“Poker Wizards” Review

[LL] “The next book I read was Warwick Dunnett’s Poker Wizards: Wisdom from the World’s Top No-Limit Hold’em Players“, Leroy the Lion stated.

[RR] “So it’s actually done with magic?” Roderick the Rock queried.

[LL] “Sure,… if you define ‘magic’ as hard work, aggression, and observation.

Dunnett interviewed Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu, Dan Harrington, Marcel Luske, Kathy Liebert, T.J. Cloutier, Mike Sexton, and Mel Judah, asking each of them a predetermined set of questions about how to play poker, so this book is a bit of a Groundhog Day, with the same topics mostly repeating nine times:

  • The Making of a Poker Wizard: what it takes to become a top poker pro.
  • Tournament Strategy
  • Aggression
  • Starting Hand Concepts
  • Specific Hand Strategy for No-Limit Hold ‘Em Tournaments
  • Tells
  • Playing Online
  • Psychology
  • Money Management

For consistency, the tournament scenario starts with a full table of players with 10,000 chips and blinds at 100/200. Your opponents play reasonably well and moderately aggressively.

Many times the pros give similar advice, but sometimes they don’t.”

[RR] “Isn’t that confusing?”

[LL] “It can be. In the final chapter, Dunnett briefly summarizes the players’ responses to each question, which I suppose leads to the best way to use this book — skim everything once to get the lay of the land then go back and reread the sections of the pros whose styles you like the most, since it’s impossible to follow all of the advice at the same time (for example, Ferguson and Harrington play much tighter than the others).

The good news is that sometimes a particular pro has ideas that the others simply didn’t think of. Ferguson is the only player who discusses game theory, Luske and Liebert are the only two who cover cash game strategy, and Sexton alone elaborates on bluffing.

And the second to last chapter is very different from the rest, with mentalist and lie detector Marc Salem exploring ‘How to Read People and Detect Lies’ in much more detail than the poker pros had examined tells. The material in this section is pretty strong, although none of it is groundbreaking.

Overall, Poker Wizards was an easy read with some good tips, but it didn’t leave me spellbound.”

Title Poker Wizards: Wisdom from the World’s Top No-Limit Hold’em Players
Author Warwick Dunnett
Year 2008
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Biographies and good advice from some very strong poker pros.
Cons Repetitive with sometimes contradictory advice.
Rating 2.5
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Card Player Player of the Year: Jake Schindler

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

[LL] “Happy 2019!” Leroy the Lion returned.

[RR] “Ready to ring in the new year with some poker?” Roderick the Rock inquired.

[SS] “Not quite. It’s time to wrap up last year first.”

[LL] “Player of the Year?”

[SS] “Yes, there were some amazing performance in 2018! Justin Bonomo set an all-time record with ten titles and $25,295,441 in winnings and finished… fifth!”

[RR] “Wow!”

[SS] “David Peters also broke the previous record but ended three behind Bonomo.

Three players would have set the record for most final tables any other year: Stephen Chidwick, Rainer Kempe, and Peters each made 26 final tables! And any other year, Chidwick would hold the record for points, having topped Daniel Negreanu’s 14-year-old record.

But in 2018 none of those were good enough, as Jake Schindler reached an astonishing 31 final tables and collected 9,407 points for the crown. Congratulations to both Schindler and Bonomo on their incredible years!”

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%
2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 Stephen Chidwick 8,845 6.0%

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 outpointed second place by the largest (2004) and third largest (2013) margins. Merson (2012) eked by with the smallest margin. 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 2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 6 31 $8,731,019
2 2018 Stephen Chidwick 8,845 5 26 $9,950,805
3 2004 Daniel Negreanu 8,764 4 11 $4,420,221
4 2016 David Peters 8,601 5 22 $7,370,255
5 2018 Alex Foxen 8,259 5 18 $6,606,037
6 2018 David Peters 8,059 7 26 $10,598,504
7 2018 Justin Bonomo 7,752 10 23 $25,295,441
8 2017 Adrian Mateos 7,220 4 22 $5,664,635
9 2017 Bryn Kenney 7,173 5 23 $8,201,128
10 2004 David Pham 7,068 5 15 $1,533,268

Notes:

  • David Peters and Justin Bonomo became the first players to finish in the Top 10 in a season four times. David Pham was the first player to finish in the Top 10 three times way back in 2008. Jason Mercier matched him in 2015, Bonomo and Peters in 2016, and Schindler in 2018.
  • Erik Seidel, Jason Mercier, Joseph Mckeehen, and David Peters are the only players to finish in the Top 25 five times. Phan, Dan Smith, Daniel Negreanu, J.C. Tran, John Juanda, Steve O’Dwyer, Erick Lindgren, Nick Petrangelo, and Schindler have each done it four times. Mckeehen has the record with five straight, one ahead of Tran and Petrangelo (both Mckeehen’s and Petrangelo’s streaks are alive).
  • 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 2018 Justin Bonomo 7,752 10 23 $25,295,441
2 2018 David Peters 8,059 7 26 $10,598,504
3 2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 6 31 $8,731,019
2018 Rainer Kempe 5,924 26 $5,464,179
2018 Sam Soverel 3,355 18 $2,522,258
2005 John Hoang 3,267 17 $492,817
2018 Sean H. Yu 1,206 13 $190,027
2008 Men Nguyen 3,662 10 $776,832
2012 Dan Smith 5,040 9 $3,673,806
2018 David Brookshire 1,758 9 $284,817

Notes:

  • With another increase in tournaments to choose from, the Top 10 was rewritten this year with seven 2018 results, including a new leader and runner-up.

Most Final Tables

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 6 31 $8,731,019
2 2018 Stephen Chidwick 8,845 5 26 $9,950,805
2018 David Peters 8,059 7 $10,598,504
2018 Rainer Kempe 5,924 6 $5,464,179
5 2018 Justin Bonomo 7,752 10 23 $25,295,441
2017 Bryn Kenney 7,173 5 $8,201,128
7 2016 David Peters 8,601 5 22 $7,370,255
2017 Adrian Mateos 7,220 4 $5,664,635
2004 Gioi Luong 5,006 4 $504,004
10 2018 Adrian Mateos 6,477 3 21 $4,844,609

Notes:

  • Like the previous two lists, 2018 obliterated the old standings with six new entries including the top four.
  • Luong topped this list from 2004 until 2016 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.

Highest Earnings

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2018 Justin Bonomo 7,752 10 23 $25,295,441
2 2014 Daniel Colman 5,498 4 8 $22,319,279
3 2012 Antonio Esfandiari 3,330 2 4 $18,992,281
4 2016 Fedor Holz 7,058 6 15 $16,288,714
5 2018 Mikita Badziakouski 4,926 5 11 $14,594,839
6 2018 Jason Koon 5,827 3 16 $12,404,918
7 2014 Martin Jacobson 4,148 2 5 $10,677,589
8 2018 David Peters 8,059 7 26 $10,598,504
9 2018 Stephen Chidwick 8,845 5 26 $9,950,805
10 2012 Greg Merson 5,100 2 2 $9,664,179

Notes:

  • Before 2018, this list was entirely composed of Big One for One Drop winners (Colman and Esfandiari) and World Series of Poker Main Event during champions (everyone else). With the proliferation of High Roller events, 2018 added five players from neither category, including Bonomo at the top. Peter Eastgate, Jonathan Duhamel, Pius Heinz are next three on the list.3

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.
  3. Jamie Gold is notably missing from the list because it was one of the years where the WSOP Main Event didn’t count toward the standings.
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“Cowboys Full” Review

[LL] “James McManus’s Cowboys Full – The Story of Poker came out just a year after Des Wilson’s Ghosts at the Table, so it makes sense to compare and contrast them.”

[RR] “Sure, why read two books when one will do?” Roderick the Rock suggested.

[LL] “But you know that’s not what I’m going to say. I’m a big fan of poker books, and both of these have a lot going for them. Even where the books’ topics overlap, which is often, the content differs significantly.

Both books cover the history of playing cards, poker (and specifically Texas Hold ‘Em), Wild West poker (and Dead Man’s Hand), riverboat gambling, road gamblers, the growth of Las Vegas (and the Moss-Dandolos match), the World Series of Poker, high stakes poker (including Andy Beal), women in poker, and online poker.

Cowboys Full’s extra material includes poker in Gardena, California, poker playing U.S. Presidents (and other politicians), computer poker programs, and poker literature.

Ghosts at the Table unique offerings include the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona and Wilson’s personal investigation into Hal Fowler.

[RR] “But if you had to choose one of the books?”

[LL] “I wouldn’t.”

[RR] “But if you really had to…”

[LL] “If absolutely forced to pick, I’d go with Ghosts at the Table, which is the more entertaining of the pair and presents more content that doesn’t appear in any other poker book. Mind you, Cowboys Full is equally well written and amazingly researched with a whopping 41 pages of footnotes and 64 references (and that’s just the selected bibiliography).

If I only read Ghosts, I’d still want to read the sections in Cowboys that weren’t covered!”

Title Cowboys Full – The Story of Poker
Author James McManus
Year 2009
Skill Level any
Pros A comprehensive and entertaining history of poker through 2008.
Cons Very long and can drag at times (although you can just flip past the sections that don’t interest you).
Rating 3.5

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“Ghosts at the Table” Review

[LL] “As you know, poker has a long history of colorful stories and tall tales that have grown taller with each retelling. In Ghosts at the Table: Riverboat Gamblers, Texas Rounders, Roadside Hucksters, and the Living Legends Who Made Poker What It Is Today, Des Wilson debunks some myths about Wild Bill Hickok’s ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ and the multimillion-dollar Nick Dandolos-Johnny Moss match.”

[RR] “Neither happened?” Roderick the Rock asked.

[LL] “No, they both happened, but Dead Man’s Hand may have been made up later, while Dandolos and Moss probably played a much smaller game than folklore has it.

On the other hand, Wilson passes on as truth many other poker stories of the Old West (including the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone), riverboat gamblers, mid-20th century road gamblers, Benny Binion, and Doyle Brunson. He even does some serious detective legwork to figure out what happened to Hal Fowler, who basically disappeared from the poker world after winning the 1979 World Series of Poker.”

[RR] “So, Fowler was the anti-Amarillo Slim and didn’t help popularize the game at all?”

[LL] “It’s a shame, too, since his amateur status should have been a bigger boon to the popularity of the World Series of Poker.”1

[RR] “Well, Moneymaker could only happen once, and online poker was a long way off in 1979.”

[LL] “Wilson gets to online poker later as well as high stakes poker and…”

[RR] “What about high stakes online poker?”

[LL] “That didn’t really exist yet.

… and includes a relatively short section on women in poker, mostly discussing their history at the World Series of Poker. The WSOP gets its own long chapter with stories about his eight favorite Main Event final tables. The final chapter of the book returns to the WSOP but unfortunately ends as the 2007 Main Event final table is set.”

[RR] “Not exactly the best place to end the book!”

[LL] “Yeah, I don’t agree with that decision either, but due to the timing of publication the final table is relegated to an addendum with nothing more than a list of the results.

On the whole, it’s a small flaw in a great book. Because Wilson traveled all over the U.S. to interview people, he has some unique insights, especially regarding Fowler. Although not quite as comprehensive2 as James McManus’s Cowboys Full – The Story of Poker, which was published the following year, Ghosts at the Table is equally worthy of your time.”

Title Ghosts at the Table: Riverboat Gamblers, Texas Rounders, Roadside Hucksters, and the Living Legends Who Made Poker What It Is Today
Author Des Wilson
Year 2008
Skill Level any
Pros Great storytelling and myth-busting from poker’s past up to 2007.
Cons Chapters cover a random assortment of topics of varying importance. Publication should have been delayed a few weeks to finish the story of the 2007 WSOP Main Event.
Rating 4.0

Footnotes:

  1. The number of players in the Main Event did double over the next four years, but by comparison, after Chris Moneymaker won in 2003, the field tripled the next year.
  2. At first glance, Cowboys Full appears to be about 50% bigger, weighing in at a hefty 516 pages to Ghosts at the Table’s 368, but McManus dedicates a significant 88 pages to its footnotes, bibliography, glossary, and index, whereas Wilson uses but 15.
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“Bigger Deal” Review

[LL] “When Anthony Holden’s Big Deal came out in 1990, he had no way to know how inspirational the book would prove to so many poker players (casual hacks and future pros alike)”,1 Leroy the Lion stated.

[RR] “I’m surprised. If I didn’t already play poker, it would have scared me away from ever taking up the game. I guess I’m just not cut out to be a degenerate gambler.”

[LL] “Holden had even less inkling that poker itself would explode after decades in the smoky shadows into an immense industry with round-the-clock, round-the-dial television coverage, multimillion dollar tournaments around the world, and a new breed of online poker players who never need to leave their house to play. Bigger Deal takes a look at the new world order as the author, one of the strongest poker-playing writers, travels around Europe and the U.S. to play in tournaments and cash games starting and ending with the World Series of Poker.”2

[RR] “And I’m not big on travel either.”

[LL] “That may have caught up with Holden, too, albeit because of his writing. His marriage to ‘the Moll’ shortly after the previous book ended in divorce a decade later. She shows up at one of the poker festivals as they are still friends, but he has no problem with knocking her out of one tournament. His sons are now old enough to play poker legally, and he buys one of them into a poker tournament as a birthday gift.

Besides Las Vegas, Holden plays poker — now mostly No-Limit instead of Limit Hold ‘Em — in Connecticut (Foxwoods and Yale), Manhattan, the Caribbean, Monte Carlo, and London and Walsall in England. He’s a good enough player to still net after expenses enough to earn his buyin into the 2006 WSOP Main Event. He’s still better at cash games than tournaments, but he has occasional successes in the latter format.

Along the way, Holden covers the forerunner of the World Series of Poker,3 celebrity poker, poker camps, and online poker. He profiles Dave ‘the Devilfish’ Ulliott, Andy ‘the Monk’ Black, Doyle Brunson, Henry Orenstein,4 and Howard Lederer.

[RR] “That’s a lot of ground to cover.”

[LL] “Indeed it is, but with the tremendous growth of the poker world since Big Deal, the sequel appeared as just one of a slew of poker books published in 2007. As such, it didn’t garner nearly as much attention as its predecessor, and objectively it isn’t nearly as important. But, it’s almost as entertaining and equally non-educational.”

Title Bigger Deal
Author Anthony Holden
Year 2007
Skill Level Any
Pros Shows how the poker landscape changed dramatically in 17 years.
Cons Too many details about unimportant small tournaments and cash games the author plays in.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. Among the people who took up poker after reading Big Deal: Nick Leeson (the rogue Barings Bank trader had some time to kill in jail), Bill Gates, and Randolph Fields (one of the founders of Virgin Atlantic Airlines). A 1995 Holden biography, The St Albans Poisoner: The Life and Crimes of Graham Young, may have inspired something a bit more sinister, a Japanese girl and chemistry student murdered her mother with thallium.
  2. The book starts with the 2005 WSOP Main Event and ends with the 2006 WSOP Main Event, but the 2007 is covered briefly in the Epilogue.
  3. The Texas Gamblers Reunion was organized by Tom Moore at his Holiday Hotel in Reno in 1969. When he decided not to repeat the event, he freely gave the idea to Benny Binion.
  4. Barry Hearn, started using hole cams on his Poker Millions television show without realizing that Orenstein had a patent on them. Hearn intended to fight Orenstein in court until he read the Polish concentration camp survivor’s memoirs and thought {page 197}, “My God, I’ll pay him whatever he wants.”
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“Bicycle Blackjack and Poker” Review

[LL] “Despite a 2007 copyright date and no indication that the book is based on any older material,” Leroy the Lion conjectured, “Bicycle Blackjack and Poker appears to have been written in the 1970s with very minor updates since then. No general poker book written after Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP Main Event championship could possibly dedicate just eight short sentences to Texas Hold ‘Em, the most popular poker variation in the world.

Blackjack gets just sixteen pages, so this is primarily a poker book. But by page count Five-Card Draw gets the most coverage followed by Five-Card Stud and then Seven-Card Stud. That should give you an estimate for the approximate date that the text was written.1

In the end, Bicycle Blackjack and Poker is a short rules reference that’s no better than what you could find on most poker web sites or these Wikipedia articles. Its biggest selling point is probably its cute front and back covers, which resemble a playing card box that’s been squashed a little flatter, taller, and wider.”

Title Bicycle Blackjack and Poker
Author U.S. Playing Card Company
Year 2007
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Very basic primer on how to play blackjack and poker.
Cons Appears to have been written over three decades earlier with very minor changes.
Rating 1.5

Footnotes:

  1. Five-Card Draw was already on its way out when the World Series of Poker began and was only contested from 1978 to 1982. Five-Card Stud had an even shorter, earlier run from 1971 to 1974.
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“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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