, paying our own expenses, and not being guaranteed a quarter. The rodeos had five to seven events and today’s big tournaments might have ten to twenty or more events, including two or three limit hold ’em events with various entry fees. In both sports you can pick how many events you want to enter. And you can choose your own schedule, living wherever you want, working as much as you need, and traveling whenever you please.’2 Both competitions have an entry free, prizes, and a large luck component (e.g., which calf you get and what cards you get dealt), but the skill component is the most important in the long run.”

[SS] “So, did you like the book?”

[LL] “All in all, yes, although Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers is a better movie script than a poker primer. I wish there were more poker, but if you sit back and enjoy the vicarious thrill of the old, untamed days of rodeo and poker, you’ll be entertained.”

Title Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers: The True Adventures of a Rodeo Champion and Poker Legend
Author Byron Wolford and Dana Smith
Year 2002 (updated 2005)
Skill Level Any
Pros Very entertaining. The early days of rodeo and the early days of poker were equally wild, and Wolford was very adventurous.
Cons Too much rodeo and not enough poker. A little repetitious, as if the individual articles were published individually.
Rating 2.5


  1. For example, Doyle Brunson would probably have played in the NBA if he hadn’t injured his knee, T.J. Cloutier played in the Canadian Football League, and Mike Sexton earned a gymnastics scholarship to college.
  2. Page 286.

“Play Poker Like the Pros” Review

[LL] “Phil Hellmuth is famous for his braggadocio,” Leroy the Lion began, “so it won’t surprise you that the name of his book, Play Poker Like the Pros, is a major exaggeration; this is definitely a beginner’s book. The puffery continues on the cover by calling Johnny Chan ‘seven-time World Champion of Poker’, which makes it sound like he’s won the WSOP Main Event seven times. A similar inaccuracy in the introduction calls Hellmuth ‘a seven-time winner of the World Series of Poker’. Both numbers actually refer to how many WSOP bracelets each player had won at the time the book was written.

Hellmuth even deluded himself into thinking his chops as a poet merited the inclusion of a poem on poker titled ‘The Universe Conspired to Help’, which could have been subtitled ‘Ode to Myself’. Spare yourself the agony of reading it, as it’s miles from decent with no concept of meter or feet (and no, Phil, ‘was it’ and ‘achieve it’ don’t rhyme).”

[RR] “So you really loved the book, eh?” Roderick the Rock noted sarcastically.

[LL] “His style works for him. He’s doubled his bracelet count since this book was published, so he obviously knows a lot that he didn’t write down. Like many of the books of this era, the main subject is limit poker, often without explicitly saying so. Hellmuth of all people should have realized that the tide had turned, as four of his seven bracelets at that point were in No Limit Hold ‘Em, and that included his cherished Main Event title. Worse still, the Limit sections of this book are littered with real-world No Limit hand examples!”

[RR] “That’s probably because Limit Hold ‘Em is so boring compared to No Limit.”

[LL] “Especially if you play Limit Hold ‘Em Hellmuth’s way. He endorses the same supertight strategy that he started his poker career with as an undergraduate in the University of Wisconsin Student Union game. Initially, he lets you play just the top 10 starting hands (all the pairs from Aces down to Sevens, plus Ace-King and Ace-Queen) and nothing else. The good part is that he wants you to raise every time. This is the quintessential tight aggressive (TAG) strategy, except that he believes that if ‘tight is right’, then super tight is even better.

Once you have reached the ‘intermediate skill’ level, you can add the ‘majority play hands’ to your arsenal. These are the remaining pairs (Sixes through Twos), suited Aces, and King-Queen. He recommends reraising with small pairs preflop, hoping to either hit a set or steal the pot with a continuation bet on a high flop. Suited Aces need many opponents to get paid off properly when you finally hit your nut flush. King-Queen, however, wants fewer opponents and should be raised preflop.”

[LL] “For No Limit Hold ‘Em, Hellmuth lets you begin with a few more hands: the Top 10 from Limit Hold ‘Em plus the remaining pairs, Ace-King, and Ace-Queen.1 With Aces through Queens and Ace-King, he wants you to bet big preflop, which can only work until your opponents figure out your strategy. With Jacks through Nines, he says to reraise preflop because you’d prefer not to see a flop. For the other hands, just raise, hoping to take it down but letting you get away cheaply if you miss the flop.

Intermediate players can add suited Aces with the caveat that you’re looking for the nut flush, not a low pair or a pair of Aces with a bad kicker. Suited connectors can be played if you need to put in less than five percent of your chips to see the flop.

Sadly, although Hellmuth covers Limit Hold ‘Em tournament strategy, he doesn’t discuss No Limit Hold ‘Em tourneys; fortunately, I suspect his advice wouldn’t differ much. Play supertight while the weakest players are being eliminated then shift to stealing the blinds from the remaining supertight players then steal from everyone at the money bubble. He’s willing to fold rather than risk his remaining chips even if he thinks he has an advantage.”

[LL] “The second half of the book covers six non-Hold ‘Em poker variants: Omaha, Omaha Eight or Better, Pot-Limit Omaha, Seven-Card Stud, Razz, and Stud Eight or Better. Although Hellmuth is known mostly for his Hold ‘Em skills,2 he’s won numerous Omaha and Stud tournaments, including the $250 Limit Seven-Card Stud for the European Poker Championship in 2000, the $1,000 Omaha Hi/Lo at the 2003 L.A. Poker Classic, and the $1,100 Limit Omaha / Stud 8 or Better in the same festival just last month.

Hellmuth considers starting hand selection by far the most important part of all of the games, so for each variant he copiously describes which starting hands you should play and why. For playing the later streets, he sets forth some sound strategy, although, given the limited amount of space, the advice is fairly broad. Still, I found these sections much more useful than the Limit Hold ‘Em parts.

Perhaps Hellmuth’s most notable contribution from this book was the introduction of a small set of animal player types:

  • Mouse: a very timid player who plays only the best starting hands and doesn’t raise often.
  • Lion: a tight player who is good at bluffing and reading bluffs.
  • Jackal: a loose and wild player
  • Elephant: a loose calling station
  • Eagle: a ‘Top 100’ player3

I’ll end with my favorite quote of the book: ‘Playing suited connectors is like eating potato chips; once you eat one chip, you can’t help eating many more!'”4

Title Play Poker Like the Pros
Author Phil Hellmuth
Year 2003
Skill Level Beginner
Pros A good beginner’s guide to Limit Hold ‘Em, Limit Omaha, and Seven-Card Stud.
Cons Very little on No Limit games. Condescending tone.
Rating 2.5


  1. This tight range works out to 8.3% of all starting hands.
  2. Hellmuth’s first eleven WSOP bracelets were all won in Hold ‘Em events (two of his last three were in Razz).
  3. Play Poker Like the Eagles is the book I would much prefer Hellmuth had written, but he admits on page 33 that that ‘is a lofty and worthwhile goal, but it is beyond the scope of this book’.
  4. You might say that Hellmuth lays off the suited connectors on page 131. On the flip side, his worst quote on page 350 claims, “[UltimateBet.com] is the only site that I currently recommend. It’s regulated by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission and is honest and professional.”

Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet Reimbursement

[LL] “You know what the biggest surprise this week was?” Leroy the Lion asked.

[FF] “That you’ve already filed your taxes?” Figaro the Fish suggested.

[LL] “That was certainly the old, procrastinating me, schlepping my tax forms to the post office and waiting in an hour-long line on the last day. But I’ve reformed, and I already submitted electronically last week; I would have done it even sooner if I was getting a refund.”

[RR] “That Le Grand Orange1 hasn’t started World War III yet?” Roderick the Rock postulated.

[LL] “No, that’s less surprising with each passing week. And I’m pretty sure the rest of the world is afraid of what a crazy man with access to nuclear launch codes is capable of.”

[FF] “That United Airlines dragged that poker-playing doctor off a plane because it wanted four crew members to get on the flight instead? That was crazy.”

[LL] “Not that surprising though. Airlines have a long history of treating passengers like cargo and cash cows. Clearly, they should have kept increasing their buyout offer until enough passengers accepted. Penny-wise, pound-foolish. $800 was nothing to David Dao, who’s had two dozen tournament cashes for more than that and has spent $10,000 to play in the WSOP Main Event. Even a few thousand dollars now is trivial compared to the amount of business United will end up losing.”2

[SS] “That Absolute Poker was in the news,” Stan the Stat declared, “and good news at that.”

[LL] “Yes, that’s what I was thinking about. I’m absolutely amazed there was any possibility after six years that players would get their money back from Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet!”

[RR] “It seems foolish to have had more than a little money on those sites after the cheating scandals, but I suppose if the games were profitable, it was just another gamble they took.”

[LL] “More than a little money. The Department of Justice thinks about $60 million could be returned. That’s more than half of what players got back from Full Tilt Poker.

Anyway, you can tell people to head over to AbsolutePokerClaims by June 9 and fill out the forms once they’re available.”

[RR] “It’ll be like finding money in the seat cushions.”

[SS] “More like getting back a wallet full of money. But when do you ever get something back after you’ve lost it for six years?”

[LL] “It’s been so long, there’s a section in the FAQ on dead money — money due to players who have passed away in the meantime.”


  1. Le Grand Orange was Rusty Staub’s nickname, so I’m kind of sad to see it reused, as he was once one of my favorite baseball players.
  2. United Airlines stock at least temporarily dropped a billion dollars in market value. And the word “re-accommodate” will certainly be used sarcastically from now on; e.g., “If you’d be so kind as to call, I’d happily re-accommodate some of your chips into my stack here.”

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“Poker for Dummies” Review

[LL] “I’m a pretty big fan of the For Dummies book series”, Leroy the Lion admitted. “I’ve read Tennis for Dummies, Meditation for Dummies, Guitar for Dummies, Photoshop Elements 15 for Dummies, and Social Media Marketing for Dummies, and I’d have to say I learned quite a bit from each of them.”

[RR] “You didn’t read Dummies for Dummies?” Roderick the Rock jested.

[LL] “I don’t remember seeing anything on ventriloquism,1 but I probably would have learned more from it than I did from Poker for Dummies. I shouldn’t have expected too much from a 17-year-old book on a subject I know very well.”

[RR] “You and Stan could certainly write a book on poker together.”

[LL] “True enough.2 Poker for Dummies could use an update at the very least. The material wasn’t that bad, but it’s mostly about limit games. The best sections covered games that are usually still played as limit, like Seven-Card Stud. Other good areas were the short home games chapter, the poker history, and some of the general information, like which types of players you want on your right and left,3.

On the other hand, Texas Hold ‘Em was the most disappointing chapter. The first paragraph discusses the WSOP Main Event, but then the rest of the chapter instructs you on how to play Limit Hold ‘Em without bothering to note that that’s not the variant played there.

The Omaha chapter could also have been pretty good if it didn’t mostly talk about Limit Omaha/8. It was also strange that they cover the High/Low version of the game and barely touch on the High-only variation.”

[RR] “Odd for a beginner’s book.”

[LL] “They correctly call Omaha ‘the game of the future’, but they also obsess over the rec.gambling.poker newsgroup as one of the best resources for learning poker. They didn’t anticipate how soon Usenet would go from mainstream to a historical footnote. AOL discontinued Usenet access in 2005, and most of the major ISPs followed in the next few years.

And like Zen and the Art of Poker, there’s a chapter on using computer software to study. Not surprisingly, the company whose PC apps they recommend no longer exists (the web site forwards you to a bitcoin site). But I’m sure Deb the Duchess will tell you that THETA Poker Pro is a pretty good substitute, especially since you can play anywhere and anytime, not just when you’re sitting at a computer.”

Title Poker for Dummies
Author Richard D. Harroch and Lou Krieger
Year 2000 (with minor 2003 additions)
Skill Level Beginner
Pros A decent introduction to many forms of poker.
Cons Barely touches No Limit Hold ‘Em, the most popular form of poker, mostly sticking with limit games. Could seriously use an update.
Rating 2.0


  1. Ventriloquism for Dummies exists, but it’s not one of the 273+ real titles in the For Dummies series despite not-so-cleverly ripping off the official series’ black and yellow cover theme.

    Dummy Playing for Dummies doesn’t exist, since the material is covered in the official, more thorough Bridge for Dummies.

  2. A book based on the Hold ‘Em at Home blog is actually in the works, but it might take a few years since development of THETA Poker Pro takes priority.
  3. Left: predictable, timid, passive players. Right: unpredictable, aggressive, skilled players.