“Poker Wizards” Review

[LL] “The next book I read was Warwick Dunnett’s Poker Wizards: Wisdom from the World’s Top No-Limit Hold’em Players“, Leroy the Lion stated.

[RR] “So it’s actually done with magic?” Roderick the Rock queried.

[LL] “Sure,… if you define ‘magic’ as hard work, aggression, and observation.

Dunnett interviewed Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu, Dan Harrington, Marcel Luske, Kathy Liebert, T.J. Cloutier, Mike Sexton, and Mel Judah, asking each of them a predetermined set of questions about how to play poker, so this book is a bit of a Groundhog Day, with the same topics mostly repeating nine times:

  • The Making of a Poker Wizard: what it takes to become a top poker pro.
  • Tournament Strategy
  • Aggression
  • Starting Hand Concepts
  • Specific Hand Strategy for No-Limit Hold ‘Em Tournaments
  • Tells
  • Playing Online
  • Psychology
  • Money Management

For consistency, the tournament scenario starts with a full table of players with 10,000 chips and blinds at 100/200. Your opponents play reasonably well and moderately aggressively.

Many times the pros give similar advice, but sometimes they don’t.”

[RR] “Isn’t that confusing?”

[LL] “It can be. In the final chapter, Dunnett briefly summarizes the players’ responses to each question, which I suppose leads to the best way to use this book — skim everything once to get the lay of the land then go back and reread the sections of the pros whose styles you like the most, since it’s impossible to follow all of the advice at the same time (for example, Ferguson and Harrington play much tighter than the others).

The good news is that sometimes a particular pro has ideas that the others simply didn’t think of. Ferguson is the only player who discusses game theory, Luske and Liebert are the only two who cover cash game strategy, and Sexton alone elaborates on bluffing.

And the second to last chapter is very different from the rest, with mentalist and lie detector Marc Salem exploring ‘How to Read People and Detect Lies’ in much more detail than the poker pros had examined tells. The material in this section is pretty strong, although none of it is groundbreaking.

Overall, Poker Wizards was an easy read with some good tips, but it didn’t leave me spellbound.”

Title Poker Wizards: Wisdom from the World’s Top No-Limit Hold’em Players
Author Warwick Dunnett
Year 2008
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Biographies and good advice from some very strong poker pros.
Cons Repetitive with sometimes contradictory advice.
Rating 2.5
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“Bicycle Blackjack and Poker” Review

[LL] “Despite a 2007 copyright date and no indication that the book is based on any older material,” Leroy the Lion conjectured, “Bicycle Blackjack and Poker appears to have been written in the 1970s with very minor updates since then. No general poker book written after Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP Main Event championship could possibly dedicate just eight short sentences to Texas Hold ‘Em, the most popular poker variation in the world.

Blackjack gets just sixteen pages, so this is primarily a poker book. But by page count Five-Card Draw gets the most coverage followed by Five-Card Stud and then Seven-Card Stud. That should give you an estimate for the approximate date that the text was written.1

In the end, Bicycle Blackjack and Poker is a short rules reference that’s no better than what you could find on most poker web sites or these Wikipedia articles. Its biggest selling point is probably its cute front and back covers, which resemble a playing card box that’s been squashed a little flatter, taller, and wider.”

Title Bicycle Blackjack and Poker
Author U.S. Playing Card Company
Year 2007
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Very basic primer on how to play blackjack and poker.
Cons Appears to have been written over three decades earlier with very minor changes.
Rating 1.5

Footnotes:

  1. Five-Card Draw was already on its way out when the World Series of Poker began and was only contested from 1978 to 1982. Five-Card Stud had an even shorter, earlier run from 1971 to 1974.
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“Power Hold’Em Strategy” Review

[LL] “Daniel Negreanu’s Power Hold’Em Strategy seems quite imposing at first glance with over 500 pages”, Leroy the Lion warned, “but you can pare it down if you aren’t interested in one or more of its six sections:

  1. A Simplified Strategy for No-Limit Hold’Em Tournaments by Evelyn Ng.
  2. Winning at High-Limit Cash Games by Todd Brunson.
  3. Playing No-Limit Hold’Em Online by Erick Lindgren.
  4. Short-Handed Online No-Limit Hold’Em Cash Games by Paul Wasicka.
  5. Mixing It Up by David Williams.
  6. Small Ball by Daniel Negreanu.

For example, I wouldn’t even bother reading the first section unless I wanted to teach it to a Hold ‘Em beginner.”

[RR] “Or you could just lend them the book to read that section themselves”, Roderick the Rock suggested.

[LL] “Probably would have been a better idea, since I already had too much contradictory advice floating around in my head. Well, I can’t unread it now. And anyway, it had some good suggestions that I should take to heart.”

[RR] “Really? Oh, it’s probably Kill Phil longball.”

[LL] “It is, but I didn’t mean that part specifically. I meant that we should only raise or fold preflop. No calling. I’m sure there are some valid exceptions, but that advice alone would probably improve my game. Also, don’t try to pick off bluffs. I’m pretty sure most of my hero calls fail.”

[RR] “You’ll always be my hero.”

[LL] “My Hero, Zero. I haven’t even cashed in your tournament in over a year.”

[RR] “But you seem to do fine in the cash games.”

[LL] “Yes, but they’re not exactly high stakes cash games like the younger Brunson writes about. He still has great points, I thought. For example, Ace-Queen used to be considered a ‘trap hand’ that often lost you big pots, but now that players have loosened up so much, if you have Ace-Queen you’re more likely to dominate your opponent than be dominated.”

Similarly, I don’t play online anymore, but Lindgren’s advice to study your opponent’s betting patterns is completely relevant to live games as well. He recommends taking notes, something that you can do in live games…, but I’d suggest doing it away from the table in casual games so you don’t want appear too studious. He also says you should play as many hands as possible against the weak players, which is universally true.

Wasicka’s online section repeats the note-taking suggestion, one of several times when the independence of the sections leads to overlap. His bankroll management advice is applicable beyond online play as are his tips on handling short stackers, maniacs, and tight players.”

[RR] “But that’s already two-thirds of the book that you could have skipped.”

[LL] “Fortunately, they’re less than half of its pages. The book ends with the good stuff.

Williams’s section on mixing up your play is useful except against the weakest, least observant opponents. Against better players though, you always want to have a good idea about how your opponents think you’re playing, so you can surprise them by playing in the opposite way.”

[RR] “Whenever I try to mix it up, I just get mixed up.”

[LL] “Well okay. Then you’ll like the last chapter the best, as I did. Negreanu’s small ball approach is the reason I bought this book, and he doesn’t disappoint, covering a slew of topics for almost 200 pages, longer than his entire last book. The basic concept is simple — keep the pots small with smaller preflop and postflop bets until you have a strong hand — but Negreanu thoroughly explains what this means in terms of hand selection and preflop, flop, turn, and river play. Among the many things he covers are when you should check or bet on the flop, when you should check-raise, and how big your value bets should be.

Title Power Hold’Em Strategy
Author Daniel Negreanu
Year 2008
Skill Level Beginner/Intermediate
Pros Thorough explanation of how to play small ball, plus five other sections that may be useful to you.
Cons Really six books in one by six different authors with some advice repeated multiple times. No index.
Rating 3.5
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“Hold’em Wisdom for All Players” Review

[LL] “As much as I love Daniel Negreanu,” Leroy the Lion disclaimed, “I was disappointed by his Hold’em Wisdom for All Players. It’s a book but feels like a collection of poker blog posts.”

[RR] “Which you both read and write all the time”, Roderick the Rock remarked.

[LL] “Yes, but Wisdom has no overriding theme, no continuity, no depth, and no organization.”

[RR] “You’d be happier if you could sort the articles or browse by tag?”

[LL] “With just a little more work, and very little additional writing, Negreanu could have tied the 50 essays together into a cohesive book. Although he did end up creating a great bathroom book, since you can read any chapter at any time in any order.

The articles themselves are mostly pretty good, with my favorites being:

  • ‘Be Careful What You Learn on TV’: Negreanu gambled with his own money on High Stakes Poker but also got paid $1,250 per hour to play.
  • ‘Top Ten Trouble Hands’: Starting hands that can lead you to losing big pots (some of these are repeated in ‘Dangerous Hands to Play, Dangerous Hands to Own’).
  • ‘Where to Sit at the Poker Table’: Where you want to be relative to various types of opponents.
  • ‘The Check-Raise’: An underused weapon.
  • ‘Setting Up a Home Poker Tournament’: Equipment and rules you need to run your own event.

In addition to the trouble hands, there are a bunch of other listicles, starting with the first two chapters: ‘Top Ten Rookie Mistakes’ and ‘Top 5 Reasons Why You’re Losing at Poker’.”

[RR] “I’m sure Stan the Stat would love those.”

[LL] “In general, while most of these articles are well-written, they’re also too short. The book deserved to being double the length of its meager 150 pages, but perhaps Negreanu was saving up some of the good stuff for his voluminous Power Hold’em Strategy, which came out the next year with over 500 pages.”

Title Hold’em Wisdom for All Players
Author Daniel Negreanu
Year 2007
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Occasional pearls of wisdom in an easy read for a strategy book.
Cons Random, overly-brief advice in unrelated essays.
Rating 2.5
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“Internet Hold’Em Poker” Review

[LL] “Like Doyle Brunson’s ‘Online Poker’, Avery Cardoza’s Internet Hold’Em Poker seems to have been mostly written to get people playing online poker at a particular site”, Leroy the Lion claimed.

[RR] “I know Cardoza Publishing, but what poker site were they hawking?” Roderick the Rock questioned.

[LL] “Their own: Cardoza Games.”

[RR] “I’ve never heard of that.”

[LL] “And indeed, it didn’t last long, probably only a couple years beyond this book’s publication. Cardoza Games’s web site now redirects to the Cardoza Books store.1

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but this one foreshadows what’s inside, as it features a hand holding four Aces, an impossibility in Texas Hold ‘Em.”

[RR] “Undoubtedly a stock photo.”

[LL] “The book makes its next error when it’s still explaining online poker: in the list of ‘Fifteen Advantages of Online Poker’, #12 is ‘You Can Play As a Team’, which is expressly forbidden by pretty much every site. Also, in full knowledge of the cheating that had occurred at Absolute Bet and Ultimate Poker, the book still claims that ‘Online Sites Cannot Manipulate the Software’. It may never happen again at any of the major sites, but it’s completely possible as it would only take one rogue employee.

Despite a section covering the basics of poker, even explaining suits and denominations, this is a fairly thin book for explaining Internet Poker and Texas Hold ‘Em. The cover also teases, ‘Plus 5-card stud, 7-card stud & Omaha’, which get a meager five to six pages each, only enough to list their rules and some very basic strategy. But then, Hold ‘Em doesn’t get a whole lot of specific coverage either as most of the book applies to online poker in general, including 16 pages alone on ‘Getting Into Games’, a section padded with screenshots that were of limited value then and no value now.

The most useful section in the book may be the appendix on internet poker acronyms, which includes three pages of abbreviations and acronyms you might not know if you haven’t played much online poker.”

[RR] “So the book was pretty much a waste of time…”

[LL] “And paper.”

Title Internet Hold’Em Poker
Author Avery Cardoza
Year 2007
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Decent glossary of internet poker acronyms.
Cons Mostly served as an ad for Cardoza Games, which no longer has online poker.
Rating 1.5

Footnotes:

  1. Cardoza Books surprisingly still sells this book for $6.47.
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“52 Tips Hold ’em Poker” Review

[LL] “I wasn’t much of a writer in college”, Leroy the Lion reminisced, “but Expository Writing was a required course, and I always struggled to meet the minimum length requirements for the papers. On one particular assignment, I couldn’t even get to five pages without starting halfway down the first page, double-spacing, and adding huge margins.”1

[RR] “And if I remember right, you managed to graduate without writing anything much longer”, Roderick the Rock confirmed.

[LL] “Yep. No thesis. Nothing longer than ten pages. Little did I know that I’d be writing 200-page user guides in the near future.”

[RR] “Were you going somewhere with this?”

[LL] “I did have a point… which was that Barry Shulman has also mastered the art of content expansion. Shulman, who runs Card Player magazine with his son Jeff, called his own number to write a ’52 Tips’ series of poker books starting in 2005. The first book, titled 52 Tips for Texas Hold’em Poker, covered just Limit Hold ‘Em despite the more general name. The following year’s sequel was the one I wanted and bought, 52 Tips for No-Limit Hold’em Poker.

Despite physically occupying 135 pages, copious white space (including huge card graphics that take up half a page for each of the 52 tips and an average of almost that much emptiness at the end of each section) means the actual content could have fit comfortably in about 80 pages. What’s in the book is pretty good, but there just isn’t much of it. Almost every piece of advice leaves the reader pondering follow-up questions that go unaddressed.2

On the plus side, the variety is good. Although I don’t agree with all of the advice, you could do worse for an introductory book. This can’t be the only one you read but hopefully leaves you wanting to learn more about the great game of No-Limit Texas Hold ‘Em! Just not from Barry Shulman though, as he never did get around to writing a third book for the series.”

Title 52 Tips for No-Limit Hold’em Poker
Author Barry Shulman & Roy Rounder
Year 2006
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Concise, easy to digest articles with sound advice.
Cons Very short, with no depth anywhere.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. Maybe my mistake was choosing the science writing course. I just didn’t have that much to say about vernier calipers.
  2. For example, how can you cover “Knowing What Your Opponents Are Holding” in a single page? That’s a subject worthy of entire books.
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“Kill Phil” Review

[LL] “Phil Hellmuth may not be the best behaved poker pro, but his results are indisputably excellent, especially in No Limit Hold ‘Em tournaments”, Leroy the Lion conceded. “Blair Rodman and Lee Nelson propose a strategy for turning the tables and putting the pressure on the Poker Brat, Phil Gordon, Phil Ivey, Phil Laak, and any other top player whether they’re named Phil or not.”

[RR] “But without all the gratuitous violence in the Kill Bill standard hand group charts, they’re about three groups apart. The gap is for a good reason: you only flop a flush draw about 11% of the time with suited cards. And that’s not even taking into account the expensive times when you hit your flush and run into a bigger one.

Kill Phil is best suited to beginners who want something that’ll work quickly and players of any skill who have the mentality to embrace the swingy nature of longball.”

Title Kill Phil
Author Blair Rodman & Lee Nelson
Year 2005
Skill Level Beginner/Intermediate
Pros Presents a system that a complete novice can learn in a few hours and have a competitive chance at winning a poker tournament.
Cons Playing style may antagonize opponents and requires more than usual patience.
Rating 3.5
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“Online Poker” Review

[LL] “One book I pretty much regret wasting my time reading: Doyle Brunson’s Online Poker“, Leroy the Lion opined.

[SS] “Why?” Stan the Stat encouraged.

[LL] “It’s basically a 192-page ad for Doyle’s Room, which was already having difficulties before it shut down less than a month and a half after Black Friday in 2011.”1

[SS] “Sorry, you’re not getting your time back. But did their customers get their money back?”

[LL] “Actually, U.S. players were first told they could no longer play back in 2007, when the UIGEA first rattled the site, and were given the option of moving their funds to Full Tilt Poker. Doyle’s Room accepted Americans again for a while in 2008 and again from 2009 on as part of the Cake Poker Network. In late 2011, the site was bought by America’s Cardroom, which reopened it with a .eu address, leaving all accounts intact.

Unfortunately, even though the site still exists, with the change in the online poker landscape in the U.S., other parts of the book are quite outdated, including lists of where to play, where to learn, and where to discuss poker (pretty much only TwoPlusTwo.com is still around).

Brunson’s lists of ‘Four Reasons Online Poker Is Worse’ (than live poker), ’24 Reasons Online Poker Is Better’, ‘Seven Powerful Plays and Manuevers’, ’25 Online Poker Tips’, and ’10 Key Tips to Winning Online’ are mostly still relevant, but a good chunk of the items seemed painfully obvious to me.”

[SS] “So not exactly my kind of lists?”

[LL] “Maybe with a little editing. But Brunson’s best advice isn’t in any of the lists. In the ‘Winning Game Strategies’ chapter, he advises you to read his Super System and Super System 2 instead. Except for brief sections on physical tells, everything in both books applies just as well to online poker as live games.

Those two books are so far superior to this one, they don’t belong on the same shelf. Brunson was smart enough to cut ties with his eponymous poker room on Black Friday;2 he’d do well to separate himself from this book as well.”

Title Online Poker
Author Doyle Brunson
Year 2005
Skill Level Beginner to Intermediate
Pros Well-edited introduction to playing online poker.
Cons Basically designed to get you to play on Doyle’s Room, which is no longer accessible from the U.S.
Rating 1.5

Footnotes:

  1. The other smaller sites that were axed by the U.S. Department of Justice were: 2Betsdi.com, beted.com, betehorse.com, betgrandesports.com, betmaker.com, bookmaker.com (still exists as bookmaker.eu), funtimebingo.com, goldenarchcasino.com, and truepoker.com (now forwards to the Two Plus Two Poker Forums).
  2. Unfortunately for Brunson, he had already missed his chance to sell out for $230 million.
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“Illustrated Guide to Texas Hold’Em” Review

[LL] “I was pretty sure Zen and the Art of Poker would remain unrivaled as the worst poker book I’ve ever read, but Dennis Purdy’s Illustrated Guide to Texas Hold’Em is also a contender. Although the book is subtitled ‘Making Winners out of Beginners and Advanced Players’, the material is really for beginners only. Like Maroon’s book, this book covers Limit Hold ‘Em even as it acknowledges that television coverage is all about the No-Limit game (and casinos would soon follow suit).

The two books are very similar in actually being much shorter than they appear because of repetition. But while Larry W. Phillips’s book mostly spews harmless advice, Purdy’s can cause some serious damage to your game.

After less than thirty pages of overview, including inaccurate ‘relative win rates’ of the 169 starting hands,1 the meat of the book contains 150 ‘Practice Situations’. Each hand gets two pages, whether it needs them or not, including a diagram that tells you that ‘BB’ means ‘big blind’ and ‘SB’ means ‘small blind’ all 150 times. What that means is that the book’s 368 pages are effectively much shorter. If you include all the hands that are so similar to each other that the repetition is useless, this effectively becomes a much shorter book that could easily have shed half its pages without any loss.

On some hands, Purdy plays very tightly, but on others he bets like a maniac (e.g., capping the betting with a poor straight draw on a board with a possible flush draw). Mostly he plays too passively. Add in his bad beat stories that we don’t need to hear and errors like miscounting outs2 and miscalculating odds3 sprinkled throughout the book, this book earns a tie for the lowest rating I’ve ever given. If I had to choose, I’d prefer Zen and the Art of Poker, since it least has some entertaining quotes.”

Title Illustrated Guide to Texas Hold’Em
Author Dennis Purdy
Year 2005
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Large glossary (30 pages) but with unnecessary padding.4
Cons Covers Limit Hold ‘Em; material wasn’t great to begin with and hasn’t aged well.
Rating 1.5

Footnotes:

  1. Purdy ran a simulation of a million hands, which was clearly far too few. The most egregious error is his claim during hand #136 that Queen-Ten offsuit wins 9.3% of the time but that jumps to 39.4% if suited. Being suited never has that dramatic a difference (three percentage points at best). He also ranks Seven-Two offsuit ahead of a staggering 30 other hands.
  2. Hand #107 states that a straight flush draw has 17 outs, but two of the straight and flush outs are shared, so there are only 15 outs.
  3. Hand #142 compares the odds of a hitting a set on the turn or river to the bet being faced on the turn alone.
  4. Once he’s explained that “Aces full” means a full house of Aces and another denomination, he really doesn’t need to include the other twelve denominations.
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“Winning Texas Hold’Em” Review

[LL] “Subtitled ‘Cash Game Poker Strategies for Players of All Skill Levels’, Matt Maroon’s Winning Texas Hold’Em is a complete introduction to Limit Hold ‘Em, covering the rules of the game, mathematical expectations, luck, pot odds, implied odds, betting, position, bluffing, semi-bluffing, deception, slowplaying, psychology, starting hands, playing each street, and a few more advanced concepts.”

[LL] “Stan, you would like some of Maroon’s lists, like his eight ‘Reasons to Bet with Cards Left to Come” (but just three reasons not to and just two reasons to bet on the river), and the five requirements for slowplaying.”

[SS] “Absolutely. I love lists. From elementary school spelling lists to middle school vocabulary lists to college waiting lists and Dean’s lists to everyday to do lists, packing lists, laundry lists, and shopping lists to longer term wish lists and bucket lists.”

[LL] “Like playing the World Series of Poker?”

[SS} “Yeah, someday…”

[LL] “Unfortunately, while this book may help your overall poker game, it focuses on cash games, not tournaments. You might have a better chance of a bracelet in a Limit Hold ‘Em event though, since the fields are much smaller in general.”

[SS] “So you’d recommend this book then?”

[LL] “For playing Limit Hold ‘Em cash games, yes. Otherwise, no.

When this book was published, Limit Hold ‘Em was the most popular cash game spread in casinos. And while most of the advice applies to every type of poker, a No-Limit Hold ‘Em version of this book would be much more useful now, but unfortunately Maroon never wrote it.”

Title Winning Texas Hold’Em
Author Matt Maroon
Year 2005
Skill Level Beginner to Intermediate
Pros Thorough and well-written, with concepts that apply to most varieties of poker. Nicely printed with red and black playing card graphics.
Cons Features the now less popular game of Limit Hold ‘Em.
Rating 3.0
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