“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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