Card Player Player of the Year: Jake Schindler

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

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

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

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

[LL] “Player of the Year?”

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

[RR] “Wow!”

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

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

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

Card Player Player of the Year – 1997 to 2003

Year Winner
1997 Men Nguyen
1998 T.J. Cloutier
1999 Tony Ma
2000 David Pham
2001 Men Nguyen
2002 T.J. Cloutier
2003 Men Nguyen

Card Player Player of the Year – 2004 to Present

Year Winner Points Runner-Up Points Margin
2004 Daniel Negreanu 8,764 David Pham 7,068 19.4%
2005 Men Nguyen 5,204 John Phan 4,428 14.9%
2006 Michael Mizrachi 5,989 Nam Le 5,215 12.9%
2007 David Pham 6,562 J.C. Tran 5,748 12.4%
2008 John Phan 6,704 David Pham 6,022 10.2%
2009 Eric Baldwin 6,994 Cornel Cimpan 5,934 15.2%
2010 Tom Marchese 6,738 Dwyte Pilgrim 5,576 17.2%
2011 Ben Lamb 6,036 Chris Moorman 5,875 2.7%
2012 Greg Merson 5,100 Dan Smith 5,040 1.2%
2013 Daniel Negreanu 5,140 Paul Volpe 4,298 16.4%
2014 Daniel Colman 5,498 Ami Barer 5,042 8.3%
2015 Anthony Zinno 6,632 Joe Kuether 6,070 8.5%
2016 David Peters 8,601 Fedor Holz 7,058 17.9%
2017 Adrian Mateos 7,220 Bryn Kenney 7,173 0.7%
2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 Stephen Chidwick 8,845 6.0%

Notes:

  • Men Nguyen won the award a record four times (1997, 2001, 2003, and 2005).
  • T.J. Cloutier (1998 and 2002), David Pham (2000 and 2007), and Daniel Negreanu (2004 and 2013) have won twice each.
  • Negreanu outpointed second place by the largest (2004) and third largest (2013) margins. Merson (2012) eked by with the smallest margin. Mateos edged Kenney by a mere 47 points (0.7%) for the 2017 crown. Fedor Holz finished third for a second consecutive medal finish.

Here are the all-time records for Points, Titles, and Final Tables with data going back to the rule changes of 2004.

Most Player of the Year Points

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 6 31 $8,731,019
2 2018 Stephen Chidwick 8,845 5 26 $9,950,805
3 2004 Daniel Negreanu 8,764 4 11 $4,420,221
4 2016 David Peters 8,601 5 22 $7,370,255
5 2018 Alex Foxen 8,259 5 18 $6,606,037
6 2018 David Peters 8,059 7 26 $10,598,504
7 2018 Justin Bonomo 7,752 10 23 $25,295,441
8 2017 Adrian Mateos 7,220 4 22 $5,664,635
9 2017 Bryn Kenney 7,173 5 23 $8,201,128
10 2004 David Pham 7,068 5 15 $1,533,268

Notes:

  • David Peters and Justin Bonomo became the first players to finish in the Top 10 in a season four times. David Pham was the first player to finish in the Top 10 three times way back in 2008. Jason Mercier matched him in 2015, Bonomo and Peters in 2016, and Schindler in 2018.
  • Erik Seidel, Jason Mercier, Joseph Mckeehen, and David Peters are the only players to finish in the Top 25 five times. Phan, Dan Smith, Daniel Negreanu, J.C. Tran, John Juanda, Steve O’Dwyer, Erick Lindgren, Nick Petrangelo, and Schindler have each done it four times. Mckeehen has the record with five straight, one ahead of Tran and Petrangelo (both Mckeehen’s and Petrangelo’s streaks are alive).
  • Vanessa Selbst is the only women to finish in the Top 25, which she had done three times with two Top 10 finishes before retiring at the start of 2018.

Most Titles

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2018 Justin Bonomo 7,752 10 23 $25,295,441
2 2018 David Peters 8,059 7 26 $10,598,504
3 2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 6 31 $8,731,019
2018 Rainer Kempe 5,924 26 $5,464,179
2018 Sam Soverel 3,355 18 $2,522,258
2005 John Hoang 3,267 17 $492,817
2018 Sean H. Yu 1,206 13 $190,027
2008 Men Nguyen 3,662 10 $776,832
2012 Dan Smith 5,040 9 $3,673,806
2018 David Brookshire 1,758 9 $284,817

Notes:

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

Most Final Tables

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

Notes:

  • Like the previous two lists, 2018 obliterated the old standings with six new entries including the top four.
  • Luong topped this list from 2004 until 2016 but is hardly a household name. The Californian has never won a WSOP bracelet, and his biggest cash was $290,792 for a runner-up finish in a WSOP circuit event in 2007.

Highest Earnings

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

Notes:

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

Footnotes:

  1. In 2012, Greg Merson beat Dan Smith by 60 points (5,100 to 5,040) for a 1.18% margin, while Mateos overcame Kenney by just 57 points and a mere 0.65%.
  2. Mateos first made a name for himself by winning the 2013 WSOP Europe Main Event in 2013 when he was just 19.
  3. Jamie Gold is notably missing from the list because it was one of the years where the WSOP Main Event didn’t count toward the standings.
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“Cowboys Full” Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[LL] “I wouldn’t.”

[RR] “But if you really had to…”

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

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

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

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“Ghosts at the Table” Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[LL] “That didn’t really exist yet.

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes:

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

[LL] “Peter Alson is just months away from marrying his long-term girlfriend and has written the screenplay for a movie that’s about to start filming in New York,” relayed Leroy the Lion, “but that doesn’t stop him from going to Las Vegas to play poker for a month. His interest in the World Series of Poker began when he read a Sports Illustrated article while in college in 1976, and now, nearly three decades later, he’s managed to get an advance to write a book about his experience playing in the world’s most famous poker tournament.”

[RR] “Some players scrape up $10,000 to buy directly into the Main Event, some satellite in, and apparently at least once a year, a writer bamboozles a publisher to get paid to play it”, Roderick the Rock suggested.

[LL] “That sounds about right. Alson acknowledges The Biggest Game in Town by Al Avarez (who would write about the WSOP a second time from a player’s perspective in Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats), Big Deal by Anthony Holden, and Positively Fifth Street by James McManus, but each writer brings his own perspective to the task. Alson was inspired by Alvarez to play poker, and over a quarter century later, to try to qualify for the Main Event via a PokerStars online satellite a la Chris Moneymaker.”

[RR] “That makes sense. It’d be a short story if his publisher bought him directly into the Main Event, then he lasted only a few blind levels.”

[LL] “Agreed. Alson provides the requisite summary of the history of the WSOP from the early days up through Greg Raymer’s 2004 victory, which was the final full event at the Horseshoe1 (conveniently replaying on ESPN on the hotel room television). But his journey begins far from Vegas, on his laptop playing on PokerStars. After a particular tough run, in frustration he deletes the app and, after a break, ends up resuming his quest later on the computer of poker pro Shane Schleger,2 who also gives him advice.

The story returns to Las Vegas, starting with the cliche flying-into-Las-Vegas chapter. Alson had been to the WSOP way back in the late 1980s to cover the World Series of Poker (and the Super Bowl of Poker) for The Village Voice and Esquire and played in the Media Tournament a few times without reaching the final table. He finally played in an open event in 2001 and cashed in one preliminary event; he even played in the Main Event but didn’t cash.

Alson’s actually a pretty good player who honed his game at New York City’s Mayfair Club among others.3 He already knew what M and inflection points were before reading Dan Harrington’s books (the second of which Alson was fortunate enough to get an advance copy of). On the other hand, he didn’t take Harrington’s lessons to heart, as in one event he allowed himself to blind down to two orbits worth of chips (M=2).

One of the most interesting tidbits in the entire book is relegated to a footnote. Alson gave his table the Gambler’s Anonymous 20-question compulsive gambler test, and the table averaged 14 positives, two more than Alson and double the amount needed to be considered a compulsive gambler.

Of all the writer-gets-paid-to-chronicle-playing-in-the-WSOP books, only two have truly happy endings: Positively Fifth Street ends with McManus’s excellent finish, and Alson’s tale, albeit not because of his play in the Main Event. He ends up playing a dozen or so satellites and six WSOP events. You can read the book to find out how he did, but if you’ve followed poker for a while, you already know he didn’t get far enough in the Main Event to turn pro as a poker player. If you seek inspiration though, Alson’s ‘Wayward and Perilous Journey to the World Series of Poker’ (as it’s subtitled) is worth reading more for the journey than the destination.”

Title Take Me to the River
Author Peter Alson
Year 2007
Skill Level any
Pros Vicarious ride to and through the World Series of Poker, ending with the Main Event.
Cons Alson neglects to finish telling the story of the 2005 WSOP Main Event, misspells a few player names, and occasionally loses track of position at the table.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. In 2005, only the last two tables of the Main Event took place at the Horseshoe, with everything else having moved to the Rio.
  2. Alson is good friends with pro Shane “Shaniac” Schleger, having met in New York, and they trade a percent or two of each other when they play in the same tournaments.
  3. The V.F.W. (Thirtieth and Madison) and the Diamond Club (Twenty-Eighth off Seventh).
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“My 50 Most Memorable Hands” Review

[LL] “A short book deserves a short review, right?” Leroy the Lion asked rhetorically.

[RR] “Sure, if that makes you feel better about your laziness”, Roderick the Rock quipped. “But your shortcut might be shortsighted.”

[LL] “Don’t be short with me. I know my shortcomings.

Doyle Brunson had already had one of the longest and most successful poker careers ever by the time he wrote My 50 Most Memorable Hands in 2007, so the challenge he faced wasn’t finding enough hands to talk about but reducing his stories down to just 50 (less than one per year). The 168 sparse pages fly by so fast, you might wish he’d included another 50 hands.

Highlights of the book (or lowlights depending on your perspective) include cheating, robbery, and murder (and two other deaths at the table), but there’s also a lot of great poker, including high-stake cash games and ten stories from the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

Read this book purely for entertainment purposes. If you happen to learn a little poker strategy along the way, consider it a bonus. The frontier days of poker will never return, so enjoy the reminiscences of a legend who has no shortage of short and tall tales.”

Title My 50 Most Memorable Hands
Author Doyle Brunson
Year 2007
Skill Level any
Pros Entertaining variety of stories with a wide cast of characters, covering half a century of poker. Clear hand diagram graphics with a touch of red for the hearts and diamonds.
Cons Hands are not presented in any particular order.1 Some hands lack details and the book is fairly short. Chapter titles appear in Table of Contents but not in the text, where the hands are simply numbered.
Rating 3.5

Footnotes:

  1. The hands are supposedly in the order in which Brunson remembered them, but there was no excuse for not organizing them by date or topic.

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“Exploiting Poker Tells” Review

[LL] “Following Reading Poker Tells (2012) and Verbal Poker Tells (2014),” Leroy the Lion began, “Zachary Elwood’s third book, Exploiting Poker Tells, came out in 2017 in response to readers’ requests for more examples, which make up the bulk of this book.”

[RR] “Please tell me all about it”, Roderick the Rock requested.

[LL] “Having previously written 666 pages on poker tells, you’d think Elwood would be out of material, but various new tips appear throughout, while discussions on tells with several poker pros add a different perspective. Mostly though, while the two earlier books focused on spotting and deciphering tells, Exploiting Poker Tells tries to show you what to do once you have, with examples from over 130 live poker hands from Elwood’s own play, other players’ recollections, and televised events. No-Limit Hold ‘Em dominates the examples with some Omaha mixed in. The events range from low buyin amateur cash games to $25,000 WPT Championship hands between top pros and cover a wide variety of tells, organized into Pre-Flop, Flop and Turn, and River sections. The Flop and Turn section is about as long as the other two put together not only because it covers two streets but because those streets are more interesting tells-wise. Pre-flop tends to be more straightforward, while the river involves bigger bets but no longer has draws to deal with.

Elwood, who consulted for Amir Lehavot and Max Steinberg during their WSOP Main Event final table runs in 2013 and 2015 respectively, is a former cash game pro who has become the poker tells guy, belatedly replacing Mike Caro a generation later. Even so, he concedes that tells aren’t 100% reliable and usually affect only a few hands per session, less than once per hour, even for an expert like him. Tells are more prevalent in lower stakes games with weaker players and in cash games, where players tend to be more relaxed than in tournaments. The quantity of tells in the book definitely makes it seem like they’re frequently useful, but these have been collected from years worth of play. Actionable tells can sometimes be more frequent if a particular player has a regular, blatant tell though.

Elwood states, ‘An opponent’s behavior should only infrequently sway your decision. For the most part, your decisions should be based on fundamental strategy.’1 He also stresses that most tells are player-specific. In the same exact situation the same tell may mean one thing with one player and the opposite for another, so it’s important to keep track of how each player behaves.

Elwood’s nuggets of wisdom include this river advice: ‘This is a spot where I know I’m calling but I think there can be value in waiting a few seconds and observing an opponent before calling. It’s a chance to observe a player’s behavior when you know you’ll get to see their hand.2

On the other hand, the biggest flaw in some of the sample hands is that Elwood never finds out what his opponent has, so his analysis remains pure speculation. Removing these hands would have increased the overall quality of the book, which is pretty high nevertheless.”

[RR] “I can tell you liked the book.”

[LL] “Yes, but not as much as his first two, which were more organized and thorough. This format can be more educational depending on your learning style, and the material is certainly less dry.

This is really a book where you won’t learn much from highlights or a summary; you really need to go through all of the examples, as there’s something in practically every hand that may be useful to you.”

The last section is a 57-question quiz, which is probably easier to take as an online quiz, since the scoring is done for you. The downside is that for answers you get wrong, you’ll need to look at the answers in the book for the page numbers where the topic is covered (an odd omission for the online quiz). If you don’t have the book, you can still take the quiz, and your score will reveal if you’d benefit from reading it.

Elwood claims that this is his final poker tells book, as he’s shifted focus to videos, which can be a better medium for learning tells. Exploiting Poker Tells, like the other two books in the trilogy, doesn’t have photos (let alone audio or video), which is unfortunate.”

Title Exploiting Poker Tells
Author Zachary Elwood
Year 2017
Skill Level any
Pros Explains how to use tells with many real-life examples. Ends with a long quiz that will reveal whether you need to reread this book (and maybe his earlier ones as well).
Cons Not as educational as his first two books. In several hands, he never finds out what cards his opponent holds, destroying the value of those examples. No pictures or videos to show what the tells look and sound like.
Rating 3.5

Footnotes:

  1. Page 14. “Some inexperienced poker players can have an inflated, unrealistic sense of what is possible with tells. So I want to reiterate: tells are a minor part of plying strong live poker.
  2. Page 173. “You might notice something that may be useful later on. It’s a chance to build a read.”
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“Beyond Traps” Review

[LL] “Another year, another book”, Leroy the Lion continued. “James McKenna followed up Beyond Tells (2005) and Beyond Bluffs (2006) with Beyond Traps in 2007. This is at least one book beyond how many he should have written, and it’s beyond me why he thought a trilogy was necessary.”

[RR] “I suppose you aren’t beyond words though?”, Roderick the Rock suggested.

[LL] “That was probably going to be the name of his fourth book, to keep the clever naming consistent. Unfortunately, McKenna is consistently awkward; he refers to ‘table bracelets’ (what the rest of the world calls WSOP bracelets) and the ‘national championship’, which is actually the World Series of Poker Main Event. He denigrates Mike Matusow, who ‘has never won a bracelet at a winning table’.2 What does that even mean? The Mouth had already won two WSOP bracelets between the time the book was written and published and has added two more since.

My favorite parts of the book are the ones that had nothing to do with poker. He relates inspirational sports stories about miler Glen Cunningham, long distance runner Emil Zatopek, diver Greg Louganis, and speedskater Joey Cheek.”

[RR] “But why are they even in the book?”

[LL] “Maybe because he couldn’t shoehorn then in to either of the first two? Actually, they fit in with the sections that belong in a self-help book: ‘Nine Characteristics of Winners’, ‘Heads of Winners’, ‘Shoulders of Winners’, ‘Bodies of Winners’, and ‘Foundations of Winners’. But this isn’t even a decent psychology book that happens to mention poker. I know my own writing isn’t beyond reproach, but it’s beyond question that you can safely skip this book and not worry that you missed anything.”

[RR] “Beyond doubt.”

Title Beyond Traps
Author James McKenna
Year 2007
Skill Level any
Pros Some interesting applications of psychology to poker if you haven’t read either of the two previous books in the series.
Cons Not much value added over his first two books. Often awkward or inaccurate when talking about actual poker hands.3
Rating 2.0

Footnotes:

  1. Star Trek: Beyond didn’t come out until 2016.
  2. See page 9.
  3. For example, on page 39 McKenna discusses having a $5,400 stack with blinds at $2,000 and $4,000, a state in which you should never find yourself except in the rare case of losing an all-in to a very slightly smaller stack. And on page 49, he refers to King-Four as having a bad kicker despite the board having given the player two pairs.
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“Beyond Bluffs” Review

[LL] “Just one year after publishing Beyond Tells,” Leroy the Lion began, “James McKenna thought the poker-playing public was ready for a sequel.”

[RR] “I take it we weren’t”, Roderick the Rock inferred.

[LL] “No, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d waited a decade. Beyond Tells was already fairly repetitious, so when Beyond Bluffs repeats what’s in the first book, the tedium is painful. ‘Response-Able’ playing and ‘Bluffing Styles’ both reappear, although the latter gets much more coverage. The 27 tells from Caro’s Book of Poker Tells appear in both books, this time listing the bluff counterparts.

On the plus side, most of his examples have changed from Seven-Card Stud to Hold ‘Em, albeit mostly Limit Hold ‘Em. Unfortunately, McKenna’s grasp of Hold ‘Em is significantly weaker. He repeatedly uses terminology awkwardly or incorrectly, like calling the river the ‘Hold ‘Em Card’, labeling a short-stack’s preflop shove of King-Queen a ‘bluff’, and describing being a ‘Calling Station’ as a ‘technique’.”

[RR] “Well, technically it is bad technique.”

[LL] “If you can ignore the pure poker parts of the book though, McKenna’s expertise in psychology does come through. He takes the four poker player quadrants (Reserved vs. Responsive crossed with Receptive vs. Aggressive) from his first book and applies them to both sides of the bluffing equation. He explains what types of bluffs each type of player is likely to try, and what types of bluffs each type is most susceptible to. This is by far the most useful part of the book and makes it worth reading.

Forced to choose, you should read this book over McKenna’s first one,1 but if the two books could be combined into one and reduced to about a third of the total pages, that book would merit four stars.”

Title Beyond Bluffs
Author James McKenna
Year 2006
Skill Level any
Pros Decent if you haven’t read McKenna’s first book, adding useful information comparing player types to bluff types.
Cons Fairly repetitive of his first book. Often awkward when talking about actual poker hands.
Rating 2.5

[LL] “But wait, there’s more…”

Footnotes:

  1. I nevertheless rated the first book higher, assuming that you would read the books in order.
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Women in Poker Hall of Fame Playing Card Deck: The Sevens

[LL] “The last group contains just the second member of the class of 2018”, Leroy the Lion said. “Here are the Sevens:”1

Lupe Soto

7

Lupe Soto

7
Lupe Soto
Born: 1958 (Milpitas, CA)
Occupation: Poker Promoter
Women
in Poker
Hall of Fame
2018
Quote: “I founded the Women in Poker Hall of Fame because during my trek and my discovery I learned of these phenomenal women that had done something. I didn’t know who they were. They needed to be in the limelight.” — Lup Soto (May 16, 2018 Top Pair podcast).
  • Created the Women in Poker Hall of Fame in 2008.
  • Founded the Ladies International Poker Series in 2004.
  • CEO of the nonprofit Poker Gives. CEO of the Senior Poker Tour.

Footnotes:

  1. This deck doesn’t really physically exist; the versions here are lovingly crafted from JPEGs, CSS, and HTML.

    Cards may not display properly unless you view this post by itself.

    Stats current as of July 30, 2018.

    Caricatures and cards are Copyright © 2018 Robert Jen and were created with help from the now-defunct iOS app Caricature Me and the MacOS app Photoshop Elements.

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