“Power Hold’Em Strategy” Review

[LL] “Daniel Negreanu’s Power Hold’Em Strategy seems quite imposing at first glance with over 500 pages”, Leroy the Lion warned, “but you can pare it down if you aren’t interested in one or more of its six sections:

  1. A Simplified Strategy for No-Limit Hold’Em Tournaments by Evelyn Ng.
  2. Winning at High-Limit Cash Games by Todd Brunson.
  3. Playing No-Limit Hold’Em Online by Erick Lindgren.
  4. Short-Handed Online No-Limit Hold’Em Cash Games by Paul Wasicka.
  5. Mixing It Up by David Williams.
  6. Small Ball by Daniel Negreanu.

For example, I wouldn’t even bother reading the first section unless I wanted to teach it to a Hold ‘Em beginner.”

[RR] “Or you could just lend them the book to read that section themselves”, Roderick the Rock suggested.

[LL] “Probably would have been a better idea, since I already had too much contradictory advice floating around in my head. Well, I can’t unread it now. And anyway, it had some good suggestions that I should take to heart.”

[RR] “Really? Oh, it’s probably Kill Phil longball.”

[LL] “It is, but I didn’t mean that part specifically. I meant that we should only raise or fold preflop. No calling. I’m sure there are some valid exceptions, but that advice alone would probably improve my game. Also, don’t try to pick off bluffs. I’m pretty sure most of my hero calls fail.”

[RR] “You’ll always be my hero.”

[LL] “My Hero, Zero. I haven’t even cashed in your tournament in over a year.”

[RR] “But you seem to do fine in the cash games.”

[LL] “Yes, but they’re not exactly high stakes cash games like the younger Brunson writes about. He still has great points, I thought. For example, Ace-Queen used to be considered a ‘trap hand’ that often lost you big pots, but now that players have loosened up so much, if you have Ace-Queen you’re more likely to dominate your opponent than be dominated.”

Similarly, I don’t play online anymore, but Lindgren’s advice to study your opponent’s betting patterns is completely relevant to live games as well. He recommends taking notes, something that you can do in live games…, but I’d suggest doing it away from the table in casual games so you don’t want appear too studious. He also says you should play as many hands as possible against the weak players, which is universally true.

Wasicka’s online section repeats the note-taking suggestion, one of several times when the independence of the sections leads to overlap. His bankroll management advice is applicable beyond online play as are his tips on handling short stackers, maniacs, and tight players.”

[RR] “But that’s already two-thirds of the book that you could have skipped.”

[LL] “Fortunately, they’re less than half of its pages. The book ends with the good stuff.

Williams’s section on mixing up your play is useful except against the weakest, least observant opponents. Against better players though, you always want to have a good idea about how your opponents think you’re playing, so you can surprise them by playing in the opposite way.”

[RR] “Whenever I try to mix it up, I just get mixed up.”

[LL] “Well okay. Then you’ll like the last chapter the best, as I did. Negreanu’s small ball approach is the reason I bought this book, and he doesn’t disappoint, covering a slew of topics for almost 200 pages, longer than his entire last book. The basic concept is simple — keep the pots small with smaller preflop and postflop bets until you have a strong hand — but Negreanu thoroughly explains what this means in terms of hand selection and preflop, flop, turn, and river play. Among the many things he covers are when you should check or bet on the flop, when you should check-raise, and how big your value bets should be.

Title Power Hold’Em Strategy
Author Daniel Negreanu
Year 2008
Skill Level Beginner/Intermediate
Pros Thorough explanation of how to play small ball, plus five other sections that may be useful to you.
Cons Really six books in one by six different authors with some advice repeated multiple times. No index.
Rating 3.5
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“Hold’em Wisdom for All Players” Review

[LL] “As much as I love Daniel Negreanu,” Leroy the Lion disclaimed, “I was disappointed by his Hold’em Wisdom for All Players. It’s a book but feels like a collection of poker blog posts.”

[RR] “Which you both read and write all the time”, Roderick the Rock remarked.

[LL] “Yes, but Wisdom has no overriding theme, no continuity, no depth, and no organization.”

[RR] “You’d be happier if you could sort the articles or browse by tag?”

[LL] “With just a little more work, and very little additional writing, Negreanu could have tied the 50 essays together into a cohesive book. Although he did end up creating a great bathroom book, since you can read any chapter at any time in any order.

The articles themselves are mostly pretty good, with my favorites being:

  • ‘Be Careful What You Learn on TV’: Negreanu gambled with his own money on High Stakes Poker but also got paid $1,250 per hour to play.
  • ‘Top Ten Trouble Hands’: Starting hands that can lead you to losing big pots (some of these are repeated in ‘Dangerous Hands to Play, Dangerous Hands to Own’).
  • ‘Where to Sit at the Poker Table’: Where you want to be relative to various types of opponents.
  • ‘The Check-Raise’: An underused weapon.
  • ‘Setting Up a Home Poker Tournament’: Equipment and rules you need to run your own event.

In addition to the trouble hands, there are a bunch of other listicles, starting with the first two chapters: ‘Top Ten Rookie Mistakes’ and ‘Top 5 Reasons Why You’re Losing at Poker’.”

[RR] “I’m sure Stan the Stat would love those.”

[LL] “In general, while most of these articles are well-written, they’re also too short. The book deserved to being double the length of its meager 150 pages, but perhaps Negreanu was saving up some of the good stuff for his voluminous Power Hold’em Strategy, which came out the next year with over 500 pages.”

Title Hold’em Wisdom for All Players
Author Daniel Negreanu
Year 2007
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Occasional pearls of wisdom in an easy read for a strategy book.
Cons Random, overly-brief advice in unrelated essays.
Rating 2.5
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“Internet Hold’Em Poker” Review

[LL] “Like Doyle Brunson’s ‘Online Poker’, Avery Cardoza’s Internet Hold’Em Poker seems to have been mostly written to get people playing online poker at a particular site”, Leroy the Lion claimed.

[RR] “I know Cardoza Publishing, but what poker site were they hawking?” Roderick the Rock questioned.

[LL] “Their own: Cardoza Games.”

[RR] “I’ve never heard of that.”

[LL] “And indeed, it didn’t last long, probably only a couple years beyond this book’s publication. Cardoza Games’s web site now redirects to the Cardoza Books store.1

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but this one foreshadows what’s inside, as it features a hand holding four Aces, an impossibility in Texas Hold ‘Em.”

[RR] “Undoubtedly a stock photo.”

[LL] “The book makes its next error when it’s still explaining online poker: in the list of ‘Fifteen Advantages of Online Poker’, #12 is ‘You Can Play As a Team’, which is expressly forbidden by pretty much every site. Also, in full knowledge of the cheating that had occurred at Absolute Bet and Ultimate Poker, the book still claims that ‘Online Sites Cannot Manipulate the Software’. It may never happen again at any of the major sites, but it’s completely possible as it would only take one rogue employee.

Despite a section covering the basics of poker, even explaining suits and denominations, this is a fairly thin book for explaining Internet Poker and Texas Hold ‘Em. The cover also teases, ‘Plus 5-card stud, 7-card stud & Omaha’, which get a meager five to six pages each, only enough to list their rules and some very basic strategy. But then, Hold ‘Em doesn’t get a whole lot of specific coverage either as most of the book applies to online poker in general, including 16 pages alone on ‘Getting Into Games’, a section padded with screenshots that were of limited value then and no value now.

The most useful section in the book may be the appendix on internet poker acronyms, which includes three pages of abbreviations and acronyms you might not know if you haven’t played much online poker.”

[RR] “So the book was pretty much a waste of time…”

[LL] “And paper.”

Title Internet Hold’Em Poker
Author Avery Cardoza
Year 2007
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Decent glossary of internet poker acronyms.
Cons Mostly served as an ad for Cardoza Games, which no longer has online poker.
Rating 1.5

Footnotes:

  1. Cardoza Books surprisingly still sells this book for $6.47.
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“Take Me to the River” Review

[LL] “Peter Alson is just months away from marrying his long-term girlfriend and has written the screenplay for a movie that’s about to start filming in New York,” relayed Leroy the Lion, “but that doesn’t stop him from going to Las Vegas to play poker for a month. His interest in the World Series of Poker began when he read a Sports Illustrated article while in college in 1976, and now, nearly three decades later, he’s managed to get an advance to write a book about his experience playing in the world’s most famous poker tournament.”

[RR] “Some players scrape up $10,000 to buy directly into the Main Event, some satellite in, and apparently at least once a year, a writer bamboozles a publisher to get paid to play it”, Roderick the Rock suggested.

[LL] “That sounds about right. Alson acknowledges The Biggest Game in Town by Al Avarez (who would write about the WSOP a second time from a player’s perspective in Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats), Big Deal by Anthony Holden, and Positively Fifth Street by James McManus, but each writer brings his own perspective to the task. Alson was inspired by Alvarez to play poker, and over a quarter century later, to try to qualify for the Main Event via a PokerStars online satellite a la Chris Moneymaker.”

[RR] “That makes sense. It’d be a short story if his publisher bought him directly into the Main Event, then he lasted only a few blind levels.”

[LL] “Agreed. Alson provides the requisite summary of the history of the WSOP from the early days up through Greg Raymer’s 2004 victory, which was the final full event at the Horseshoe1 (conveniently replaying on ESPN on the hotel room television). But his journey begins far from Vegas, on his laptop playing on PokerStars. After a particular tough run, in frustration he deletes the app and, after a break, ends up resuming his quest later on the computer of poker pro Shane Schleger,2 who also gives him advice.

The story returns to Las Vegas, starting with the cliche flying-into-Las-Vegas chapter. Alson had been to the WSOP way back in the late 1980s to cover the World Series of Poker (and the Super Bowl of Poker) for The Village Voice and Esquire and played in the Media Tournament a few times without reaching the final table. He finally played in an open event in 2001 and cashed in one preliminary event; he even played in the Main Event but didn’t cash.

Alson’s actually a pretty good player who honed his game at New York City’s Mayfair Club among others.3 He already knew what M and inflection points were before reading Dan Harrington’s books (the second of which Alson was fortunate enough to get an advance copy of). On the other hand, he didn’t take Harrington’s lessons to heart, as in one event he allowed himself to blind down to two orbits worth of chips (M=2).

One of the most interesting tidbits in the entire book is relegated to a footnote. Alson gave his table the Gambler’s Anonymous 20-question compulsive gambler test, and the table averaged 14 positives, two more than Alson and double the amount needed to be considered a compulsive gambler.

Of all the writer-gets-paid-to-chronicle-playing-in-the-WSOP books, only two have truly happy endings: Positively Fifth Street ends with McManus’s excellent finish, and Alson’s tale, albeit not because of his play in the Main Event. He ends up playing a dozen or so satellites and six WSOP events. You can read the book to find out how he did, but if you’ve followed poker for a while, you already know he didn’t get far enough in the Main Event to turn pro as a poker player. If you seek inspiration though, Alson’s ‘Wayward and Perilous Journey to the World Series of Poker’ (as it’s subtitled) is worth reading more for the journey than the destination.”

Title Take Me to the River
Author Peter Alson
Year 2007
Skill Level any
Pros Vicarious ride to and through the World Series of Poker, ending with the Main Event.
Cons Alson neglects to finish telling the story of the 2005 WSOP Main Event, misspells a few player names, and occasionally loses track of position at the table.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. In 2005, only the last two tables of the Main Event took place at the Horseshoe, with everything else having moved to the Rio.
  2. Alson is good friends with pro Shane “Shaniac” Schleger, having met in New York, and they trade a percent or two of each other when they play in the same tournaments.
  3. The V.F.W. (Thirtieth and Madison) and the Diamond Club (Twenty-Eighth off Seventh).
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“My 50 Most Memorable Hands” Review

[LL] “A short book deserves a short review, right?” Leroy the Lion asked rhetorically.

[RR] “Sure, if that makes you feel better about your laziness”, Roderick the Rock quipped. “But your shortcut might be shortsighted.”

[LL] “Don’t be short with me. I know my shortcomings.

Doyle Brunson had already had one of the longest and most successful poker careers ever by the time he wrote My 50 Most Memorable Hands in 2007, so the challenge he faced wasn’t finding enough hands to talk about but reducing his stories down to just 50 (less than one per year). The 168 sparse pages fly by so fast, you might wish he’d included another 50 hands.

Highlights of the book (or lowlights depending on your perspective) include cheating, robbery, and murder (and two other deaths at the table), but there’s also a lot of great poker, including high-stake cash games and ten stories from the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

Read this book purely for entertainment purposes. If you happen to learn a little poker strategy along the way, consider it a bonus. The frontier days of poker will never return, so enjoy the reminiscences of a legend who has no shortage of short and tall tales.”

Title My 50 Most Memorable Hands
Author Doyle Brunson
Year 2007
Skill Level any
Pros Entertaining variety of stories with a wide cast of characters, covering half a century of poker. Clear hand diagram graphics with a touch of red for the hearts and diamonds.
Cons Hands are not presented in any particular order.1 Some hands lack details and the book is fairly short. Chapter titles appear in Table of Contents but not in the text, where the hands are simply numbered.
Rating 3.5

Footnotes:

  1. The hands are supposedly in the order in which Brunson remembered them, but there was no excuse for not organizing them by date or topic.

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