“Amarillo Slim’s Play Poker to Win” Review

[LL] “Originally published in 1973 as simply Play Poker to Win,” Leroy the Lion explained, “Amarillo Slim Preston’s 2005 update prepends his name to the title, rearranges the chapters a bit, and adds 33 pages of new material, including sections on Tells, Online Poker, and Tournaments. Bill G. Cox, who was credited as a co-author for the original book, is no longer attributed.”

[RR] “Probably dead”, Roderick the Rock guessed.

[LL] “Wouldn’t surprise me after 32 years. It’s now been 45 years since this book was originally published, so it’s interesting to see how it’s aged.”

[RR] “And how is that?”

[LL] “Well, the original version was derided as a ‘make-a-quick-buck’ book, capitalizing on his world championship. And in fact, the book used to open with the story of his WSOP Main Event win (that chapter’s been moved near the end in the updated version). But I still think that’s a pretty harsh criticism, especially given the paucity of poker books back then. I now rate this book in the middle of all the poker books I’ve read, although the updates were probably worth half a star.

Preston’s strategy advice is sound, if a bit basic, because he covers more than half a dozen poker varieties in limited space, and the stories he sprinkles throughout are entertaining, although not nearly as plentiful as his other book, Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People.

Preston covers a lot of ground in just over 200 pages, and he’s a better storyteller than he is a teacher. Well, I suppose many of his stories are meant to educate, but they’re not a particularly efficient vehicle.

Given that the book was originally written almost three and a half decades ago, it’s a good read with surprising emphasis on No-Limit games. You’re better off with Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People if you just want the stories, and you’re better off with many other strategy books if you want to learn to play poker, but if you want an entertaining introduction to poker, Amarillos Slim’s Play Poker to Win is still a good choice.”

Title Amarillos Slim’s Play Poker to Win
Author Amarillo Slim Preston
Year 2005 (originally published 1973)
Skill Level any (stories) / Beginner (strategy)
Pros Good mix of stories and strategy plus a detailed account of the 1972 WSOP Main Event.
Cons No depth. Still has some errors1 despite the update.
Rating 3.0 (stories) / 2.0 (strategy)

Footnotes:

  1. Errata:
    • Page 48: Preston twice says he felted four players on the same hand, but the story clearly shows that it was only three.
    • Page 62: Preston claims that on the flop in Hold ‘Em only a royal flush cannot be beat by the river, but it’s also true of any non-wheel straight flush where you have the top card or a Ten or higher.
    • Page 79: the Omaha high hand should be the Deuce-Four, not the Four-Six, for the straight.
    • Misspellings include Jack “Strauss” (instead of “Straus”) and “their’s” (instead of “theirs”).
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“Tournament Poker” Review

[LL] “Tom McEvoy’s Tournament Poker is a dense 424-page tome,” Leroy the Lion began

[RR] “Is ‘dense’ a good thing or a bad thing?” Roderick the Rock interrupted.

[LL] “That depends. If it makes me feel dense, then I don’t like it. But in this case, I just mean that there isn’t much fluff. It’s lot of meat and potatoes.”

[RR] “Which you like.”

[LL] “Yes, the book covers general tournament poker strategy briefly before diving deeper into numerous variations: Hold ‘Em (Limit, No-Limit, and Pot-Limit), Ace-to-Five Lowball (With the Joker), Deuce-to-Seven Draw, Omaha (Limit, Pot-Limit, and High-Low), Seven-Card Stud (High and High-Low Split), and Razz. For games I was already familiar with, like Hold ‘Em, I could have used even more depth, but for the others, the amount of detail was good most of the time. Seven-Card Stud got a reasonable 76 pages, while the three lowball games were shortchanged a bit (18 pages for Ace-to-Five, 8 for Deuce-to-Seven, and 22 for Razz).”

[RR] “Does McEvoy find all poker variants to be roughly the same?”

[LL] “He definitely thinks there are plenty of common threads between them, especially in tournaments. For example, expect players to be their sharpest in the early rounds. Don’t get married to a hand, especially in games like Hold ‘Em where having the nuts is rare. In the middle rounds, you can steal from the tighter players. In the late stages after the money bubble, you should be more aggressive, especially against the shorter stacks and those whom you think are just trying to move up the pay ladder.”

[RR] “Let me guess, he thinks a tight aggressive strategy is correct…, and his concept of tight is much tighter than most players play now.”

[LL] “Yes, especially in the early rounds of events. But realize that part of that is because most of his opponents were tighter then, too. On the other hand, McEvoy wasn’t afraid to ‘double up or go home’, since if you bust out of a tournament very early, you’ve saved yourself time compared to busting out at the money bubble. He’s even okay with exiting on a semibluff.”

[LL] “Overall, I got a lot out of this book, especially in the poker variants I don’t usually play. His general tournament strategy may need to be tweaked somewhat with the recent change to deeper pyaout structures, but his overall plan is still appropriate if your goal is to win tournaments rather than just run deep.”

Title Tournament Poker
Author Tom McEvoy
Year 2004 (originally published in 1995 but significantly updated)
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Detailed tournament tips for 11 poker variants.
Cons A little dated but not horribly so.
Rating 3.5
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“Poker: The Real Deal” Review

[LL] “Dot-com millionaire Phil Gordon1 may be more famous for his various colored poker books,2” Leroy the Lion began, “but Poker: The Real Deal is his magnum opus (with help from Jonathan Grotenstein, who’s more of a writer than a poker player3). Their 2004 book covers the history of poker, starting with the invention of playing cards, moving on to the basics of Texas Hold ‘Em, and taking you all the way to the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Limit Hold ‘Em, online poker, the rules and etiquette of playing in casinos, and tells are all covered before No Limit Hold ‘Em finally enters the scene for good in Chapter 9 almost three-fifths of the way through the book.”

[SS] “Limit was the main game spread in casinos then, so that’s not a surprise”, Stan the Stat explained.

[LL] “Still, the text is breezily readable, almost making learning Texas Hold ‘Em fun. For example, your possible actions are compared to various tools. Folding is the flathead screwdriver, mundane but your most commonly used tool.”

[SS] “I think Phillips heads screws are more popular now.”

[LL] “Could be. Anyway, after saying that betting and raising are your power tools, the analogy silently disappears. Too bad, because I think the deep stack preflop all-in is like a sledgehammer…”

[SS] “Or maybe the top step on a folding ladder, you know, the one that says ‘do not step here'”.

[LL] “Yep, it could get help you reach your goal, but it’s also a long fall.

The book also has its ups and downs. One of the highlights is that each chapter ends with a short quiz, mostly testing what you’ve just learned4 and pitting you against various villains, the last of whom is Phil Hellmuth. Book recommendations are sprinkled throughout; they’re included to supplement the text, which doesn’t go deep into strategy.”

[SS] “And your verdict?”

[LL] “It’s like a starter toolkit. Neither you nor I need it, but it’s a decent place to begin for a neophyte.”

Title Poker: The Real Deal
Author Phil Gordon & Jonathan Grotenstein
Year 2004
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Well written and logically organized. Informal, flowing style makes a pleasant read.
Cons A fair amount on Limit Hold ‘Em (without even explicitly saying so). Not much depth and more than a few inaccuracies.5
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. With three friends, Gordon started Netsys Technologies, which Cisco Systems bought for $95 million in stock in 1996.
  2. Phil Gordon now has four colored books: Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book: Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold’em, Phil Gordon’s Little Blue Book: More Lessons and Hand Analysis in No Limit Texas Hold’em, Phil Gordon’s Little Black Book: Beginning Poker Lessons and the No Limit Lifestyle, and Phil Gordon’s Little Gold Book: Advanced Lessons for Mastering Poker 2.0.
  3. Grotenstein claims to be a professional poker player but has no entry in the Hendon Mob Database, so he’s apparently a cash game specialist (and even then nothing about his poker playing can be found by Google). On the other hand, Phil Gordon has almost $3 million in lifetime tournament earnings, making him the fifth winningest Phil behind Ivey, Hellmuth, Gruissem, and Laak.
  4. My favorite quiz was one that didn’t: matching poker quotes with the movies they came from (and now I need to see the two of the eight movies I’ve missed).
  5. Most of the errors are the same ones all poker books of the era make: e.g., retelling the Nick Dandolos-Johnny Moss marathon that didn’t happen and claiming that Chris Moneymaker bought in for $40. He also includes the common misspellings of Nick “Dandalos” for Dandolos, Jack “Strauss” for Straus, and “Brian” Roberts for Bryan.
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Card Player POY: Adrian Mateos

[SS] “Happy New Year!” Stan the Stat exclaimed.

[LL] “More importantly, good riddance to 2017!” Leroy the Lion insisted.

[SS] “You said the same thing last year.”

[LL] “I didn’t expect 2017 to be so much worse than 2016.”

[SS] “Well, you may not have had a great year, but Spaniard Adrian Mateos, at a mere 23 years old, certainly did. As did American Bryn Kenney, whom he edged out for Card Player Player of the Year honors in the closest race ever.1 Kenney tied the record of 5 titles and set the record with 23 final tables, one more than Mateos, and even won a year-high $8,201,128, over $2.5 million more than Mateos, who notably became the first non-American to win the title.2

Kudos also to Fedor Holz who followed a runner-up finish last year with third place this year.”

Card Player Player of the Year – 1997 to 2003

Year Winner
1997 Men Nguyen
1998 T.J. Cloutier
1999 Tony Ma
2000 David Pham
2001 Men Nguyen
2002 T.J. Cloutier
2003 Men Nguyen

Card Player Player of the Year – 2004 to Present

Year Winner Points Runner-Up Points Margin
2004 Daniel Negreanu 8,764 David Pham 7,068 19.4%
2005 Men Nguyen 5,204 John Phan 4,428 14.9%
2006 Michael Mizrachi 5,989 Nam Le 5,215 12.9%
2007 David Pham 6,562 J.C. Tran 5,748 12.4%
2008 John Phan 6,704 David Pham 6,022 10.2%
2009 Eric Baldwin 6,994 Cornel Cimpan 5,934 15.2%
2010 Tom Marchese 6,738 Dwyte Pilgrim 5,576 17.2%
2011 Ben Lamb 6,036 Chris Moorman 5,875 2.7%
2012 Greg Merson 5,100 Dan Smith 5,040 1.2%
2013 Daniel Negreanu 5,140 Paul Volpe 4,298 16.4%
2014 Daniel Colman 5,498 Ami Barer 5,042 8.3%
2015 Anthony Zinno 6,632 Joe Kuether 6,070 8.5%
2016 David Peters 8,601 Fedor Holz 7,058 17.9%
2017 Adrian Mateos 7,220 Bryn Kenney 7,173 0.7%

Notes:

  • Men Nguyen won the award a record four times (1997, 2001, 2003, and 2005).
  • T.J. Cloutier (1998 and 2002), David Pham (2000 and 2007), and Daniel Negreanu (2004 and 2013) have won twice each.
  • Negreanu outpoint second place by the largest (2004) and third largest (2013) margins. Merson (2012) eked by with the smallest margin. { January 4, 2018 update: Mateos edged Kenney by a mere 47 points (0.7%) for the 2017 crown. Fedor Holz finished third for a second consecutive medal finish. }

Here are the all-time records for Points, Titles, and Final Tables with data going back to the rule changes of 2004.

Most Player of the Year Points

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2004 Daniel Negreanu 8,764 4 11 $4,420,221
2 2016 David Peters 8,601 5 22 $7,370,255
3 2017 Adrian Mateos 7,220 4 22 $5,664,635
4 2017 Bryn Kenney 7,173 5 23 $8,201,128
5 2004 David Pham 7,068 5 15 $1,533,268
6 2016 Fedor Holz 7,058 6 15 $16,288,714
7 2009 Eric Baldwin 6,994 4 17 $1,494,494
8 2010 Tom Marchese 6,738 2 11 $2,068,658
9 2008 John Phan 6,704 3 8 $2,075,323
10 2015 Anthony Zinno 6,632 5 11 $3,442,769

Notes:

  • David Pham was the first player to finish in the Top 10 three times (2004 [2nd], 2007 [1st], and 2008 [1st]). Jason Mercier matched him in 2015 and Justin Bonomo and David Peters in 2016. Many players (16 through 2017) have done it twice.
  • Erik Seidel and Jason Mercier are the only players to finish in the Top 25 five times. Phan, Peters, Dan Smith, Daniel Negreanu, J.C. Tran, John Juanda, Steve O’Dwyer, Erick Lindgren, and Joseph Mckeehen have each done it four times.
  • Vanessa Selbst is the only women to finish in the Top 25, which she had done three times with two Top 10 finishes before retiring at the start of 2018.

Most Titles

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2005 John Hoang 3,267 6 17 $492,817
2008 Men Nguyen 3,662 10 $776,832
2012 Dan Smith 5,040 9 $3,673,806
4 2017 Bryn Kenney 7,173 5 23 $8,201,128
2016 David Peters 8,601 22 $7,370,255
2005 Men Nguyen 5,204 17 $1,004,718
2004 David Pham 7,068 15 $1,533,268
2010 Dwyte Pilgrim 5,576 13 $1,074,997
2004 Can Kim Hua 4,495 12 $785,779
2015 Anthony Zinno 6,632 11 $3,442,769
2014 Joseph Mckeehen 3,266 11 $1,223,852
2004 John Phan 3,080 10 $677,045
2009 Jason Mercier 4,130 9 $1,245,876

Most Final Tables

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2017 Bryn Kenney 7,173 5 23 $8,201,128
2 2016 David Peters 8,601 5 22 $7,370,255
2017 Adrian Mateos 7,220 $5,664,635
2004 Gioi Luong 5,006 $504,004
5 2004 John Cernuto 3,631 3 19 $460,789
6 2005 John Hoang 3,267 6 17 $492,817
2005 Men Nguyen 5,204 5 $1,004,718
2009 Eric Baldwin 6,994 4 $1,494,494
10 2010 Sorel Mizzi 4,851 4 16 $1,524,371

Notes:

  • Luong tops this list but is hardly a household name. The Californian has never won a WSOP bracelet, and his biggest cash was $290,792 for a runner-up finish in a WSOP circuit event in 2007.
  • While it seems obvious to have another list with the top ten in Winnings, it’s a rather uninteresting list topped by the 2014 and 2012 One Drop winners followed by eight WSOP Main Event champs.

Footnotes:

  1. In 2012, Greg Merson beat Dan Smith by 60 points (5,100 to 5,040) for a 1.18% margin, while Mateos overcame Kenney by just 57 points and a mere 0.65%.
  2. Mateos first made a name for himself by winning the 2013 WSOP Europe Main Event in 2013 when he was just 19.

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