“Poker: The Real Deal” Review

[LL] “Dot-com millionaire Phil Gordon1 may be more famous for his various colored poker books,2” Leroy the Lion began, “but Poker: The Real Deal is his magnum opus (with help from Jonathan Grotenstein, who’s more of a writer than a poker player3). Their 2004 book covers the history of poker, starting with the invention of playing cards, moving on to the basics of Texas Hold ‘Em, and taking you all the way to the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Limit Hold ‘Em, online poker, the rules and etiquette of playing in casinos, and tells are all covered before No Limit Hold ‘Em finally enters the scene for good in Chapter 9 almost three-fifths of the way through the book.”

[SS] “Limit was the main game spread in casinos then, so that’s not a surprise”, Stan the Stat explained.

[LL] “Still, the text is breezily readable, almost making learning Texas Hold ‘Em fun. For example, your possible actions are compared to various tools. Folding is the flathead screwdriver, mundane but your most commonly used tool.”

[SS] “I think Phillips heads screws are more popular now.”

[LL] “Could be. Anyway, after saying that betting and raising are your power tools, the analogy silently disappears. Too bad, because I think the deep stack preflop all-in is like a sledgehammer…”

[SS] “Or maybe the top step on a folding ladder, you know, the one that says ‘do not step here'”.

[LL] “Yep, it could get help you reach your goal, but it’s also a long fall.

The book also has its ups and downs. One of the highlights is that each chapter ends with a short quiz, mostly testing what you’ve just learned4 and pitting you against various villains, the last of whom is Phil Hellmuth. Book recommendations are sprinkled throughout; they’re included to supplement the text, which doesn’t go deep into strategy.”

[SS] “And your verdict?”

[LL] “It’s like a starter toolkit. Neither you nor I need it, but it’s a decent place to begin for a neophyte.”

Title Poker: The Real Deal
Author Phil Gordon & Jonathan Grotenstein
Year 2004
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Well written and logically organized. Informal, flowing style makes a pleasant read.
Cons A fair amount on Limit Hold ‘Em (without even explicitly saying so). Not much depth and more than a few inaccuracies.5
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. With three friends, Gordon started Netsys Technologies, which Cisco Systems bought for $95 million in stock in 1996.
  2. Phil Gordon now has four colored books: Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book: Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold’em, Phil Gordon’s Little Blue Book: More Lessons and Hand Analysis in No Limit Texas Hold’em, Phil Gordon’s Little Black Book: Beginning Poker Lessons and the No Limit Lifestyle, and Phil Gordon’s Little Gold Book: Advanced Lessons for Mastering Poker 2.0.
  3. Grotenstein claims to be a professional poker player but has no entry in the Hendon Mob Database, so he’s apparently a cash game specialist (and even then nothing about his poker playing can be found by Google). On the other hand, Phil Gordon has almost $3 million in lifetime tournament earnings, making him the fifth winningest Phil behind Ivey, Hellmuth, Gruissem, and Laak.
  4. My favorite quiz was one that didn’t: matching poker quotes with the movies they came from (and now I need to see the two of the eight movies I’ve missed).
  5. Most of the errors are the same ones all poker books of the era make: e.g., retelling the Nick Dandolos-Johnny Moss marathon that didn’t happen and claiming that Chris Moneymaker bought in for $40. He also includes the common misspellings of Nick “Dandalos” for Dandolos, Jack “Strauss” for Straus, and “Brian” Roberts for Bryan.
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“Poker Player’s Bible” Review

[LL] “You know the saying, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’?” Leroy the Lion queried rhetorically.

[RR] “Of course. That’s why Amazon has a ‘Look Inside’ feature”, Roderick the Rock noted.

[LL] “The Poker Player’s Bible has the best packaging of any poker book I own. Not only is it a hardcover, but its mechanical wire binding means it lays open flat on any page. Inside, you’ll find beautiful color printing on high-quality pages. But…”

[RR] “There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?”

[LL] “But the content isn’t nearly as good as the presentation. It’s a decent introduction to Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha, Omaha Eight or Better, Seven-Card Stud, and Seven-Card Stud Eight or Better, but unfortunately it almost exclusively discusses the Limit versions of Hold ‘Em and the two Omaha variants. It’s incredibly neatly organized, covering Rules, Starting Hands, Position, Odds and Outs, Implied Odds, Deception, Semi-bluffing, Defending, Raising, Free Cards, Slowplaying, and Reading Your Opponents, but the book is ordered by those sections instead of by game type so you’ll need to skip around to read about any single game. I always read cover-to-cover, so it didn’t bother me, but I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try to learn all five variants at the same time, which is what the book clearly wants you to do.

And while I don’t expect much originality in beginner books, in this case much of the material is almost identical to Poker for Dummies, which Krieger co-wrote with Richard D. Harroch four years earlier.”

[RR] “Maybe that’s why he wanted to use a different order — to distinguish this book.”

[LL] “Perhaps, but that wasn’t the only bad decision. Despite all the pretty diagrams, he made some unfortunate choices that make things hard to read. Hole cards are very stylishly displayed, drawn like actual playing cards with bent corners, but this puts the suit and denomination sideways. Diamonds and hearts in the text itself are gray, which is actually worse than leaving them black as they’re faint. And in the section on betting, he crams way too much information into each diagram. He tried to clarify things by color-coding the action, but you shouldn’t need a decoder ring to follow a hand.”

[RR] “You’d expect a poker player to lay things out more logically.”

[LL] “Logic does not appear to be Krieger’s strength. Instead of the standard 13×13 matrix for Hold ‘Em starting hands with pairs along the diagonal, he concatenates a pairs column with the suited cards in the wrong direction (e.g, QQ is next to AJ) then lists the unsuited hands separately.

One final example before I lay the book to rest: in the Hold ‘Em section, page 90 says, ‘The nut flush is almost always the winning hand in an unpaired board’, which is not only unclear but either incorrect or understated. Most boards won’t have three of one suit, so no flush will be possible.1 If there are three of a suit, then the nut flush is always the nuts on an unpaired board.”

[LL] “In the end, I really wanted to like this book, but all its good advice is overwhelmed by its ample flaws. Beginners’ books should be easier to read.”

Title Poker Player’s Bible
Author Lou Krieger
Year 2004
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Beautifully mechanically-bound color pages that lay open flat. Solid, basic advice on five different games.
Cons Oddly organized with hard-to-read hole cards and some confusing diagrams.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. According to wizardsofodds.com, the “probability that no more than two of one suit will be present is (360+240)/1,024 = 600/1,024 = 58.59%”.
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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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Counterfeiting


[SS] “Do you guys know the counterfeit coins puzzle?” Stan the Stat surveyed the table.

[LL] “Do you mean the 9 coin puzzle with two weighings or the 12 coin puzzle with three weighings?” Leroy the Lion countered.

[SS] “Good, then you’re ready for my new, poker-themed puzzle.”

[LL] “Fire away.”

[SS] “Okay. At a tournament, there was a problem with these very poker chips in front of us. Some immoral rodent snuck a counterfeit chip into circulation. Fortunately, we know the fake is one of these 14 chips (don’t ask how), and we were able to determine (ditto) that the fake chip weighed a different amount than the real chips. Unfortunately, our bathroom scale isn’t accurate enough to weigh the chips, but we dug out this old swing arm balance for you. Because we don’t have time for you to weigh each chip against every other one because I spent all our time laying out the puzzle, you only get three weighings to find the counterfeit chip. Can you do it?”

[LL] “That’s impossible. It took three weighings just to find the fake among a dozen; how can we find one among fourteen?”

[SS] “I assure you that it can be done. Maybe Figaro can help you out?”

[LL] “Need to think outside the box?”

[SS] “Perhaps.”

[FF] “Well, how do you solve the nine coin problem?” Figaro inquired.

[LL] “Not much of a challenge. In that puzzle you know that the fake coin is light. You just weigh any three against any other three. If they match, the fake is in the three you didn’t weigh; otherwise it’s one of the light three. Weigh any two of those three against each other, and you have your answer.”

[FF] “And the twelve coin problem?”

[LL] “That’s a bit harder, partly because you don’t know if the odd coin is lighter or heavier. I don’t remember the exact sequence, but you start by weighing any four against any other four.”

[FF] “So you eliminate eight of the twelve coins on the first weighing.”

[LL] “Right. The next step involves reusing some of the coins that you know are real, but I’d have to figure out the different cases.”

[RR] “What if Leroy pointed you to Figaro not because he’s an independent thinker, although that’s certainly true, but because he was playing with these other, presumably genuine, chips?” Roderick the Rock enjoined. “What if we add a known real poker chip to the mix and start by weighing five against five?”

{ highlight the following spoiler to read it }


[LL] “That’s it! If they balance, it’s easy. You can weigh three of the remaining chips against three that balanced. If those balance, you weigh either of the remaining chips. If they don’t, you know which way the pans tilted and you’ve narrowed it down to three chip, and you have the second half of the 9 coin problem.

If the first weighing doesn’t balance, weigh two from the light side (whichever the original real chip wasn’t on, that is) and one from the heavy side against two from the light side and one from the heavy side. If those match, you have two potential heavy chips and one potential light chip left, and you weigh one heavy and one light against two real chips. If those don’t match, then you’re down to the heavy chip on the heavy side and the two light chips on the lighter side, and you have a similar case.”1

[SS] “Very well done! Do you guys remember a couple years ago when a cheater tried to dispose of some fake poker chips in the toilet and got caught?”

[LL] “It wasn’t even the casino he was stealing from!”

[SS] “Right. That and three other recent incidents caught my attention for the combination of greed and idiocy:

  • In June 2013, Rear Admiral Timothy M. Giardina was caught using fake $500 poker chips at a Nebraska casino. Apparently the Navy officer, who had previously been banned from other casinos in Iowa and Kansas, was addicted to not only gambling but nicotine; he was caught on surveillance video taking cigarette butts out of an ash tray and smoking them. The Navy stripped him of a star, but no criminal charges were pressed.
  • In January 2014, Christian Lusardi introduced some fake poker chips at a Borgata poker tournament but got caught when he tried to flush $2.7 million worth of chips down the toilet at the nearby Harrah’s Resort and Casino and clogged the plumbing. The North Carolinian was sentenced to five years in prison.
  • Later in the same month, Rosa A. Nguyen and Vuong Q. Truong used fake $100 poker chips in the Maryland Live Casino then tried to dispose of unused fakes in Lake Accotink near their home in Springfield, Virginia. Only problem: the chips floated.
  • In December 2015, Sajid Rashid and Qamar Hussain were sentenced to 30 months in jail in Monte Carlo for marking up €10 chips up as &euro1,000 chips and collecting almost £s;3 million playing roulette. Their accomplice Zahidul Haque Khan got 10 months for accepting their loot. The British trio had made many visits to Monaco and had even been comped by the casino for their high rolling ways. Rashid had already served 14 months in jail and had been banned for life from British casinos.”

[LL] “I’d think that counterfeit poker chips are becoming less of a problem as casinos have begun using RFID2 technology, especially in larger denomination chips.”

[SS] “But even as casinos step up their security measures, you can never be safe from counterfeiting any time you play Hold ‘Em!”

[RR] “Ha ha. You mean like when your hole cards are counterfeited?”

[SS] “Indeed. “There’s no real consensus on what constitutes counterfeiting and what doesn’t, so I break things into three categories: Definitely, Borderline, and Not Counterfeiting:

Definitely Counterfeiting

Hand Opp. Flop Turn River Description
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥T♠T♣ 3♦ Q♠ Pocket pair counterfeited by higher two pairs on board (making 3 pairs)
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥Q♠7♥ Q♦ 7♠ Full house on flop counterfeited for half pot on river
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥Q♠T♣ Q♦ T♥ Full house on turn counterfeited for half pot
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ Q♥Q♠7♥ Q♦ Q♣ Full house on flop counterfeited for full pot when pocket pair becomes bad kicker
K♣Q♦ A♣K♦ J♥T♠9♣ Q♦ Straight counterfeited by turn giving opponent a higher straight
K♣Q♦ K♦2♣ J♥T♠9♣ Q♦ Straight counterfeited for half the pot
9♣8♦ any

K♥K♠8♥ 8♣ K♦ River makes bigger full house on board, costing half a pot to most hands and losing to pocket Nines and higher
9♣8♦ any

K♥K♠8♥ K♦ 8♣ Same as above but perhaps more painfully (but always behind pocket Nines in this case)
9♣8♦ T♣T♦ 9♥8♠2♣ 2♠ Two pairs counterfeited by pair on board, giving opponent a higher two pairs
9♣8♦ 9♥2♠ Q♥J♠8♣ J♥ 9♠ River improved hand to better two pairs yet cost half a pot (the dreaded 3 pairs again)
9♣8♦ A♣K♦ Q♣Q♦Q♥ 9♦ Q♠ Full house counterfeited for full pot when board makes four of a kind

Borderline Counterfeiting

Hand Opp. Flop Turn River Description
A♣K♦ 9♣8♦ Q♥T♠T♣ Q♦ Q♣ As of the turn, the Ace kicker was beating the Nine kicker, but the boat on the river removed the kicker from the picture
9♣8♣ A♣K♦ J♣5♣2♣ Q♣ Lower suited hole cards needing only three of the suit on the board can lose to a fourth suited card on the turn or river
9♣8♦ A♣9♦ J♠8♥5♠ J♥ 9♠ The Nine on the turn didn’t counterfeit the 98 because it was still ahead then! The 98 then improved on the river but lost.
7♣7♦ K♦2♣ 9♥8♠7♥ 6♣ 5♦ The set of Sevens was ahead until the straight on the board chopped the pot on the river; a flush on the board is even less likely to be considered counterfeiting (could have been behind on the flop or turn)

Not Counterfeiting

Hand Opp. Flop Turn River Description
9♣8♦ J♥T♥ T♠9♥8♥ J♠ It’s not counterfeiting if an opponent’s hand simply improves to beat you (like a Heart, Queen, Jack, Ten, or Seven on the turn here)
7♣7♦ A♣K♦ K♥Q♠7♥ Q♦ K♣ A Queen on the river is more obviously counterfeiting, but a King is just a bad beat

[LL] “That’s a lot of counterfeiting!”

[SS] “And that’s not even counting my kitchen renovation…”

Footnotes:

  1. Original puzzle posed by Biotop on the Straight Dope message board on June 9, 2010.
  2. RFID is short for “radio frequency identification”, which in this case allows a reader to identify the value and location of every poker chip at the table.

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MIT Poker Course

{ Figaro the Fish glances over at Leroy the Lion’s iPhone. }

[FF] “I didn’t know you were playing online poker again”, Figaro commented.

[LL] “Huh? What makes you say that?” Leroy wondered.

[FF] “You’re looking at multi-table tournament advice right now, aren’t you?”

[LL] “Well, for starters, MTTs aren’t just online. This tournament we’re about to play in is an MTT, even if nobody here calls it that.”

[FF] “True enough.”

[LL] “But that doesn’t actually say M-tee-T on the screen, it’s M-eye-T.”

[FF] “As in the university down the road from Harvard?”

[LL] “Yes, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

[FF] “Your older son is thinking about going there?”

[LL] “No…, well not yet anyway. I’m looking at a poker course that’s been taught there during IAP since 2012.”

[FF] “So MIT has an iPhone app where you can buy courses from them?”

[LL] “No, IAP doesn’t mean In-App Purchases here; it stands for Independent Activities Period, a four-week mini-term at the start of each calendar year where MIT students take very short courses. This one is called How to Win at Texas Hold’em Poker.”1

[FF] “Ah. It’s a course you can take online?”

[LL] “Not exactly. But videos and slides from last year’s course are available. The first couple lectures are for beginners. But there’s some good stuff starting with the third one, Basic Strategy. I’d also recommend lectures 4 (Pre-flop Analysis), 5 (Tournaments), and 8 (Decision Making).”

[FF] “Sounds like a good way to spend some quality screen time over the holidays!”

[LL] “You can even watch the YouTube playlist of the course on your new Apple TV. Sure beats watching your umpteenth bowl game…”

Footnotes:

  1. Kevin Desmond taught MIT 15.S50 last year with guest lecturers like Bill Chen and Matt Hawrilenko. Wei “Will” Ma, a poker pro who won the 2007 Grand Prix De Paris Championship Event for over half a million dollars, will teach next month’s course with help from Paul F. Mende, who was formerly the head of the MMT (Money Management and Trading) group at Cambridge Technology Partners and an analyst at MDT Advisers. The course was Ma’s brainchild.
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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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Preflop Odds Heads Up 4

[SS] “Okay, one last preflop matchup trivia question”, Stan the Stat promised. “You have almost no chance on this one, so I’ll give you the answer after you each take just one guess… What nontrivial preflop all-in matchup is the closest to a coin flip?”

[FF] “I always thought a pair of Queens against Ace-King was close”, volunteered Figaro the Fish.

[HH] “I’d go with something near what you mentioned earlier”, Harriet the Hazy suggested. “Like Jack-Ten offsuit against a pair of Twos.”

[RR] “Or the Queen-Jack suited against Twos”, Roderick the Rock recommended.

[LL] “Maybe something lower like Eight-Seven suited against the same”, Leroy the Lion offered.

[EE] “Yeah, it’s probably something like that”, Elias the Eagle amended. “I’ll guess the same but against Threes.”

[TT] “Since I get to guess for free / How ’bout the suited Four-Three / Against the ultimate poo / The offsuit Seven and Two?” Tyrone the Telephone attempted.

[SS] “All excellent guesses… well, maybe not Figaro’s, which is 54% suited. Tyrone was very close to the sixth best matchup: 62o vs. 54o where the Two matches a suit (the high card or kicker value of the Six almost exactly balances the straight potential of the 54). Fifth is 73s vs. 22 in different suits, and fourth is 97o vs. 22 with four suits. Third is what you all danced around, QJo vs. a pair of double suit-dominated Threes. Roderick just missed that one. Second is T9o vs. 55 with one matching suit. All of these are 50.01% for the better hand, as is number one, which wins by a smidge: ATs vs. 33 with one matching suit, which is so close to a coin flip that if you played it out 7,075 times, you’d only expect to win one more time than your opponent (50.0071%)! In all the cases with pairs, the pair wins with more sets and boats but loses to more straights and, perhaps surprisingly, pairs (and even two pairs sometimes because of the dreaded three-pair hands).”

[RR] “Very cool, Stan”, Roderick the Rock acknowledged. “But now that you’ve given us all of these mostly non-nutritious snacks, what about the meat and potatoes of all-in heads-up matchups?”

[SS] “I was getting to that”, Stan the Stat claimed. “When I was first learning how to play Hold ‘Em, I set out to memorize all of the common odds. I thought preflop all-in percentages would be useful, but there were just way too many to remember1. Fortunately, grouping the matchups into just eight general categories with their approximate odds is quite sufficient.”

[SS] “If neither hand is paired, there are three groups of matchups:”

Opposing Hand Equity Example2
Unpaired Dominated 70%3 KQo vs. K8o (75%)
QTo vs. JTo (73%)
Two Undercards
or Alternating Ranks4
65%5 AJo vs. 63o (65%)
QTo vs. J9o (64%)
Tweeners 57%6 A9o vs. QJo (56%)

[SS] “Otherwise with a pair, there are five matchup groups:”

Opposing Hand Equity Example
Dominated With Undercard 90% KK vs. KQo (91%)
Unpaired Undercards 85%7 QQ vs. 94o (87%)
Lower Pocket Pair 81% AA vs. KK (82%)8
One Overcard,
Possibly Dominated
70% QQ vs. K8o (72%)
KK vs. AKo (70%)
Two Overcards 55%* 44 vs. A7o (55%)
44 vs. QJo (51%)
44 vs. QJs (49%)9

[SS] “* Within a given category (when relevant), being suited is worth a few percent for the flushes (just being able to make a winning flush is worth half a percent), and being connected is worth a few percent for the straight possibilities. In cases where the flush or straight is one of the few ways to win, the difference for the weaker hand can be up to five percent (e.g., AA vs. AKs is 5% better than AA vs. AKo, and AA vs. T9o is 5% better than AA vs. T5o).”

[RR] “Why isn’t it always five percent?”

[SS] “All the hands where the weaker hand hits a straight or flush but would have had a winning pair, two pairs, or three of a kind anyway don’t increase the percentages. The straight or flush is superfluous in those cases. Similarly, suited connectors don’t get the full gain for both the straight and flush possibilities, more like just seven percent in the best cases.”

[TT] “If you’re all-in, while nothing’s been fated / Know the odds, lest your hopes get inflated / It’s better not to be dominated / Or for ‘Next Bust’ you’ll be nominated”, Tyrone concluded.

Footnotes:

  1. The total number of possibilities is 812,175 (52-choose-2 * 50-choose-2 / 2), but ignoring suits, there are only 14,196 (13^2-choose-2) to memorize.
  2. These charts are based on the tables in John Vorhaus’s Killer Poker by the Numbers, pages 268-275, but have been modified with help from Mathematrucker. All odds are approximate, within a couple of percent except as noted in some of the following footnotes.
  3. The full range is fairly wide, going from about 65% to 78%, with higher cards tending toward the upper part of the range.
  4. Having alternating ranks (e.g, QTo vs. J9o) makes surprisingly little difference (the weaker hand mostly needs to pair up in either case, and having two undercards can give more straight possibilities).
  5. The full range is fairly wide, going from about 58% to 71%.
  6. The full range goes from about 51% to 60%.
  7. The full range is fairly wide, going from 76.93% (KK vs. 54s) to 90.10% (AA vs. K2o with matching suits).
  8. The full range only goes from 79.75% (33 vs. 22 of different suits) to 82.69% (TT vs. 99 with matching suits). Vorhaus listed this as 80%, probably from rounding, but it’s definitely closer to 81%.
  9. The classic race, QQ vs. AKo (57%) or vs. AKs (54%), would also go here as the AK is effectively unconnected with only two Queens left in the deck to make a royal straight.

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Preflop Odds Heads Up 3

[SS] “Fig, I’ve got a bet for you”, Stan the Stat propositioned Figaro the Fish while retrieving a set of three dice from his left pocket.

[FF] “Okay…”, Figaro responded warily.

[SS] “I’ll bet you even-money on who can roll the higher number with one of these dice”, Stan offered. “And because I like you, we’ll roll as many times as you want, and you can pick whichever die you want each time.”

[FF] After examining the dice, the Fish decided, “Okay, I’ll take this one, the only one with nines on it.”

[SS] “Very well, I choose this one with nothing higher than a seven”, the Stat countered.

[LL] Leroy the Lion chuckled, “You’re not really going to con him are you?”

[SS] “No, just for fun; we’re all friends here.”

[LL] “Fig, it doesn’t matter which die you pick, these are nontransitive dice, where each die beats one of the other two and loses to the other one.”

[FF] “How is that possible?”

[SS] “It’s like Roshambo, where rock beats scissors beats paper beats rock. The six faces on each die add up to 30, but they’re set up so you win by a little and lose by a lot, allowing the second player to win five-ninths of the matchups. C > B > A > C:”

Side 1 Side 2 Side 3 Side 4 Side 5 Side 6
Die A 1 1 6 6 8 8
Die B 2 2 4 4 9 9
Die C 3 3 5 5 7 7

[SS] Reaching into his right pocket and pulling out some more dice, Stan continued, “Or consider this set of four, called Efron’s dice:”

Side 1 Side 2 Side 3 Side 4 Side 5 Side 6
Die D 0 0 4 4 4 4
Die E 1 1 1 5 5 5
Die F 2 2 2 2 6 6
Die G 3 3 3 3 3 3

[SS] “The edge is even bigger here as the dominating die wins two-thirds of the time. G > F > E > D > G.”

[FF] “Wow, that’s amazing. Can I borrow those for the next time I go to a bar?”

[LL] “Do you really like to get beat up?”

[SS] “What’s cool is that you can do the same thing with Texas Hold ‘Em hands, although your edge is much smaller.” Having rummaged through a deck of cards and pulled out six of them, Stan continued, “For example, consider these hands: A♣K♦, J♥10♥, and 2♠2♥. Which would you prefer, Figaro?”

[FF] “Definitely the Ace-King at a full table.”

[SS] “Nope, you’re heads up.”

[FF] “I’d still take it.”

[SS] “Well, then I’d select the Twos and have a 53.0% to 47.0% edge on you. Similarly, the Jack-Ten suited has 53.7% equity against the Twos, and the Ace-King offsuit does even better against the Jack-Ten at 58.8%.”

[LL] “The Ace-King is an obvious win over the Jack-Ten, while the other two matchups are classic races. Both connectors mainly need to pair up to beat the Twos, but the Jack-Ten makes enough straights and flushes to tip the scales, while the Ace-King doesn’t.”

[FF] “Pretty cool, indeed.”

Related Links:

  • While it’s not blindingly obvious how to use it, the table at the top right of the Mathematrucker Matchups page lets you see any family of heads-up matchups (by gap and suitedness). Just tap on the proper square in the grid. In the answer cells, a pink background means the hands on the left column are winning and a blue background means the hands on the top row are ahead! Tap on the percentage to display the winning hand type breakdown on the left.

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Basic Player Reading – Playing Style

[BB] “I’m definitely getting out of my comfort zone here”, Benny the Book admitted to his son. “But to become great at Hold ‘Em, you need to pay very close attention to your opponents. The more you notice about how they play, the better. Do you know who would have been an amazing Texas Hold ‘Em player?”

[JJ] “Miss Cleo?”,1 Joey the Juvenile offered facetiously.

[BB] “Sherlock Holmes! Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective once said, ‘It is my business to know what other people don’t know’.”2

[BB] “You’ve now played a few tournaments with us, so you should have an idea of how people play. Preflop, who’s the loosest player in the group?”

[JJ] “William the Whale. He makes big bets all the time.”

[BB] “‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear”3, Benny quoted. “William likes to make you think he’s incredibly loose, but that’s only because you notice his big bets when he’s in a hand.”

[JJ] “Well, Carlos the Crazy then.”

[BB] “You’re getting warmer. He’s probably in second.”

[JJ] “I don’t know.”

[BB] “Tyrone the Telephone. He’s a total calling station. He flies under the radar because he mostly just calls, but he definitely sees more flops than anyone.”

[BB] “Who sees the fewest flops?”

[JJ] “Either Mildred the Mouse or Roderick the Rock.”

[BB] “Right! Roderick loosens up a bit in the cash game, which Mildred never plays in, but they’re both super-afraid of busting out of the tournament. They pretty much stick to premium hands and will fold a dozen times in a row, no sweat.”

[BB] “You’ve already touched on this, but who are the most aggressive players besides William and Carlos?”

[JJ] “Deb the Duchess, Elias the Eagle, and Yuri the Young Gun.”

[BB] “Excellent. If you were sitting at a table with those five, I don’t think you’d ever see a flop where everyone limped.”

[BB] “Who really loves suited connectors, even the awful Four-Three and Three-Two?”

[JJ] “I have no idea.”

[BB] “That would be Harriet the Hazy, who always thinks she can hit a lucky flop.”

[BB] “Who will play any pair, even facing a big preflop raise out of position?”

[JJ] “Most of us.”

[BB] “Not too inaccurate, but I was thinking of Figaro the Fish. You saw him last month when he almost won the tournament after hitting so many sets.”4

[BB] “Holmes also insisted, ‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’5 Every hand leaves a trail of data to be collected. You go into each hand with what you already know about your opponents. That’s like the case file for each criminal. You add that to the checks, bets, raises, and calls on each street. Those are your clues from the current crime (well, they’re trying to steal your chips, right?). With all the evidence you have, you can then decide what the best action to take is.”

[BB] “Now, I don’t even really know the answers to these questions, but it would really help your play if you could notice… Who will play any Ace? Any pair? Who will play any two cards from the button? Who defends their blinds too much because they don’t correctly value position? Who will call almost any bet to chase a draw? Who will bet when all they have is a draw? Who will bluff a four-flush on the board without a flush? Who will represent an Ace on the board without it?”

[JJ] “Wow, I guess I need to start paying more attention.”

[BB] “Exactly. Especially when you’re not in a hand, since that should be more often than when you’re in a hand. After each hand, try to mentally review what just happened and update your images of each active player.”

[BB] “If you can do that, you’ll be a better player than me very soon.”

[JJ] “I can’t wait! But didn’t Holmes also claim, ‘There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact’?”6

[BB] “Well, you also need to figure out who the deceptive players are. Against the better players, you won’t be able to pinpoint their two hole cards. ‘We balance probabilities and choose the most likely. It is the scientific use of the imagination.'”7

[BB] “Ultimately, if you pay more attention, you’ll have more information. If you have more information, you’ll make better decisions. If you make better decisions, you’ll win more.”

[JJ] “Elementary!”8

Footnotes:

  1. Youree Dell Harris portrayed Miss Cleo in television ads for the Psychic Readers Network from 1997 to 2003.
  2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, page 254.
  3. A Scandal in Bohemia, page 162.
  4. See Sets Education.
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia, page 163.
  6. The Bascombe Valley Mystery, page 204.
  7. The Hound of the Baskervilles, page 687.
  8. Doyle never had Sherlock Holmes say, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” The catchphrase was popularized by the many movies made from his stories.
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