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“Poker Plays You Can Use” Review

[SS] “Perfect timing that you joined us just now, Iggy”, greeted Stan the Stat. “We were just discussing New Year’s Resolutions, and the first section was about improving your game!”

[II] “Oh, yeah. Half of my resolutions this year are about getting better at Hold ‘Em!” Iggy the Improver volunteered.

[RR] “What about the other fifty? {Chuckles.} How many new poker books did you get for Christmas?” Roderick the Rock asked.

[II] “Just two, but they’re really good ones.”

[SS] “Do tell.”

[II] “The first one is Poker Plays You Can Use by Doug Hull.”

[RR] “I’ve never heard of it…, or him.”

[II] “He’s not famous… yet. But his advice is very sensible without being obvious, straightforward without being dull. And, Stan, you’d really like the way he’s organized his book! Each ‘play’ is categorized by the weaknesses it exploits, the skills it uses, and a difficulty level.”

[SS] “That sounds awesome.”

[II] “Hull groups the plays by type and indicates the most closely related plays.”

[RR] “Can you give us an example?”

[II] “The sections are ‘Bluffs and Semi-bluffs’, ‘Getting Value’, ‘Good Folds’, and ‘Three-bet pots’.1 Since the first section contains almost sixty percent of the plays, here’s a medium-difficulty play from there.”

[II] “‘When a bad barreling card comes, wait for the river.’ This play takes advantage of tight, predictable opponents by utilizing the two-barrel bluff in your arsenal. After raising preflop and getting your continuation bet called by a nit, it may make sense to check the turn and bluff the river instead. For example, out of position, holding 8♥8♦ on a 3♠7♦9♥6♣ board, your opponent is likely ahead with top pair or an overpair and will call if you semi-bluff the turn with your straight draw and second pair. If he checks behind, however, when a K♣ appears on the river, you can represent top pair and take down the pot with a healthy river bet.”

Title Poker Plays You Can Use
Author Doug Hull
Year 2013
Skill Level Intermediate to Advanced
Pros Very well organized. Provides immediately useful suggestions. Includes in-game exercises to improve your skills.
Cons Too brief despite containing 306 pages (as that includes the exercises and appendixes)! With almost fifty plays, each play gets only about five pages. Also a tad pricey (list price $49.99 paperback, $44.99 ebook), although it has gone on sale at least once.
Rating 4.5

Footnotes:

  1. Both Rod and Stan would have had a minor quibble with the inconsistent capitalization, but that’s the wrong type of nit to pick on in this blog.

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“Harrington on Hold ’em” Review, Part 4

[RR] “You were complaining”,1 Roderick the Rock challenged Iggy the Improver, “that Harrington buried too much useful information in his problems. What general principles did you glean from the exercises, especially from his third book?”

[II] “Tons of stuff. But off the top of my head in no particular order:

  • Pay attention to everything. If you don’t know how your opponents are playing, you can’t read their actions accurately. The same exact bet in the same exact circumstance can have different meanings from different players. Before you have any history to work from, it’s okay to stereotype people’s likely playing styles by their looks. Chat people up to gather information.
  • The most profitable moves are usually the ones that go against type, which means that you need to know how the table perceives you. If you’ve been very tight, you can pull of the big bluff. If you’ve been very loose, you don’t need to slowplay when you get dealt pocket Aces.
  • Make your bets bigger out of position than in position. You don’t want to play out of position if you can help it.
  • The one advantage that being out of position has is that you have first-in fold vig. If two players have similar hands, the aggressive side will usually win.
  • Always know the pot odds. Overly cautious weak players tend to fold too often when they correctly know that they’re behind. On the other side, properly sizing your bets means making them big enough that it’s an error for your opponent to call when they’re behind. Going even one step further, figure out whether a standard raise from your opponent will put you all-in (or close) and what pot odds you’d be getting on that call. Determining whether you want to be all-in at that point can help you change your bet to an all-in instead.
  • Vary your play. In the same exact circumstance, you want to mix up how much you bet and how often you call instead of betting. It’s a game of information, and you want to deny your opponents that knowledge. Unfortunately, this makes your opponents harder to read, but that’s a second-order problem that you’ll have to live with.
  • Keep track of your M and adjust your play accordingly. Also take into account your opponent’s M when analyzing his actions, except for weaker players whom you think don’t know to do that.
  • Avoid confrontations with the biggest stack at the table if possible when you have a healthy amount of chips. Once you get short-stacked, it doesn’t matter who doubles you up, but keep in mind the 10-to-1 Rule, which means that a big stack may be calling you with any two cards when they have a ten-to-one chip advantage.
  • On the bubble, take the prize structure into consideration. Percentagewise, busting on the bubble when only three places are paid will likely cost you much more than busting on the bubble of a larger tournament. In most situations, folding to a raise to move up is often the right play.”

[RR] “Harrington didn’t call it ICM, but he explained the formula for the Independent Chip Model, which lets you figure out how much of the prize pool each chip stack is worth. It’s very complicated once you get past three players, so fortunately, you can just point your web browser to the ICM Poker Calculator and painlessly calculate payouts for up to ten people and prizes.”

[II] “Cool, I have to admit that I pretty muched skipped that math section. Do people actually chop the prizes here?”

[RR] “Occasionally, though mostly it’s when it gets to heads up, and the math there is very simple. I’ve seen bigger splits, but I think they just kind of winged it, so you may be able to get a better deal without resorting to ICM. If you don’t like the offer though, it may help you out.”

[II] “I hope I make it that far tonight!”

[RR] “Good luck!”

Footnotes:

  1. See the introduction in Part 1 from three weeks ago and the next two posts.
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“Harrington on Hold ’em” Review, Part 3

[II] “Volume II1 was the real eye-opener for me”, Iggy the Improver admitted to Roderick the Rock. “I mostly played cash games before I joined started playing here, so I’m not really used to the dynamics of tournament play. Ever-increasing blinds, short stacks, money bubbles, deal-making…”

[RR] “And that’s without even mentioning table balancing, dead buttons, reentries, and add-ons”, Roderick contributed.

[II] “The book actually starts with Making Moves, which isn’t specifically for the endgame. That chapter really should have gone into Volume I, which was 64 pages shorter anyway.”

[RR] “He probably had a publishing deadline to meet ;-).”

[II] “Good stuff nonetheless: bluffing, continuation betting (and defense against), probe bets, squeeze plays, semi-bluffs, back-alley muggings, dark tunnel bluffs (okay, he advises against that one), slow-playing, massaging the pot, check-raise bluffing, Post-Oak bluffing, BSB play, and smallball versus longball. He probably could have expanded each of those into an entire chapter if he wanted to.”

[RR] “If he’d written five volumes instead of three, he might have scared too many potential readers away. You were already complaining beforehand about its current length.”

[II] “The next section was the best. I’d already heard of Harrington’s colored zones,2 but it was interesting to get the details from the horse’s mouth. But I don’t like the name ‘Inflection Point’. In math, the term means that the curvature has changed direction. Green-to-yellow-to-orange-to-red is really more of a rainbow continuum. I think you make the same play whether your M is 10.1 or 9.9.”

[RR] “I think that he was referring to the sharp changes when you win or lose a big pot or the blinds go up. In some faster tournaments, a blind increase can halve your M instantaneously. A drop from 12 to 6 certainly qualifies as a significant difference.”

[II] “Fair enough. But I think it’s the zones that matter, not the somewhat arbitrary and mathematically infinitesimal ‘points’. Even Harrington himself rounds all his M calculations so roughly that he could think he was in one zone when he’s actually in another. To use the Crayola 64-color scale, between orange and red, there are orange red and red orange crayons, which are so close to each other that most men can’t tell them apart. As long as you know roughly what color you are, you can adjust properly.”

[RR] “His colored zones are probably the most famous thing he’s ever written about. I especially like his football analogy, even if ‘Red Zone’ has completely different meanings in the two contexts.”

[II] “Agreed. The Green Zone is like having plenty of time on the clock. Then as you work down toward the Red and Dead Zones, you need to hurry up, abandon the running game, and avoid the middle of the field unless you’re at the two-minute warning or are prepared to use a timeout.”

[RR] “Stealing the blinds is a sideline completion for a first down. It gets you a little closer but not much (buys you one more loop around the table).”

[II] “Folding is like spiking the ball to kill the clock. It gets you another hand but otherwise hasn’t helped your cause.”

[RR] “Pushing all-in with a small pair is a Hail Mary. If it gets intercepted… game over!”

[II] “Except that if you get called and double up you still have a long way to go to win.”

[RR] “So it’s more like scoring a touchdown when you’re down 21 in the 3rd quarter.”

[II] “Also, both sides can be in Harrington’s Red Zone as one side drives toward a potential game-winning score in the final seconds, like being heads up to win a tournament with crushing blinds.”

[RR] “Of course, some hyperaggressive maniacs act like the clock is running out all game and run a fast-tempo, no-huddle offense for four quarters.”

… {to be continued}

Footnotes:

  1. Harrington on Hold ’em, Volume II: The Endgame. See the introduction in Part 1 from two weeks ago.
  2. See More About M.
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“Harrington on Hold ’em” Review, Part 2

[RR] Mingling before the tournament, Roderick the Rock sought out Iggy the Improver to see how his studying1 had gone. “Are you ready to join the hopeful hordes of Harringbots?”

[II] “Heartily! I devoured all three Harrington on Hold’em books in less than a week, so I even went back and reread some of the sections that I thought were the most important”, Iggy confirmed.

[RR] “Such as?”

[II] “Well, certainly the Elements of a Hand that you mentioned. I read that a few times. The Betting Patterns chapter about paying attention to what hands people are playing and how they play them was short but good. I definitely need to improve my powers of observation. Probably my memory too!”

[RR] “Don’t we all.”

[II] “The Hand Analysis chapter wasn’t entirely new to me, but Harrington states it very succinctly, summarizing all the preflop hand matchups on just over one page.”

[RR] “Is that the section where he says that everyone bluffs at least ten percent of the time?”

[II] “Yes. He calls it Harrington’s Law of Bluffing.”

[RR] “Dan was clearly talking about players better than this field! Mildred the Mouse would probably sweat and shake uncontrollably if she ever tried to bluff.”

[II] “She’s probably the only one here who bluffs less than you do though; if she’s as tight as a snare drum, you’re a bass drum.”

[II] “In the problems at the end of that chapter, he said one thing that really stuck in mind: if you’re first to act on the river with less than the pot left in your stack, you should bet your less-than-great hands any time you think you’d call a bet anyway. You might get a call from a weaker hand (and I suppose you also gain fold vig).”

[RR] “That’s very chess-like thinking. If I check, how will I respond to what my opponent does? A three-ply search tree.”

[II] “The Betting Before the Flop chapter was amazing. I got the general idea fairly quickly, but he went into so much detail I’ll probably never remember everything he said.”

[RR] “That’s where he says exactly what percent of the time you should limp and what percentage of the time you should raise to different amounts, right?”

[II] “Again, he’s talking about stronger players than we have here. I get it that you can’t make the same play every time, but he seems to give people credit for computer-like perfect memories.”

[RR] “Agreed. We’re neither that observant of nor that sensitive to preflop bet sizing.”

[II] “The Betting After the Flop was good but way too short, relatively. I understand that the complexity prevents a complete analysis, but Harrington copped out by telling you to ‘carefully study the problems’ at the end of the chapter. How do you carefully study almost 50 pages?”

[RR] “He had a lot of good ideas but couldn’t find the unifying themes, so he tossed out a ton of random advice and hoped some of it would stick.”

[II] “Same thing for the turn and river. He mashed them together into a mere fourteen pages, followed by seven problems. Great stuff but way too brief.”

[RR] “Funny, last month you were complaining that the books were too long; now you’re saying they’re too short!”

… {to be continued}

Footnotes:

  1. See the introduction in last week’s article.
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“Harrington on Hold ’em” Review, Part 1

[RR] “Here you go, Iggy”, Roderick the Rock said as he handed Iggy the Improver a set of three books. “If you want to learn how to play No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em tightly, the Harrington on Hold ’em trilogy is what you really want to read. The three volumes cover Strategic Play, The Endgame, and The Workbook. You can borrow all three books at once because I’m sure you can get through them all by next month’s tournament.”

[II] “Thanks. Sure seems like a lot of reading though. Maybe I should just take Volume I for now”, Iggy responded.

[RR] “There are almost 1,200 pages in total, but it moves pretty quickly. None of Harrington’s concepts are particularly difficult, and many of the pages are examples. Like a good novel that you don’t want to put down, you’ll look forward to each new chapter. Even better, once it ends in book two, you’ll have a whole ‘nother volume to enjoy to reinforce what you’ve learned. Since Harrington was a chess master, let me use a chess analogy. You don’t want to read just Volume I because it would be like only learning opening moves and middle game play. If you want to win a tournament, you need to know how to play the endgame, too, and that’s Volume II. Volume III is mostly practice time, but it does includes some additional tips.”

[II] “Can I at least skip the beginning of Volume I?”

[RR] “Sure. You can jump over the introduction and rules of the game, but you should read the rest of Part One of Volume I. Even the simply titled Elements of a Hand, which lists eleven things to consider as you look at your hole cards, is a must-read. If you run out of time and can’t finish Volume III, that’s okay. It’s a bit lower quality than the other two books and nowhere near as educational.”

Title Harrington on Hold ’em (3 volumes)
Author Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie
Year 2004, 2005, and 2006
Skill Level Intermediate to Advanced
Pros Thorough explanation of how to play No Limit tournaments, adjusting for the size of your position, your chip stack, and your opponents.
Cons A little too tight for most casual players (who might get bored folding so much even if it works).
Rating 4.5 (out of five) for Volume I and Volume II; 2.5 for Volume III
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“Phil Hellmuth’s Texas Hold’em” Review

[DD] As the players are moving to their tables to start the tournament, Deb the Duchess discovered that Iggy the Improver and Roderick the Rock would be sharing the felt with her again. “So Iggy, did you finish the book, what was it…?”

[II] “The Everything Hold’em Book“,1 Iggy answered. “Yes, I’m already half way done with the next one.”

[RR] “Which would be?” Rod inquired, hoping to obtain some very useful information.

[II] “Phil Hellmuth’s Texas Hold’em.”2

[RR] “You must have a very strong stomach.”

[II] “How so?”

[RR] “Phil spends half the book bragging about hands that he’s played and tournaments and bracelets that he’s won. I’ll give him credit for not going overboard, but he also shills for the now defunct Ultimate Bet and his own web site, where you get to listen to him brag about all the famous people he hangs out with.”

[DD] “So you really like the book ;-).”

[RR] “I wouldn’t have bothered reading it, but my wife gave it to me as a gift, so I sort of felt obligated. Definitely an hour of my life I’d like back though.”

[II] After folding every hand for almost an hour, Iggy finally raised under the gun to two times the big blind. Everyone folded. The button orbited three more times around the table before the Iggy opened again, this time a min-raise in middle position with the blinds at 200/400. Again everyone folded, and Iggy grumbled, “I finally get a hand, and nobody wants to play.” Roderick and Deb glanced at each other with a smile but said nothing. Ten hands later, Iggy was short-stacked enough to shove a pair of Nines in late position. The button called with A♦Q♦, hit a Queen on the flop, and sent Iggy packing.

[RR] In the postmortem after Rod and Deb had busted out just inside the money, Rod had some advice for Iggy, “So, not only were you playing Limit Hold ‘Em in a No Limit tournament today, but you were playing so tight even Figaro the Fish noticed.”

[II] “I was just doing what Phil told me to do. He’s won umpteen bracelets playing tight.”

[DD] “He wants everyone to think that so he gets respect for his bets.”

[RR] “Tight play can work in a deep cash game, but in a tournament the blinds will eat up your stack, as you saw. I take it you were playing just his top ten hands: a pair of Nines or higher, Ace-King, and Ace-Queen?”3

[II] “True.”

[RR] “That’s just five percent of all hands. You can’t win a tournament if you’re only playing one out of every twenty hands!”

[RR] “When you get to the No Limit chapters, you’ll see that Hellmuth opens up his playable range to the top fifteen4: any pair, Ace-King, and Ace-Queen. That’s still only eight percent of all hands, or one out of every twelve hands. I’m probably the tightest player here normally, and that’s way too tight even for me. You’re not a beginner, so Hellmuth says you can add suited Aces. That gets you over eleven percent, more than one in nine hands. That’s pretty close to what I play not including limps in multiway pots and blind steals.”

[RR] “But I honestly wouldn’t even bother finishing the book. If you like tight play, read the Harrington on Hold ‘Em series instead.”

Title Phil Hellmuth’s Texas Hold’em
Author Phil Hellmuth
Year 2005 (originally published 2003)
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Decent introduction to Texas Hold ‘Em. Plenty of poker stories.
Cons Mostly about Limit Hold ‘Em, with just a couple short chapters on No Limit. Recommends play that’s too tight.
Rating 2.5 (out of five) for No Limit players; 3.0 for Limit players

Footnotes:

  1. Covered in last week’s article, “The Everything Texas Hold’em Book” Review.
  2. The link provided above points to the 2009 Kindle version, as that includes a “Look Inside” feature with the table of contents, introduction, and first chapter. You may prefer the paperback version.
  3. Hellmuth ignores suitedness. Most players count suited and offsuit hands as different starting hands, so the top ten is really the top twelve.
  4. Again, that ignores suitedness, so actually seventeen hands.
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“The Everything Texas Hold’em Book” Review

[DD] Moved to a new table shortly after the rebuy period ended, Deb the Duchess was pretty short-stacked but not so much that she needed to shove preflop. With A♠5♠ in middle position she limped and Iggy the Improver min-raised from the button. “Why so small?” Deb wondered aloud, hoping to gain some information.

[II] As the blinds folded, Iggy responded, “That’s my standard raise today.”

[RR] “That can only mean…” Roderick the Rock speculated. “What new book are you reading now?”

[II] “I’ve been running really bad lately, so I thought I’d go back to the basics. I’m about two-thirds done rereading The Everything Texas Hold’em Book.”

[RR] “Well, as beginner’s books go, that one’s not too bad”, Rod commented with a sly smile. “It even gets into some intermediate skills.”

[DD] After the blinds folded, Deb made the easy call, and the flop produced A♥8♠3♠. “Check”, Deb announced, hoping to check-raise all-in with her top pair and nut flush draw. But when Iggy min-bet, she called instead, since now she could see the turn almost for free.

The turn was an innocent-looking 6♦. Deb checked again to see what Iggy would do, and he min-bet again! The Duchess couldn’t fold but still didn’t want to risk her stack and settled for another call. The river was the 6♠, making her flush. One final check, expecting another min-bet, would let her shove all-in for just over the pot. Iggy obliged, and Deb counted to ten before announcing her all-in raise.

[DD] Iggy insta-called while flipping over pocket Aces for the full house, and Deb sadly showed her flush while getting up to leave. “You slowplayed that the whole way.”

[II] “No, I wasn’t trying to…”

[DD] Later in the evening after Iggy and Rod had busted out of the tournament and joined Deb, the Duchess asked the Improver, “What was all that min-betting about if you weren’t slowplaying?”

[RR] Before Iggy could answer though, Roderick intervened, “I didn’t think it would be fair to Iggy to say this earlier, but The Everything Hold’em Book is mostly about Limit Hold ‘Em.”

[AA/DD] “Oh!” cried Iggy and Deb simultaneously.

[RR] “It’s a bit of shame, too, since it’s a pretty good book otherwise.”

[II] “I agree. It has a straightforward introduction to Hold ‘Em and covers outs, pot odds, position, domination, and player types. It also has a bunch of great charts.”

[RR] “Yep, just don’t expect anything remotely useful about bet sizing. The two No Limit Tournament chapters that you haven’t gotten to yet don’t even cover the topic. While you can definitely glean some helpful information throughout the book, it isn’t appropriate for us No Limit players.”

Title The Everything Texas Hold’em Book
Author John “Johnny Quads” Wenzel
Year 2006
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Solid introduction to Texas Hold ‘Em. Includes lots of useful charts. Covers all the basics plus some intermediate material.
Cons Too much about Limit Hold ‘Em and not enough about No Limit. Except for the two chapters specifically about No Limit Tournaments, every piece of advice refers to Limit.
Rating 2.0 (out of five) for No Limit players; 4.0 for Limit players
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