“How to Win the World Series of Poker (or Not)” Review

[LL] “Like Richard Sparks, Pat Walsh dreams of playing the World Series of Poker Main Event in 2005. He starts by walking into a bookstore and accumulating a $400 pile featuring strategy books by Phil Hellmuth, Tom McEvoy, Mike Sexton, David Sklansky, and Doyle Brunson, and history books by James McManus, David Spanier, Al Alvarez, and Andy Bellin”, Leroy the Lion explained.

[RR] “Gotta love his enthusiasm”, Roderick the Rock remarked.

[LL] “Sure, but he went into the book store planning to buy just three books!”

[RR] “Oh, then his decision-making needs a little work.”

[LL] “Or maybe he just didn’t realize how deep the water was. His next steps are methodical enough — creating a ledger to track his wins and losses and opening a separate bank account to segregate his money. But then he takes a misstep or two by buying a couple of Texas Hold ‘Em apps for his cell phone.”

[RR] “In 2005? There weren’t any good poker games for phones then.”

[LL] “Exactly my thought.1 They’re only going to teach him bad habits. But if he’s lucky, all he did was throw away $14 as he quickly realizes they’re not worth playing.”

[RR] “He might as well play solitaire.”

[LL] “His choices for live poker aren’t much better: a social game with extremely loose beginners, a club game in a church basement with slightly stronger players but an extravagant rake, and a restaurant banquet room game with players old enough to be hooked up to oxygen tanks (not that that stopped anyone from smoking). Walsh was a winner in all three, but that says more about the quality of his opponents than his own skill level.

Back at home and playing online, he moves up to $20 sit-and-go tourneys and is doing okay, so he ventures back out, this time to a real casino. He plays in a $1/$1/$3 No Limit Hold ‘Em cash game with some weak players who seem to still be playing Limit poker. He wins almost every session then returns for a tournament, where he reaches the final table and finishes fourth for $680.

Unfortunately, he then hits a painful losing streak both live and online that lasts right up until he has to leave for Las Vegas. Fortunately, unlike Sparks, Walsh has a book deal and simply buys into the World Series of Poker Main Event for the full $10,000.”

[RR] “I’ve never heard of him, so he didn’t win or even make the final table.”

[LL] “I won’t give away the ending, but at least he can brag that he outlasted Johnny Chan, Daniel Negreanu, and Chris Ferguson. In the end though, Walsh has to return to his day job, which fortunately he’s very good at. This was the funniest poker book I’ve ever read. Chapter 2 alone contains these nuggets:

  • [p. 24] ‘When I’m bluffing, I turn as white as Tip O’Neill’s inner thigh, tremble violently, and become incontinent. To combat these subtleties, I wear sunglasses, a plastic bag over my head, and Depends.’
  • [p. 24-25] ‘Winnings are profit; losses are just one-time costs that are actually investments in winning. I learned that from Enron.’
  • [p. 28] ‘Limit poker is for guys trying to kill time before they die. The game is flawed and that’s why I lost.’2

Worth a read for the laughs, but don’t expect to learn much poker strategy or history.”

Title How to Win the World Series of Poker (or Not)
Author Pat Walsh
Year 2006
Skill Level any
Pros Humorous look at poker from very low buyin home games to the World Series of Poker Main Event.
Cons Short (160 pages) and mostly lacking in content. Even the end of the Main Event is glossed over.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. In this author/developer’s humble but very biased opinion, the first good Texas Hold ‘Em game, THETA Poker, came out for the iPhone and iPod touch in 2008. Its successor, THETA Poker Pro now runs on both of those devices as well as the iPad and Apple TV.
  2. Actually, he didn’t initially realize it was Limit Hold ‘Em. That might be a bigger reason for losing.
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“Diary of a Mad Poker Player” Review

[LL] “Like a lot of us, Richard Sparks prefers to be playing poker instead of doing his actual job, which is writing”, Leroy the Lion began. “Struggling with what to write next, he plays online poker as a diversion when the big light bulb illuminates over his head, and he realizes that he can write about playing poker. Specifically, he’ll document how he qualifies for and plays in the World Series of Poker Main Event1 over the next nine weeks.”

[RR] “I think we all had that hope, I mean the qualifying part not the writing part,” Roderick the Rock suggested, “at least before Black Friday.”

[LL] “Yes, he was writing during the good old days of the Internet poker boom. This book went from current events to nostalgia pretty quickly.”

[RR] “So the book hasn’t aged well?”

[LL] “Actually, it has, relative to other poker books written around the same time, such as the ones that feature Limit Hold ‘Em. And hopefully Sparks’s story will be relevant again soon, and we can return to dreaming about turning a few bucks into a WSOP Main Event buyin.”

[RR] “And a huge cash there!”

[LL] “Since Sparks isn’t able to get an advance for the book, his online poker endeavor is funded from the money he already has in his accounts, his credit card, and even a transfer from his wife (who may actually be the best poker player in the family).

His journey is instructional (sometimes for what not to do), as he slips in a fair amount of strategy advice as he discusses hands from his own experiences, Chris Moneymaker, Sammy Farha, and other famous players. Unfortunately, just because he knows what to do doesn’t mean he does it. His satellite attempts continue to be unsuccessful, and an attempt to build his bankroll through cash games does no better.

Even with his days dwindling, Sparks finds time to be a journalist, especially with his investigation of cheating in online poker. He interviews employees from the then-biggest online sites — PartyPoker, ParadisePoker, and PokerStars in that order — all of whom assure him that they have significant controls in place to detect the most likely form of cheating, collusion. Sparks even pulls it off himself, but since he does it at play money tables, he absolves the site for not catching him.2

SPOILER: (select text to see) The biggest weakness of the book is that Sparks fails to qualify for the Main Event and chooses not to buy in for $10,000. Just when the excitement of the book should be peaking, he becomes just another journalist writing about the tourney instead of continuing with his personal experience in the Championship.

Still, Diary of a Mad Poker Player is an enjoyable read with many entertaining and educational side trips, another case where it really is about the journey not the destination.”

Title Diary of a Mad Poker Player: A Journey to the World Series of Poker
Author Richard Sparks
Year 2005
Skill Level any
Pros Well written mix of history (especially the early days of online poker and its legality), strategy, and personal anecdotes.
Cons Too much minutiae about the author, including poker chat transcripts, and not enough about the 2004 Main Event.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. At least three authors had the idea before him: Anthony Holden, Al Alvarez, and James McManus, but Sparks was the first to write about trying to qualify through online satellites.
  2. The Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet scandal hadn’t been uncovered yet. It’s a bit ironic that the sites focused so much on preventing their users from cheating, but the biggest problems turned out to be internal.
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“Online Ace” Review

[LL] “Scott Fischman’s Online Ace is a much better book about Internet poker than Doyle Brunson’s ‘Online Poker’“, Leroy the Lion pronounced. “It’s thorough, isn’t trying to hawk any particular online poker site, and gives much stronger strategy advice. While Online Poker is best used for kindling, Fischman’s book will survive the decimation and resuscitation of online poker in the U.S.”

[SS] “So you definitely think online poker is coming back soon?” Stan the Stat wondered.

[LL] “It’s already in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. Pennsylvania appears to be next.”

[SS] “I know that California talks about it every year. They could start a domino effect as the multistate market would immediately be significant.”

[LL] “Yes, the Golden State could be pivotal in undoing the damage of Black Friday. Five years before that fateful day, Fischman quotes lawyer Chuck Humphrey: ‘In today’s tolerant atmosphere, the risk of being charged with a criminal misdemeanor [for playing online poker] is far less than the chance of getting a speeding ticket.’ This proved accurate for the players but not for the poker sites themselves, and we’re all still trying to recover.

Fischman, who won two WSOP bracelets during the summer of 2004, was less prescient regarding cheating in online poker. Just a year after his book came out, several accounts on Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet were conclusively determined to have cheated by independent analysis of hand recaps.1 In fact, the cheating on Ultimate Bet had begun the year before, while the Pennsylvanian was still writing.2 Of course, even if Fischman had known any of this, he wouldn’t have wanted to denigrate the product he was trying to sell a book about.

The timing was especially unfortunate because this is a good book, covering a wide range of topics including styles of play, the online lobby, online etiquette, chat abbreviations, special online features, hand histories, statistics provided by sites, and record-tracking.

Fischman details his basic strategy for both online and live play. He covers Sit-N-Gos then moves on to Intermediate Strategy and Multi-Table Tournaments. He correctly decries ‘Stop-Win’ limits while okaying ‘Stop-Loss’ limits because losing that much money might negatively affect your play.

As a bonus, Fischman provides brief biographies of a random set of players: Cliff ‘Johnny Bax’ Josephy (who would go on to final table the WSOP Main Event in 2016), Noah ‘Exclusive’ Boeken, Carlos Mortensen, Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi, Darrell ‘Gigabet’ Dicken, Mark Seif, Thomas ‘Thunder’ Keller, and Eric ‘Sheets’ Haber.”

[SS] “Does this make up for the time you wasted on Doyle’s book?”

[LL] “Kind of. But it’s not like this book was perfect. For example, Fischman expects you to lose your first online deposit then prescribes a risky bankroll strategy to help you go broke!

Nevertheless, as online poker slowly returns to the U.S. legally, Online Ace returns to usefulness state by state.”

Title Online Ace
Author Scott Fischman
Year 2006
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Comprehensive introduction to online play with intermediate-level strategy.
Cons Nine pages of blank “Session Notes” for you to fill in were a waste of paper. A downloadable PDF would have been more useful and saved trees.
Rating 4.0

Footnotes:

  1. A good summary of the hole card peeking scandal was posted to the TwoPlusTwo forums on May 18, 2008.
  2. See the Wikipedia section on the cheating scandal in the Cereus Network article.
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