“Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers” Review

[LL] “Do you guys remember Byron Wolford?” Leroy the Lion queried.

[SS] “‘Cowboy’? Sure. He came in second in the 1984 World Series of Poker Main Event to Jack Keller”, Stan the Stat confirmed.

[LL] “And you know why he was called ‘Cowboy’?”

[SS] “I just assumed it was because he was from Texas and liked to wear a cowboy hat.”

[LL] “True, but Wolford was actually a real cowboy. In fact, he was a better calf roper than a poker player. His autobiography, Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers, which I just finished reading, has almost as many rodeo stories as poker stories. More than a few top poker pros excelled at a sport before turning to poker,1 but Wolford is one of the few who reached the very top of his sport. He started doing exhibitions when he was only six years old, turned pro at fifteen, and set records at several major venues, including Madison Square Garden. At 21, he won the Champion Roper title, the equivalent of winning the National Finals today. He won the championship at the Calgary Stampede twice and was elected to the now-defunct National Rodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame. But for all that success, Wolford found the other cowboys to be easy marks and often left town having won more playing poker than roping calves.”

[SS] “And poker was probably a lot easier on his body, too.”

[LL] “Absolutely, although at least he wasn’s a bronc rider. Still, as he got older, he had a fairly easy decision to turn to poker full time. He’d already been running poker games in his hotel room and was the best poker-playing cowboy in the world. Wolford even notes how similar the early days of rodeo were to playing poker: ‘Rodeos in the old days were something like poker tournaments in that we all traveled from town to town entering the competitions, paying our own expenses, and not being guaranteed a quarter. The rodeos had five to seven events and today’s big tournaments might have ten to twenty or more events, including two or three limit hold ’em events with various entry fees. In both sports you can pick how many events you want to enter. And you can choose your own schedule, living wherever you want, working as much as you need, and traveling whenever you please.’2 Both competitions have an entry free, prizes, and a large luck component (e.g., which calf you get and what cards you get dealt), but the skill component is the most important in the long run.”

[SS] “So, did you like the book?”

[LL] “All in all, yes, although Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers is a better movie script than a poker primer. I wish there were more poker, but if you sit back and enjoy the vicarious thrill of the old, untamed days of rodeo and poker, you’ll be entertained.”

Title Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers: The True Adventures of a Rodeo Champion and Poker Legend
Author Byron Wolford and Dana Smith
Year 2002 (updated 2005)
Skill Level Any
Pros Very entertaining. The early days of rodeo and the early days of poker were equally wild, and Wolford was very adventurous.
Cons Too much rodeo and not enough poker. A little repetitious, as if the individual articles were published individually.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. For example, Doyle Brunson would probably have played in the NBA if he hadn’t injured his knee, T.J. Cloutier played in the Canadian Football League, and Mike Sexton earned a gymnastics scholarship tox college.
  2. Page 286.
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“Play Poker Like the Pros” Review

[LL] “Phil Hellmuth is famous for his braggadocio,” Leroy the Lion began, “so it won’t surprise you that the name of his book, Play Poker Like the Pros, is a major exaggeration; this is definitely a beginner’s book. The puffery continues on the cover by calling Johnny Chan ‘seven-time World Champion of Poker’, which makes it sound like he’s won the WSOP Main Event seven times. A similar inaccuracy in the introduction calls Hellmuth ‘a seven-time winner of the World Series of Poker’. Both numbers actually refer to how many WSOP bracelets each player had won at the time the book was written.

Hellmuth even deluded himself into thinking his chops as a poet merited the inclusion of a poem on poker titled ‘The Universe Conspired to Help’, which could have been subtitled ‘Ode to Myself’. Spare yourself the agony of reading it, as it’s miles from decent with no concept of meter or feet (and no, Phil, ‘was it’ and ‘achieve it’ don’t rhyme).”

[RR] “So you really loved the book, eh?” Roderick the Rock noted sarcastically.

[LL] “His style works for him. He’s doubled his bracelet count since this book was published, so he obviously knows a lot that he didn’t write down. Like many of the books of this era, the main subject is limit poker, often without explicitly saying so. Hellmuth of all people should have realized that the tide had turned, as four of his seven bracelets at that point were in No Limit Hold ‘Em, and that included his cherished Main Event title. Worse still, the Limit sections of this book are littered with real-world No Limit hand examples!”

[RR] “That’s probably because Limit Hold ‘Em is so boring compared to No Limit.”

[LL] “Especially if you play Limit Hold ‘Em Hellmuth’s way. He endorses the same supertight strategy that he started his poker career with as an undergraduate in the University of Wisconsin Student Union game. Initially, he lets you play just the top 10 starting hands (all the pairs from Aces down to Sevens, plus Ace-King and Ace-Queen) and nothing else. The good part is that he wants you to raise every time. This is the quintessential tight aggressive (TAG) strategy, except that he believes that if ‘tight is right’, then super tight is even better.

Once you have reached the ‘intermediate skill’ level, you can add the ‘majority play hands’ to your arsenal. These are the remaining pairs (Sixes through Twos), suited Aces, and King-Queen. He recommends reraising with small pairs preflop, hoping to either hit a set or steal the pot with a continuation bet on a high flop. Suited Aces need many opponents to get paid off properly when you finally hit your nut flush. King-Queen, however, wants fewer opponents and should be raised preflop.”

[LL] “For No Limit Hold ‘Em, Hellmuth lets you begin with a few more hands: the Top 10 from Limit Hold ‘Em plus the remaining pairs, Ace-King, and Ace-Queen.1 With Aces through Queens and Ace-King, he wants you to bet big preflop, which can only work until your opponents figure out your strategy. With Jacks through Nines, he says to reraise preflop because you’d prefer not to see a flop. For the other hands, just raise, hoping to take it down but letting you get away cheaply if you miss the flop.

Intermediate players can add suited Aces with the caveat that you’re looking for the nut flush, not a low pair or a pair of Aces with a bad kicker. Suited connectors can be played if you need to put in less than five percent of your chips to see the flop.

Sadly, although Hellmuth covers Limit Hold ‘Em tournament strategy, he doesn’t discuss No Limit Hold ‘Em tourneys; fortunately, I suspect his advice wouldn’t differ much. Play supertight while the weakest players are being eliminated then shift to stealing the blinds from the remaining supertight players then steal from everyone at the money bubble. He’s willing to fold rather than risk his remaining chips even if he thinks he has an advantage.”

[LL] “The second half of the book covers six non-Hold ‘Em poker variants: Omaha, Omaha Eight or Better, Pot-Limit Omaha, Seven-Card Stud, Razz, and Stud Eight or Better. Although Hellmuth is known mostly for his Hold ‘Em skills,2 he’s won numerous Omaha and Stud tournaments, including the $250 Limit Seven-Card Stud for the European Poker Championship in 2000, the $1,000 Omaha Hi/Lo at the 2003 L.A. Poker Classic, and the $1,100 Limit Omaha / Stud 8 or Better in the same festival just last month.

Hellmuth considers starting hand selection by far the most important part of all of the games, so for each variant he copiously describes which starting hands you should play and why. For playing the later streets, he sets forth some sound strategy, although, given the limited amount of space, the advice is fairly broad. Still, I found these sections much more useful than the Limit Hold ‘Em parts.

Perhaps Hellmuth’s most notable contribution from this book was the introduction of a small set of animal player types:

  • Mouse: a very timid player who plays only the best starting hands and doesn’t raise often.
  • Lion: a tight player who is good at bluffing and reading bluffs.
  • Jackal: a loose and wild player
  • Elephant: a loose calling station
  • Eagle: a ‘Top 100’ player3

I’ll end with my favorite quote of the book: ‘Playing suited connectors is like eating potato chips; once you eat one chip, you can’t help eating many more!'”4

Title Play Poker Like the Pros
Author Phil Hellmuth
Year 2003
Skill Level Beginner
Pros A good beginner’s guide to Limit Hold ‘Em, Limit Omaha, and Seven-Card Stud.
Cons Very little on No Limit games. Condescending tone.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. This tight range works out to 8.3% of all starting hands.
  2. Hellmuth’s first eleven WSOP bracelets were all won in Hold ‘Em events (two of his last three were in Razz).
  3. Play Poker Like the Eagles is the book I would much prefer Hellmuth had written, but he admits on page 33 that that ‘is a lofty and worthwhile goal, but it is beyond the scope of this book’.
  4. You might say that Hellmuth lays off the suited connectors on page 131. On the flip side, his worst quote on page 350 claims, “[UltimateBet.com] is the only site that I currently recommend. It’s regulated by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission and is honest and professional.”
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Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet Reimbursement

[LL] “You know what the biggest surprise this week was?” Leroy the Lion asked.

[FF] “That you’ve already filed your taxes?” Figaro the Fish suggested.

[LL] “That was certainly the old, procrastinating me, schlepping my tax forms to the post office and waiting in an hour-long line on the last day. But I’ve reformed, and I already submitted electronically last week; I would have done it even sooner if I was getting a refund.”

[RR] “That Le Grand Orange1 hasn’t started World War III yet?” Roderick the Rock postulated.

[LL] “No, that’s less surprising with each passing week. And I’m pretty sure the rest of the world is afraid of what a crazy man with access to nuclear launch codes is capable of.”

[FF] “That United Airlines dragged that poker-playing doctor off a plane because it wanted four crew members to get on the flight instead? That was crazy.”

[LL] “Not that surprising though. Airlines have a long history of treating passengers like cargo and cash cows. Clearly, they should have kept increasing their buyout offer until enough passengers accepted. Penny-wise, pound-foolish. $800 was nothing to David Dao, who’s had two dozen tournament cashes for more than that and has spent $10,000 to play in the WSOP Main Event. Even a few thousand dollars now is trivial compared to the amount of business United will end up losing.”2

[SS] “That Absolute Poker was in the news,” Stan the Stat declared, “and good news at that.”

[LL] “Yes, that’s what I was thinking about. I’m absolutely amazed there was any possibility after six years that players would get their money back from Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet!”

[RR] “It seems foolish to have had more than a little money on those sites after the cheating scandals, but I suppose if the games were profitable, it was just another gamble they took.”

[LL] “More than a little money. The Department of Justice thinks about $60 million could be returned. That’s more than half of what players got back from Full Tilt Poker.

Anyway, you can tell people to head over to AbsolutePokerClaims by June 9 and fill out the forms once they’re available.”

[RR] “It’ll be like finding money in the seat cushions.”

[SS] “More like getting back a wallet full of money. But when do you ever get something back after you’ve lost it for six years?”

[LL] “It’s been so long, there’s a section in the FAQ on dead money — money due to players who have passed away in the meantime.”

Footnotes:

  1. Le Grand Orange was Rusty Staub’s nickname, so I’m kind of sad to see it reused, as he was once one of my favorite baseball players.
  2. United Airlines stock at least temporarily dropped a billion dollars in market value. And the word “re-accommodate” will certainly be used sarcastically from now on; e.g., “If you’d be so kind as to call, I’d happily re-accommodate some of your chips into my stack here.”

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“Poker for Dummies” Review

[LL] “I’m a pretty big fan of the For Dummies book series”, Leroy the Lion admitted. “I’ve read Tennis for Dummies, Meditation for Dummies, Guitar for Dummies, Photoshop Elements 15 for Dummies, and Social Media Marketing for Dummies, and I’d have to say I learned quite a bit from each of them.”

[RR] “You didn’t read Dummies for Dummies?” Roderick the Rock jested.

[LL] “I don’t remember seeing anything on ventriloquism,1 but I probably would have learned more from it than I did from Poker for Dummies. I shouldn’t have expected too much from a 17-year-old book on a subject I know very well.”

[RR] “You and Stan could certainly write a book on poker together.”

[LL] “True enough.2 Poker for Dummies could use an update at the very least. The material wasn’t that bad, but it’s mostly about limit games. The best sections covered games that are usually still played as limit, like Seven-Card Stud. Other good areas were the short home games chapter, the poker history, and some of the general information, like which types of players you want on your right and left,3.

On the other hand, Texas Hold ‘Em was the most disappointing chapter. The first paragraph discusses the WSOP Main Event, but then the rest of the chapter instructs you on how to play Limit Hold ‘Em without bothering to note that that’s not the variant played there.

The Omaha chapter could also have been pretty good if it didn’t mostly talk about Limit Omaha/8. It was also strange that they cover the High/Low version of the game and barely touch on the High-only variation.”

[RR] “Odd for a beginner’s book.”

[LL] “They correctly call Omaha ‘the game of the future’, but they also obsess over the rec.gambling.poker newsgroup as one of the best resources for learning poker. They didn’t anticipate how soon Usenet would go from mainstream to a historical footnote. AOL discontinued Usenet access in 2005, and most of the major ISPs followed in the next few years.

And like Zen and the Art of Poker, there’s a chapter on using computer software to study. Not surprisingly, the company whose PC apps they recommend no longer exists (the web site forwards you to a bitcoin site). But I’m sure Deb the Duchess will tell you that THETA Poker Pro is a pretty good substitute, especially since you can play anywhere and anytime, not just when you’re sitting at a computer.”

Title Poker for Dummies
Author Richard D. Harroch and Lou Krieger
Year 2000 (with minor 2003 additions)
Skill Level Beginner
Pros A decent introduction to many forms of poker.
Cons Barely touches No Limit Hold ‘Em, the most popular form of poker, mostly sticking with limit games. Could seriously use an update.
Rating 2.0

Footnotes:

  1. Ventriloquism for Dummies exists, but it’s not one of the 273+ real titles in the For Dummies series despite not-so-cleverly ripping off the official series’ black and yellow cover theme.

    Dummy Playing for Dummies doesn’t exist, since the material is covered in the official, more thorough Bridge for Dummies.

  2. A book based on the Hold ‘Em at Home blog is actually in the works, but it might take a few years since development of THETA Poker Pro takes priority.
  3. Left: predictable, timid, passive players. Right: unpredictable, aggressive, skilled players.
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“Zen and the Art of Poker” Review

[LL] “The next book was the oddest of the lot. I suppose you could blame Robert Pirsig for starting the ‘Zen and…’ craze with his 1974 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, but at least Zen applies a thousand times more to poker than it does to motorcycles. For a certain subset of poker players, Zen and the Art of Poker: Timeless Secrets to Transform Your Game could provide very useful instruction. For a lot less than a single session with a poker mind coach, players can learn how to coexist peacefully with the game of poker.”

[RR] “You mean like the love-hate relationship I have with it?” Roderick the Rock asked.

[LL] “Not exactly. But for those who struggle with tilt, tend toward impatience, or suffer from negativity when things go wrong, the sutras of Zen can help. Larry Phillips somehow takes a few simple Zen ideas and creatively expands them into a hundred poker rules and 170 pages of advice. For example, his first poker rule is about playing tightly: ‘Learn to use inaction as a weapon.’ So is his second (‘Don’t get irritated or angered by long sessions of folding’). And his third, fourth, fifth, …, and nine pages later, his fifteenth (‘Begin by playing tight, but don’t forget to stay tight’). If you learn best by repetition, Phillips is your kind of author. If you don’t like to be told what to do over and over again, you can just read the first page of each of the 27 chapters and not miss much.

Phillips’s advice is at least mostly harmless, but he does stray occasionally, like Poker Rule #32: ‘Learn how to avoid a losing streak.’ Had this meant avoiding tilt, finding a softer game, or something like that, it would have been fine. But that’s not what he means; he goes on to say, ‘watch for any clues that you might be getting cold’. Apparently he read Super System and only remembered the worst parts of it because 31 pages later, he also claims, ‘Longtime, experienced card players believe in the bunching of luck. They have seen it. They have felt it.’1

More than halfway through the book, he realizes that he’s taught you how to blind away your stack, so he throws in a chapter on aggression. Unfortunately, this chapter includes not a single Zen quote. Sun Tzu’s Art of War gets the call instead.2 I’m pretty sure that would have made a better basis for a poker book.”

[SS] “It was”, Stan the Stat confirmed. “David Apostolico wrote Tournament Poker and the Art of War in 2005.”

[LL] “One of the later chapters is about why you shouldn’t whine about your bad luck. That’s Zen at least. Then he closes with a completely unrelated appendix on using computer software to improve your poker. He must have had a page count target to reach.

To be fair, I’ve omitted some good Zen quotes3 and useful poker advice from the book, albeit not much, but I really wanted to make sure you don’t repeat my mistake and actually read this book, whose best use, since it’s too light to be a doorstop, would be in a white elephant gift exchange among poker players.”

Title Zen and the Art of Poker: Timeless Secrets to Transform Your Game
Author Larry W. Phillips
Year 1999
Skill Level Any
Pros Provides some good advice for any player prone to tilting, impatience, or whining. Applicable to any type of poker.
Cons High level advice from a non-pro.4 Much longer than it needs to be because of significant repetition.
Rating 1.5

Footnotes:

  1. This faulty idea returns in the 25th chapter, “Bad Luck and Losing”, as his 100th and final Poker Rule: “Make sure you know when you’re on a cold streak.” Of course hot and cold streaks exist, but you never know when they’re going to end, so there’s nothing to adjust for except possibly your opponents attitudes toward your current streak.
  2. Chuck Norris’s book, The Secret Power Within: Zen Solutions to Real Problems, is also referenced in this chapter.
  3. If you’ve managed to make it this far through the review, enjoy some of the best quotes in the book:
    • “Wait for a good pitch to hit.” — Ted Williams. [After four bad pitches in baseball, you’re awarded first base. There’s no direct reward in poker, although hand selection is an important part of almost every poker variant.]
    • “Pride means the end of wisdom.” — Japanese proverb. [Even the best poker players need to keep improving.]
    • “Everything that happens, and above all what happens to me, should be observed impartially, as though on the deepest level it did not concern me.” — Eugen Herrigel, The Method of Zen, 1974. [Excellent anti-tilt advice.]
    • “You are called samurai. Should you not be ready to die?” — Zen master Hakuin. [If losing your stack, especially in a tournament, equals death, then this is very apt. You can’t play poker well if you’re afraid all the time.]
  4. Phillips’s major poker credential is his minor and unsubstantiatable claim to have “placed second in the 1997 Wisconsin State Poker Tournament”. Every Google hit on the event, even without specifying a year, points to his book.
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“Big Deal” Review

[LL] “Very few poker books have a protagonist, a plot, and an unpredictable conclusion”, Leroy the Lion claimed. “Big Deal by journalist, author,1 and budding poker player Anthony Holden, provides all of that.”

[SS] “Who’s the villain?” Stan the Stat wondered.

[LL] “In poker, all of your opponents are villains.”

[RR] “And you’re always the hero, whether you’re making hero calls or not”, Roderick the Rock added.

[LL] “Introduced to the Tuesday Night Game by writer Al Alvarez, Holden became a regular in the weekly poker event way back in 1978. That same year, he was sent to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker as a reporter and returned almost every year as an observer except for playing in the WSOP Media Tournament. But at the 1988 WSOP, Holden used his recent blackjack and poker winnings to take a flyer on a $1,000 Main Event satellite, and he managed to win the seat, becoming the only Brit in a field of 167 players competing for a $700,000 first prize and 35 other pieces of a $1,670,000 prize pool.

Encouraged by his result, his wife, affectionately referred to as the Moll, gives him the idea of playing poker for a ‘year’, so he doesn’t even need to ask for permission. Although the subtitle of the book promises ‘A Year as a Professional Poker Player’, very little poker happens during the half year between the 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event and November 1988. Fortunately, Holden has more than enough material from his six actual months of poker playing.

Along the way, he regales you with playing card and poker history and stories about the Nick Dandolos-Johnny Moss marathon2, Titanic Thompson’s prop bets, and several of Amarillo Slim’s adventures, including his Super Bowl of Poker. But Holden’s own personal poker stories don’t pale by comparison. He travels around the world, faces many top players such as Johnny Moss and Bobby Baldwin. The aspiring player even flies all the way to New Orleans to play in a illegal poker festival and never gets to play a hand. The story concludes with the 1989 WSOP Main Event, where his starting table includes Stu Ungar and Telly Savalas. I won’t spoil the ending, but you know he didn’t win that one either…”

Title Big Deal
Author Anthony Holden
Year 1990
Skill Level Any
Pros Entertaining stories from a year of poker.
Cons Very little educational value. Anticlimactic ending.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. His thirty-plus non poker books include biographies of Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Mozart, Shakespeare, and Tchaikovsky. He would go on to write two other two poker books: the sequel Bigger Deal: A Year Inside the Poker Boom and the poetically named Holden on Hold’Em: How to Play and Win at the Biggest Deal in Town.
  2. Holden gives the year as 1949, but 1951, when Benny Binion opened Binion’s Horseshoe, makes more sense. He also spells The Greek’s name “Dandalos”, a fairly common misspelling.
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“Poker Wisdom of a Champion” Review

[LL] “Having written more about poker strategy than anyone ever had in Super System, Doyle Brunson’s next effort was a book of poker stories, Poker Wisdom of a Champion, originally published in 1984 as According to Doyle. Despite its subtitle that promises ‘powerful winning advice’, this book is best read only for its ‘fascinating anecdotes’ as most of the advice is very high-level (and mostly boils down to one word, ‘aggression’).

The 26-page section on home games rules is solid, as many home games don’t have any official rules. But Brunson’s still worried about games getting hijacked, so he prefers that you play on credit. Unless your stakes are so high that robbery is still a real concern, I’d recommend the opposite, that nobody gets any chips they haven’t paid for. If another player wants to lend them money, that’s their private business.”1

I don’t really have anything more to say about this book. Read it for the stories and enjoy.”

Title Poker Wisdom of a Champion
Author Doyle Brunson
Year 1984 (republished in 2003 with new introductory and closing remarks from Brunson)
Skill Level Any
Pros Entertaining stories from poker’s Road Gamblers era.
Cons Very little educational value.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. Brunson also discusses sandbagging (check-raising), which simply isn’t an issue anymore as it’s a standard, completely accepted part of the game even if you’re playing for pennies against your grandma.
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“Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Poker Secrets” Review

[LL] “Bobby Baldwin was at the height of his fame, having recently won the 1978 World Series of Poker Main Event,” Leroy the Lion began, “when Mike Caro interviewed him for a combination biography and strategy book called Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Poker Secrets. Like most of the great poker players of his era, Baldwin’s life story would make a great movie. As hazardous as poker could be to your bankroll, it’s much more dangerous to your physical well-being. Baldwin went to jail at least twice, once for playing pool before he turned 16 and once for dealing an illegal poker game. But those incidents paled in comparison to the time two criminals intent on kidnapping him for ransom instead robbed everyone in the casino, fatally shooting one customer who had perhaps not-so-cleverly given them a fake wallet with only five dollars in it.”

[RR] “How did he know they were after him?” Roderick the Rock wondered.

[LL] “One of the crooks yelled that Bobby had gotten away, which he had, running out the back door. Also, Baldwin had already left town knowing they were after him. They’d tracked him down, but he was foolish enough to return to his home casino.”

[RR] “Yet another poker pro who was brilliant at the poker table and not so smart away from it.”

[LL] “Exactly. He knew the occupational hazards of his job, but he made the big mistake of letting his first huge win in Las Vegas become well known. It was even reported in newspapers!”

[FF] “Like a ‘Kick Me’ sign on his back”, Figaro the Fish suggested.

[LL] “It’s true that the mob controlled Las Vegas before Del Webb began transforming it into a ‘Wall Street town’ by buying the Sahara Hotel in 1961,1 but he was always been less likely to get robbed in a casino than in a home game, which is where Baldwin had played most of his poker. He knew he could be ‘hijacked’ by criminals who broke into the house, cheated by the people running the game, or stiffed by the losing players. But being a kidnapping target just wasn’t something he expected.

The good news is that the police shot both of the crooks when then tried to get away. The bad news is that Baldwin quickly lost all the money he’d won anyway.”

[RR] “Yet another poker player who didn’t understand the concept of bankroll management, I suppose?”

[LL] “Yep. And still the book has a chapter called ‘Your Bankroll’. You can safely skip it. Baldwin ‘got broke’ several times, at one point being $70,000 in the red on sports bets. The chapter doesn’t bother to warn you against sports wagers, where the vig will get you, or table games like craps, where you can’t overcome the house’s edge in the long run. In fact, the rest of the book holds more lessons in what not to do than this chapter does on what to do.

The stories, which are by far the best part of the book, also cover his low-key courtship of his second wife, Shirley. That thread is probably more educational than the bankroll chapter.”

[RR] “What happened to his first wife?”

[LL] “Oh, that’s another what-not-to-do section. A poker player shouldn’t marry a person who doesn’t like gambling. She wanted him to take a steady job, and he chose poker over her.

Intermingled with the story chapters are strategy chapters, each covering the basics of a poker variant he’s playing. He concisely lists the four to twelve most ‘Common Mistakes’ players make and follows with a somewhat overlapping ‘Final Formula’ for playing the game well. These chapters are exactly what you’d want to read if you had only five minutes to learn a game you were about to play for the first time, as they’re each only a few pages long. The games begin with Five-Card Stud, which was the first poker variation Baldwin played, losing his entire fortune of $6.35 at a friend’s house, and go on to Ace-to-Five Lowball, Seven-Stud, Seven-Stud Lowball, Five-Card Draw, Hold ‘Em, Deuce-to-Seven Draw, and High-Low Split.

Some of his best advice actually appears at the very end of the book in a chapter called ‘Unsorted Secrets’. For example, ‘You should try to specialize in one or two kinds of poker. But it pays — it pays heavily — to be an all-round card master.’2 He also talks about mixing up your style with quick shifts, handling unknown players, dealing with very loose players, and various times when it’s good or bad to bluff.

Overall, this was a quick and easy read that has aged well. The romantic era where poker was a very dangerous occupation will never be repeated, so all we can do is sit back and enjoy the show. As for the strategy parts of the book, I suspect Caro and Baldwin went out of their way not to step on Doyle Brunson’s toes, since they had both just contributed to his Super System.”

Title Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Poker Secrets
Author Mike Caro
Year 1979 (republished in 2004)
Skill Level Any (stories)/Beginner (poker)
Pros Very entertaining stories alternating with very concise advice on how to play several poker variants.
Cons Advice is a good starting point for beginners only.
Rating 3.5 (stories)/2.0 (poker)

Footnotes:

  1. From Amarillo Slim Preston’s book, Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People, page 203.
  2. Page 187.
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“Doyle Brunson’s Super System” Review

[LL] “I guess it’s my turn to review some books”, Leroy the Lion suggested. “I just inherited a huge box of them from an uncle.”

[FF] “Sorry to hear. How did he die?” Figaro the Fish inquired.

[LL] “Oh, he didn’t die. But he was about to. His wife said she’d kill him if he didn’t stop squandering their retirement savings playing poker.”

[RR] “I guess the books you got didn’t help him much”, Roderick the Rock ventured.

[LL] “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You can give a person a book to read, but you can’t make him think.”

[SS] “So, you like the books?” Stan the Stat asked.

[LL] “They’re a mixed bag, but in general I thought they were pretty good if a bit dated. I think you’d particularly like the history books though, Stan. Those are timeless.”

[SS] “Oh, absolutely. I’d love to borrow any of the ones you won’t be reading soon.”

[LL] “I’ll bring some to the next tournament.

Most of the books are from 1999 to 2009. But a few are older, starting with a classic, Doyle Brunson’s Super System, from 1979. Since I’m reading them in chronological order, that’s where I’ll start.”

[SS] “If I remember, Brunson originally self-published the material as How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker and sold it for $100 a pop in 1978.”

[LL] “That sounds about right. But that’s a fairly rare, valuable book. If my uncle had that he could have sold it and kept playing a little longer.”

[LL] “Anyway, Super System covers a lot of ground. Brunson got expert help for most of the poker variations:

  • Draw Poker: Mike Caro1 not only covers draw poker extensively but discusses tells long before his own book on the subject came out. He also contributed fifty pages worth of computer-calculated probability tables for the appendixes.
  • Seven-Card Stud: Chip Reese had just won the 1978 WSOP $1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split and went on to win the 1982 WSOP $5,000 Seven-Card Stud.
  • Lowball: Joey Hawthorne, a poker theorist, and Doyle Brunson cover Ace-to-Five, Deuce-to-Seven (which Brunson won the 1976 $5,000 event in), and Razz (which Brunson won the 1998 $1,500 event in).
  • Seven-Card Stud High-Low Split: David Sklansky would go on to write over a dozen of his own books on poker and gambling.
  • Limit Texas Hold ‘Em: Bobby Baldwin captured all four of his WSOP bracelets between 1977 and 1979, including the 1978 Main Event just after this book was published.
  • No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em: Doyle Brunson won four of his ten WSOP bracelets in No Limit Hold ‘Em, which has been his favorite since well before it even arrived in Las Vegas.

[LL] “There’s no arguing with Brunson’s credentials or how groundbreaking Super System was, but he did take a few missteps. He believes in poker ESP (‘I believe some good Poker players actually employ a degree of extrasensory perception’), rushes (‘After I’ve won a pot in No-Limit… I’m in the next pot — regardless of what two cards I pick up‘), and the weakness of female players (‘Nor do I like to see women at a Poker table’).2

Overall, though, this book is still an excellent primer for all the different poker variations it covers. I certainly learned a lot about Draw Poker and all the Stud variants that I wish I knew when I played them as a kid. We’ve started to play them more in the side games here, too.”

Title Doyle Brunson’s Super System
Author Doyle Brunson
Year 1979
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Covers several types of poker over a comprehensive 605 pages. Teaches what used to be an aggressive style of play.
Cons What used to be aggressive is just normal now and won’t work like it used to. Although much of his advice is still valid, Brunson published Super System 2 in 2005.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. The Draw Poker chapter is the only one Brunson didn’t write any of.
  2. The three quotes are from page 23, 450, and 24, respectively. To his credit, Brunson later retracted what he said about women, acknowledging that they could play just as aggressively as men in Poker Wisdom of a Champion.

    On the same page, Brunson also said, “I doubt that any of my children will decide to play professionally. It can be a very good life, and it has been for me, but my children haven’t come from the background that produced good Poker players.” Thirty-seven years later, his son Todd joined him in the Poker Hall of Fame.

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American Poker Awards


[SS] “The Global Poker Index may have started as just a way for the Epic Poker League to rank poker players,” Stan the Stat began, “but it continues to expand its universe. Last year, it created the Global Poker League, but the year before, in February 2015, the group bestowed the inaugural American Poker Awards for achievements in 2014.”

[LL] “And I thought Google was just an Internet search company and didn’t buy into its IPO”, Leroy the Lion admitted.

[SS] “Growing faster than the World Series of Poker, the American Poker Awards included 10 categories initially, which leaped to 15 in the second year, and increased 18 this time.

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners.”

American Poker Awards Winners, 2014 to 2016

Year 2014 2015 2016
Date February 27, 2015 February 25, 2016 (same day as GPL draft) February 23, 2017 (with American Poker Conference)
Location SLS Hotel (Beverly Hills, CA) SLS Hotel (Beverly Hills, CA) Sofitel Hotel (Beverly Hills, CA)
# of Awards 10 15 18
Breakout Performance of the Year1 Brandon Shack-Harris Joshua Beckley Maurice Hawkins
Industry Person of the Year WPT President Adam Pliska Matt Savage, TDA Founder, WPT Executive Director Sean McCormack, ARIA Director of Poker Operations
Media Person of the Year2 Online Poker Report’s Chris Grove Donnie Peters, Editor-In-Chief, Pokernews.Com Joseph Stapleton
Tournament Performance of the Year Mark Newhouse In WSOP Main Event Anthony Zinno, WPT L.A. Poker Classic Ari Engel, Aussie Millions Main Event
Media Content of the Year Brad Willis For PokerStars Blog’s “WSOP 2014: Stages / Never Stop Fighting” Joe Giron’s Elimination Photo of Daniel Negreanu in WSOP Main Event Bob, Charlie and a Life-Changing WSOP Main Event Journey (Lance Bradley, PocketFives)
Event of the Year3 World Series of Poker Main Event WPT Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown, Hollywood, Fl Super High Roller Bowl, ARIA, Las Vegas
Event of the Year (<=$2,000) WSOP Monster Stack WSOP Colossus, Rio All-Suites Hotel And Casino, Las Vegas
Charitable Initiative of the Year All In For Kids Poker Tournament Presented By Chop & WPT Foundation Charity Series of Poker, Matt Stout Dan Smith
Poker Innovation or Initiative of the Year4 Twitch For Live Streaming Poker WSOP Online Bracelet Event
Lifetime Achievement Award World Poker Tour Founder Steve Lipscomb Mike Sexton Mori Eskandani
GPI Player of the Year Dan Colman Byron Kaverman David Peters
GPI Female Player of the Year Vanessa Selbst Kelly Minkin Cate Hall
Poker’s Best Ambassador Daniel Negreanu
Moment of the Year Daniel Negreanu Busts 11th In WSOP Main Event Jason Mercier goes on historic one-week heater at the World Series of Poker
Jury Award Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers Matt Savage
Poker Presenter of the Year Kara Scott
GPI World Series of Poker Player of the Year Jason Mercier
Mid-Major Circuit of the Year WSOP Circuit
Twitch Streamer of the Year5 Jason Somerville (“jcarverpoker”)
Podcast of the Year Poker Life Podcast (Joe Ingram)
PocketFives Legacy Award Cliff Josephy
Hendon Mob Award John Holley

Notes:

  • Daniel Negreanu, who was the only person to win an award in both 2014 and 2015, was nominated for Podcast of the Year (Full Contact Poker) in 2016 but didn’t win.
  • Matt Savage collected his second award, receiving the Jury Prize for 2016 after being named Industry Person of the Year for 2015.

Footnotes:

  1. Originally called “Breakout Player of the Year” in 2014, this award goes to a player who had never won a major poker title before the year.
  2. “Poker Presenter of the Year”, which only existed in 2015, was merged back into the “Media Person of the Year” category.
  3. This was two awards, for events up to $2,000 and over $2,000 in 2014 and 2015.
  4. This was called “Poker Innovation of the Year” in 2014.
  5. This was split into a separate category from “Media Person of the Year” in 2016.

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