“Poker Player’s Bible” Review

[LL] “You know the saying, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’?” Leroy the Lion queried rhetorically.

[RR] “Of course. That’s why Amazon has a ‘Look Inside’ feature”, Roderick the Rock noted.

[LL] “The Poker Player’s Bible has the best packaging of any poker book I own. Not only is it a hardcover, but its mechanical wire binding means it lays open flat on any page. Inside, you’ll find beautiful color printing on high-quality pages. But…”

[RR] “There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?”

[LL] “But the content isn’t nearly as good as the presentation. It’s a decent introduction to Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha, Omaha Eight or Better, Seven-Card Stud, and Seven-Card Stud Eight or Better, but unfortunately it almost exclusively discusses the Limit versions of Hold ‘Em and the two Omaha variants. It’s incredibly neatly organized, covering Rules, Starting Hands, Position, Odds and Outs, Implied Odds, Deception, Semi-bluffing, Defending, Raising, Free Cards, Slowplaying, and Reading Your Opponents, but the book is ordered by those sections instead of by game type so you’ll need to skip around to read about any single game. I always read cover-to-cover, so it didn’t bother me, but I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try to learn all five variants at the same time, which is what the book clearly wants you to do.

And while I don’t expect much originality in beginner books, in this case much of the material is almost identical to Poker for Dummies, which Krieger co-wrote with Richard D. Harroch four years earlier.”

[RR] “Maybe that’s why he wanted to use a different order — to distinguish this book.”

[LL] “Perhaps, but that wasn’t the only bad decision. Despite all the pretty diagrams, he made some unfortunate choices that make things hard to read. Hole cards are very stylishly displayed, drawn like actual playing cards with bent corners, but this puts the suit and denomination sideways. Diamonds and hearts in the text itself are gray, which is actually worse than leaving them black as they’re faint. And in the section on betting, he crams way too much information into each diagram. He tried to clarify things by color-coding the action, but you shouldn’t need a decoder ring to follow a hand.”

[RR] “You’d expect a poker player to lay things out more logically.”

[LL] “Logic does not appear to be Krieger’s strength. Instead of the standard 13×13 matrix for Hold ‘Em starting hands with pairs along the diagonal, he concatenates a pairs column with the suited cards in the wrong direction (e.g, QQ is next to AJ) then lists the unsuited hands separately.

One final example before I lay the book to rest: in the Hold ‘Em section, page 90 says, ‘The nut flush is almost always the winning hand in an unpaired board’, which is not only unclear but either incorrect or understated. Most boards won’t have three of one suit, so no flush will be possible.1 If there are three of a suit, then the nut flush is always the nuts on an unpaired board.”

[LL] “In the end, I really wanted to like this book, but all its good advice is overwhelmed by its ample flaws. Beginners’ books should be easier to read.”

Title Poker Player’s Bible
Author Lou Krieger
Year 2004
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Beautifully mechanically-bound color pages that lay open flat. Solid, basic advice on five different games.
Cons Oddly organized with hard-to-read hole cards and some confusing diagrams.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. According to wizardsofodds.com, the “probability that no more than two of one suit will be present is (360+240)/1,024 = 600/1,024 = 58.59%”.
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“Bad Beats and Lucky Draws” Review

[LL] “Just a year after Phil Hellmuth published his first book, Play Poker Like the Pros, he was back with his second”, Leroy the Lion explained. “The winningest World Series of Poker player in bracelets, final tables, and cashes had just caught Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan at nine WSOP bracelets when he put together Bad Beats and Lucky Draws, an impressive book of poker hands. The subtitle, ‘Poker Strategies, Winning Hands, and Stories from the Professional Poker Tour’, is accurate, but you’ll be gleaning random strategy tidbits with no unifying theme, so you have many better choices (although his first book isn’t recommended) if your main aim is improving your poker skills.”

[RR] “So, you recommend Bad Beats just for entertainment value?” Roderick the Rock questioned.

[LL] “Yes, although what Hellmuth finds entertaining and what you find entertaining might not always match. The book includes almost a hundred hands grouped by setting, with chapters on the major festivals (WSOP, WPT, and European Poker Tour), brilliant reading of opponents’ hands, and hand stories told by other players.1

The Poker Brat’s first person perspective may lend authenticity to the hands he’s involved in, but a third party perspective could have made the book more enjoyable to read (as could the exclusion of the Bad Beats, most of which seem to be included just so Hellmuth could say that he played great but got unlucky).2 Still, the sheer quantity of noteworthy hands makes this an excellent read.”

Title Bad Beats and Lucky Draws: Poker Strategies, Winning Hands, and Stories from the Professional Poker Tour
Author Phil Hellmuth
Year 2004
Skill Level any
Pros Almost 100 important and interesting hands from 1974 to 2004.
Cons Strategy is only taught haphazardly. Hellmuth’s incessant bragging can be annoying.
Rating 3.5

Footnotes:

  1. If you like this chapter, Steve Rosenbloom’s “The Best Hand I Ever Played” is full of them (52+ hands from 52 players).
  2. If you’re not a fan of bad beat stories, you’ll be disappointed that they’re not segregated into an easily skippable chapter.
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“The Tao of Poker” Review

The Tao of Poker: 285 Rules to Transform Your Game and Your Life, Larry Phillips’s “follow up and companion book to Zen and the Art of Poker” is similar in many ways, with non-poker quotes and lists of general poker advice. But it also differs in many ways, as it’s less mystical and more directly applicable to poker, while it pretty much ignores its title. In fact, the sequel has more quotes about Zen than it does about Taoism, which is simply the hook to get you to buy the book. Phillips explains the Tao (‘The Way’) connection as an ‘attempt to get closer to the actual truth of the game — the underlying game, when it is perceived correctly’.

The title is surprisingly misleading in a second way: the book actually gives 287 rules, two more than promised. He could even have gotten into the mid-300s if he wanted to count a little differently as he gives nine poker ‘Excuses’, nine ‘telling looks’, 25 ‘common traps’, two ‘things that separate the good player from the bad player’, six ‘solutions to being off-rhythm’ and three ‘good poker rules’ (that somehow don’t count as rules). Furthermore, his last three chapters, including sections on ‘All-Star Idea’, and ‘Online Poker’ contain a fair amount of advice but just three numbered rules.

Phillips’s sequel lacks the charm of the original but is more useful, if just as repetitively repetitive. The Tao of Poker is worth a quick skim, but it can be a painful read unless you enjoy being told the same things over and over again.”

Title The Tao of Poker: 285 Rules to Transform Your Game and Your Life
Author Larry Phillips
Year 2003
Skill Level any
Pros Solid, high level advice that’s applicable to any poker variety (and even to life in general).
Cons Beyond repetitive. The book could easily have been a quarter of its 260-page length.
Rating 2.0
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“Positively Fifth Street” Review

[LL] “Lots of poker players dream about playing in the World Series of Poker Main Event. Many poker-playing authors dream about writing about their experience in doing it. And a few lucky ones have managed to get paid to do it. Unfortunately, almost without exception, most of these book are filled with the lead-up to the event — the poker training (cue the Rocky music), the warm-up events, the obligatory airplane landing in Las Vegas, sometimes even a satellite event to qualify for the big one — because their stay in the Main Event doesn’t last long enough to fill more than a chapter or two.

Positively Fifth Street is the sole, notable exception. It has a great writeup of the 2000 WSOP Main Event because James McManus managed to last long enough to give a personal account of most of it.”

[RR] “So he got paid to play poker?”, Roderick the Rock wondered.

[LL] “No, McManus figured that as long as he was there… Harper’s magazine actually sent him to Vegas to cover several other stories:

  1. Women at the World Series of Poker.
  2. The impact of the growing crop of advice books and computer programs on poker.
  3. The death of Ted Binion.”

[RR] “A good old murder mystery?”

[LL] “Not at all. McManus actually begins his book by giving a hypothetical account of how Binion’s girlfriend Sandy Murphy and her new boyfriend Rick Tabish murdered him for a stash of silver and other valuables. Fascinating story, but its only connection to poker is that Binion’s family owns Binion’s Horseshoe, where the World Series of Poker takes place. Ted had helped to run the business for a couple of decades but had been banned in 1996, over two years earlier, because of his persistent heroin abuse.”

[RR] “Well, that’s more exciting than poker at least.”

[LL] “At first. Unfortunately, the rest of the story about how they almost got away with it but were later put on trial pales by comparison. But that’s when the poker part of the book picks up.

McManus gives a brief history of poker in Las Vegas, starting with a brief biography of Benny Binion, Ted’s father. He goes on to recount the story of Nick Dandolos and Johnny Moss’s supposed marathon poker match.”1

[LL] “Positively Fifth Street is really two books in one. For the poker player, his World Series of Poker run is a vicarious thrill that most of us just dream of.2 For everyone else, the sordid story of murder and the theft of millions of dollars appeals to the baser, more primal urges.

Title Positively Fifth Street
Author James McManus
Year 2003
Skill Level any
Pros Very well written account of the author’s journey to and through the 2000 WSOP Main Event.
Cons About half the book has little to do with poker and may not be interesting if you aren’t into sensational murders.
Rating 4.0

Footnotes:

  1. The likely truth is that two or more separate events have been confused. Dandolos and Moss may very well have played a private poker match in 1949. And there may have been a public event at the front of the Horseshoe Casino after it opened in 1951. But neither Dandolos nor Moss had a role in the latter. Jack Binion spoke about the confusion in June.
  2. Despite never having cashed in a notable tournament before the 2000 WSOP started, McManus was already a pretty good poker player. He has since reached two WSOP final tables: the 2004 $5,000 Limit Hold ‘Em (4th for $70,080) and the 2006 $2,000 Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em (6th for $53,690).

{ The Hold ‘Em at Home blog is brought to you by THETA Poker Pro, the strongest, fastest, and most configurable Texas Hold ‘Em game for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV. }

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“Poker Nation” Review

[LL] “Nothing is more American than baseball, apple pie,… and poker”, Leroy the Lion claimed.

[SS] “Hot dogs and hamburgers”, Stan the Stat suggested.

[LL] “Both based on meats created in Germany. But I’ll give you both of those.”

[RR] “Football”, Roderick the Rock added. “American football, that is, not soccer”.

[SS] “For now. Unless they solve the concussion problem, football won’t be around much longer. Players are starting to retire younger and younger just so they have functioning brains for the rest of their lives.”

[LL] “And that’s one of the great things about poker, you can play it into retirement and beyond. In Andy Bellin’s book, Poker Nation, a 91-year-old named Iron Mike at the Winchester Club says, ‘You know, this damn game ain’t baseball, or basketball, or even golf. Poker’s a thing you do your whole life. I started playing when I learned to count. I always figured I’d quit when I forgot how to. And since that ain’t happening yet, the older I get, the better I get. What else can you say that about? The only trick for a kid your age is to try not to waste your entire time on the planet playing this stupid game.'”

[RR] “I’m sure that when I’m too old to even play golf, I’ll still be playing poker. Sure beats shuffleboard or bocce.”

[SS] “And yet it’s not a dying game like bridge, where the average age of players keeps creeping up.”

[LL] “Yep. Internet poker brought the average age down a fair amount, and the effect will hopefully last until it’s legal in most states again. I started gambling for pennies before I was a teenager. Bellin played for mini-marshmallows at age eight.

Poker’s a game that can be played by anybody regardless of age, gender, bankroll, or physical capabilities, and Poker Nation covers them all at home games, underground and legal clubs, and casinos.”

[SS] “Like baseball’s World Series, when the WSOP started, it was all Americans for a while.”1

[LL] “Bellin talks about the early years of the event and the history of poker leading up to it.2 Then the self-described semipro mostly covers his own experiences at the aforementioned locations over a period of two decades. He introduces you to players of all skill levels, from tell-ridden fish to stoic, soul-reading pros.”

[RR] “Did you like the book?”

[LL] “Mostly. Although the title reflects the popularity of poker in the U.S., Andy Bellin’s book suffers from bad timing, predating the online and Chris Moneymaker-fueled 2003 poker boom by a little over a year. Luckily, Texas Hold ‘Em, which would dominate the poker word over the next few years, does appear throughout the book, including in the main hand that ties the ends of the book together. Overall, Poker Nation is readable but random, sweeping but shallow, and entertaining but empty.”

Title Poker Nation
Author Andy Bellin
Year 2002
Skill Level any
Pros Entertaining and covers a lot of ground.
Cons More than you need to know about weak players in the author’s home games, including Bellin himself. Very little poker strategy.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. The first non-American to win a World Series of Poker bracelet was Sweden’s Thor Hansen in 1988 in the 19th running of the festival after 180 or so American winners.
  2. Although Bellin details the likely apocryphal, five-month Nick Dandolos-Johnny Moss match, which he places in 1949, he fails to mention the Texas Gamblers Reunion of 1969, which directly led to the World Series of Poker the following year.
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