Category Archives: Reviews

“Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em” Review

[LL] “As much as I like T.J. Cloutier poker playing skills, he actually may not be that effective as a teacher because he’s too talented“, Leroy the Lion bemoaned.

[RR] “You mean that he’s too good to relate to us mere mortals?” Roderick the Rock suggested.

[LL] “Exactly. In Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em, which he cowrote with Tom McEvoy, Cloutier says that you should be able to remember the 30 or 40 key hands from an 8-hour poker session!”

[RR] “That’s pretty much every hand I don’t fold preflop.”

[LL] “I’ll be lucky to remember 3 or 4, at least in terms of who was in the hand, all of the cards, and the approximate bet sizes. I can usually recall a couple of big double ups and bad beats…”

[RR] “And of course, the hand that knocked me out of the tournament!”

[YY] “That’s why hand recaps are so great when you play online. You’ve got a complete, perfect recording of every hand!” Yuri the Young Gun noted.

[LL] “He really needs a training course on how to remember everything he wants you to remember. This is one of the reasons why I like playing online so much… I can write down all the notes I want without anyone knowing or complaining.”

[YY] “You could use a HUD, too.”

[LL] “Yes, a heads-up display with everyone’s stats would be tremendously useful, but I’m sure Google Glass and its ilk will always be banned from live poker events.

Anyway, if you can get by the problem that you don’t have T.J. Cloutier’s photographic memory, the rest of the book is pretty good, albeit quite tight by modern standards, not that I’m saying that can’t work anymore if you adjust for how much looser everyone else is playing.

Although the book covers both the Pot-Limit and No-Limit variations of Texas Hold ‘Em in separate chapters, most of the advice applies to both. The differences are mainly preflop where in Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em, you can play more speculative hands like suited connectors and suited Aces because the raises are usually smaller than in No-Limit Hold ‘Em. Cloutier likes making pot-sized bets in No-Limit though, making the postflop differences even smaller. The all-in bet distinguishes No-Limit Hold ‘Em from Pot-Limit, but the book doesn’t really discuss it, as it conflicts with the authors’ conservative styles.

Some of their other main points across variations:

  • Observe how your opponents are playing. Everything depends on this, since the same exact bet from two different players can mean very different things.
  • In tournaments, play tight and solid early, open up during the middle stage, attack at the bubbles, but let other players knock each other out to get to the final table. Once you’re at the final table, play to reach third place, where the big money starts. Then you can play for the win.
  • If you want to win a World Series of Poker bracelet, which should be the ‘goal of every serious tournament player’, you’ll get better practice in single-table satellites than supersatellites as the former will have better quality players.”

The book includes twenty practice hands, which are loaded with high pairs and Ace-King, since those are the hands he wants you to be playing.

Before the conclusion, the book winds down with a couple of entertaining but not very educational chapters of poker stories (also sprinkled throughout the earlier sections) and an interview of Cloutier by Dana Smith.”

Title Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em
Author Tom McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier
Year 1997 (2004 update)
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Fairly deep thinking about both Pot-Limit and No-Limit Hold ‘Em, especially for the different stages of deep-stack tournaments. Thorough preflop and postflop advice. Amusing anecdotes.
Cons Supertight style needs to be adapted for modern play. Too much “intuition” and fuzzy math. Expects you to have a great memory.
Rating 3.0

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“The Education of a Poker Player” Review

[LL] “The oldest poker book I’ve read is older than I am”, Leroy the Lion claimed.

[RR] “Super System isn’t nearly as old as you are”, Roderick the Rock countered.

[LL] “That was only the second oldest. Near the end of his life in 1957, cryptologist Herbert O. Yardley penned a classic poker book that has been called ‘the poker bible before Doyle published Super System‘. The Education of a Poker Player2 chronicles two main times in Yardley’s life when he played poker: as a young adult at a local tavern and later in life as a code-breaker in China.”

[RR] “Whoa, a poker book set in China?”

[LL] “Indeed, and one of the main characters is the author’s Chinese translator whom he teaches what he learned in the first part of the book.

Yardley’s book is entertaining enough to be read solely for its stories as most of the poker instruction is separated out in between the plot. But if you want to learn how to play various old types of poker — Five-Card Draw (with and without wild cards), Five-Card Draw Low, Five-Card Stud, and Seven-Card Stud (High, Low, and High-Low) — you could skip the story and focus on the poker. Then you’d miss what makes this one of the most readable poker books though; it’s even a bit raunchy at times.”

[RR] “An R-rated poker book?”

[LL] “Closer to PG-13, but still pretty out there for 1957. As are some of the poker variations in the third part of the book: Five-Card Stud with the Joker, Six-Card Stud (which gone the way of the B battery), and several Seven-Card Stud variations: Betty Hutton (9s and 5s wild), Doctor Pepper (2s, 4s, and Tens wild), Razz, HIgh Hand with the Joker, Low Hand with the Joker, Hi-Lo with the Joker, Baseball (3s and 9s wild with 4s giving an extra down card), Football (ditto but with 4s, 6s, and 2s), Low Spade-High Hand (a.k.a. Chicago), Low Hole Card Wild; and Five-Card Draw with the Joker, Low Ball with the Joker, and Spit in the Ocean (Five-Card Draw with Deuces Wild and a fifth, wild card shared by everyone.

Overall, Yardley’s instruction is a bit basic and a bit tight but can still be useful if you find yourself in dealer’s choice games with old school players as it mostly covers games that are no longer played in casinos.”

Title The Education of a Poker Player
Author Herbert O. Yardley
Year 1957
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Well-written with poker instruction interwoven into an interesting non-fiction plot.
Cons Dated (albeit mostly with regards to the poker varieties played) and extremely tight play.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. Jon Pill’s review also goes into detail on Yardley’s career.
  2. Yardley’s book is not to be confused with James McManus’s 2015 novel by the same name. The poker author unabashedly borrowed the title from the older book because his young male protagonist Vincent Killeen occasionally plays poker and learns his skills from Yardley’s book. McManus’s story is well-written and worth reading if you like coming-of-age novels but decidedly not much of a poker book.
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“Championship Hold’em Tournament Hands” Review

[LL] “Championship Hold’em Tournament Hands is really two books in one”, Leroy the Lion explained. “Fortunately, the strategy sections were written by a WSOP Main Event winner, Tom McEvoy. Unfortunately, over half of his chapters discuss Limit Hold ‘Em. Fortunately, even without those, the book still has over 200 pages. Unfortunately, the 1983 champ spends 22 of them on how to play a pair of Aces in the hole, a hand you’ll only get once every 221 hands. Fortunately, T.J. Cloutier’s part of the book on important tournament hands is excellent. Unfortunately, he fills less than a third of the book. Fortunately, most of the hands are the pivotal hands from the World Series of Poker Main Event. Unfortunately, he only covers 1978 to 2001, so an entire decade was already missing when the book was published (and now it’s less than half of the years).”

[RR] “She loves me… she loves me not…” Roderick the Rock suggested.

[LL] “I could barely bring myself to read another 150 pages on Limit Hold ‘Em. I’ve never even played the game against human opponents. In 2016, the World Series of Poker had twelve No Limit Hold ‘Em tournaments for every Limit Hold ‘Em tournament, which is already a pretty big ratio. More telling, 90 times as many players entered the No Limit events!”1

[RR] “Times have changed. Don’t blame the authors.”

[LL] “You’re right. I’ll give the book a pass on the Limit sections and only say that McEvoy wants you to play supertight, especially in early position. Players he described as ‘Super Aggressors’ then are almost considered average now.

For No Limit Hold ‘Em, McEvoy dedicates a short section to each of the top nine hands (Aces through Tens, Ace-King to Ace-Jack, and King-Queen2) plus Ace-Wheel,3 Middle Pairs, Small Pairs, and Middle Suited Connectors, with everything else folded. Some of these sections are split into Early, Middle, Late Position, and occasionally the Blinds. This means the advice, as accurate as it may be, is necessarily very brief. In general, McEvoy recommends playing very tightly, which is certainly an excellent beginner’s strategy.”

[RR] “Sounds a lot like Phil Hellmuth’s advice.”

[LL] “Very similar. They even have a common weakness that I might have glossed over when I talked about Play Poker Like the Pros… The advice is very heavy on preflop hand selection and very light on everything after that. I think the implication is that if you pick the right hands to play, good results will follow. If only it were that simple.”

[RR] “I think that’s more applicable in Limit games where the bets are only twice as big on the river as they are preflop.”

[LL] “This book certainly could have used a second part covering postflop play. But the actual second part was my favorite part of the book, the last third (actually closer to a quarter), covered 44 key hands from the WSOP Main Event plus one from the 2002 Four Queens Classic.4 Only about a quarter of these hands are the final hands of the event, so many were new to me. Cloutier gives the back story where it’s relevant, includes most of the details like blind, stack, and bet sizes, and offers some analysis of the play. It was fascinating to read about some of the most important hands in the history of poker.”

Title Championship Hold’em Tournament Hands
Author Tom McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier
Year 2003 (2005 edition)
Skill Level Beginner (strategy)/Any (hand recaps)
Pros Solid, basic advice on playing Limit and No Limit Hold ‘Em. Excellent collection of important WSOP Main Event hands.
Cons Over half of the book is on Limit Hold ‘Em, and all of the advice is a bit tight for modern play.
Rating 3.0 (2.5 for the strategy and 4.0 for the hands)

Footnotes:

  1. The No Limit Hold ‘Em section of this book includes a few scattered notes about how play would differ for the Pot Limit variation, which was last contested in the WSOP in 2015.
  2. McEvoy discounts the value of suitedness greatly, saying on page 21, “…we want you to understand that the ranks of the cards are more important than whether they are suited.” Modern players probably value suited Aces and Kings much more highly than he did.
  3. Ace-Wheel means an Ace with a Deuce, Trey, Four, or Five.
  4. Actually, although 45 hands are featured, several others are mentioned bringing the total over fifty.

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“Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People” Review

[LL] “Amarillo Slim Preston’s life story parallels Byron Wolford’s in many ways”, Leroy the Lion began. “They were born in the South less than two years apart around the Great Depression. Both made an unconventional living before poker, Preston playing pool, and Wolford roping calves. Both formerly worked illegally as bookies. Both were charismatic hustlers who loved prop bets and became road gamblers. Both dressed like cowboys when they played poker. Both excelled at No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em, their favorite game. And their tournament results were comparable. Slim won four WSOP bracelets and had eleven cashes to Cowboy’s one and nine, while Wolford won almost twice as much money.”

[SS] “Were they friends?” Stan the Stat wondered.

[LL] “Yes, although Preston never moved to Las Vegas like Wolford did. Wolford evoked tears reading his poem about Preston at Slim’s Poker Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 1992.”

[LL] “The biggest thing that set them apart, and it was a pretty big thing, was that Preston won the WSOP Main Event, while Wolford’s best result was second place. Amarillo Slim converted his victory into a tremendous amount of publicity for both himself and poker, appearing on television regularly and becoming the most recognizable poker player in the world for decades. Preston was like Wolford, only bigger, badder, and crazier. And so it is with their two books; Amarillo Slim’s autobiography has more interesting stories from his more exciting life.

Born as Thomas Preston in Arkansas, by high school he went by his middle name Austin or his nickname ‘Curly’. But when he sprouted straight up to 6’3″, he became ‘Slim’. At 16 years old, he met legendary pool hustler Minnesota Fats1 and decided that he would henceforth go by the moniker ‘Amarillo Slim’. At 20, he stole his friend’s girlfriend and got married only a few months later. For most of the 1950’s his wife Helen, their son Thomas Austin Preston III, and he traveled the country where he would hustle pool, often with the family there to help him look like an amateur. When their daughter Rebecca was born in 1959, though, Preston decided that poker was a relatively more stable way to make a living. He left his family behind and became partners with Doyle Brunson, sharing transportation, lodging, and a bankroll. They were also bookies for a while but exited the business when the 1961 Federal Wire Act2 made it too risky even for them.”

[SS] “The threat of a long jail sentence can do that.”

[LL] “They were also doing well enough playing poker to want to focus on it. It’s too bad the book doesn’t show much of their actually playing. This is a story book that happens to be about a poker player, not a poker strategy book that happens to have some stories.”

[RR] “Couldn’t it have been both?”

[LL] “There is some implicit poker advice throughout the book, such as in the detailed recounting of the 1972 WSOP Main Event. At least Preston does dedicate one short section to lay out:

Amarillo Slim’s Top Ten Keys to Poker Success

  1. Play the players…
  2. Choose the right opponents…
  3. Never play with money you can’t afford to lose.
  4. Be tight and aggressive…
  5. Always be observing…
  6. Watch the other players for “tells”…
  7. Diversify your play…
  8. Choose your speed based on the direction of the game…
  9. Be able to quit a loser…
  10. Conduct yourself honorably…”

[SS] “That’s better advice than I’ve read in some entire poker books.”

[LL] “Nevertheless, you want to read this for the stories, which are plentiful. Amarillo Slim crossed paths with many famous gamblers and several non-poker celebrities, including singers Kenny Rogers3 and Willie Nelson (beat him in dominoes); Presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson; actors George Segal, Elliott Gould, and Bob Hope; television host Johnny Carson; and daredevil Evel Knievel (whom he beat in a golf match employing a hammer for a club).”4

Title Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People
Author Amarillo Slim Preston and Greg Dinkin
Year 2003 (paperback 2005)
Skill Level Any
Pros Very entertaining tales from a Texas road gambler.
Cons Not much actual poker.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. Rudolf Walter Wanderone Jr. called himself “New York Fats” until The Hustler, based on the Walter Tevis novel of the same name, came out in 1961. Wanderone initially sued Tevis for his Minnesota Fats character but eventually realized that he’d benefit much more by actually becoming “Minnesota Fats”.
  2. The 1961 Federal Wire Act made it illegal to transmit across state lines any information that could be used to place bets.
  3. Although Amarillo Slim claims to have helped Kenny Rogers write his famous song, “The Gambler”, the story appears apocryphal. Don Schlitz wrote the song in 1976, and Rogers had already made the major change from “You gotta know when to hold up, know when to fold up” to “… hold ’em,… fold ’em” before Preston got involved. The next line, which Preston claims to have inspired — “Know when to walk away, know when to run” — was already in the song.
  4. Preston also famously defeated top tennis pro and renowned hustler Bobby Riggs in table tennis by stipulating that frying pans would serve as paddles. Once that ruse became known, Amarillo Slim beat a later opponent, a professional table tennis player, by switching to coke bottles. Therein lies the key to a successful prop bet: Preston would practice ahead of time to ensure he had the advantage.
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“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 to 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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“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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