“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

“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

“Online Ace” Review

[LL] “Scott Fischman’s Online Ace is a much better book about Internet poker than Doyle Brunson’s ‘Online Poker’“, Leroy the Lion pronounced. “It’s thorough, isn’t trying to hawk any particular online poker site, and gives much stronger strategy advice. While Online Poker is best used for kindling, Fischman’s book will survive the decimation and resuscitation of online poker in the U.S.”

[SS] “So you definitely think online poker is coming back soon?” Stan the Stat wondered.

[LL] “It’s already in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. Pennsylvania appears to be next.”

[SS] “I know that California talks about it every year. They could start a domino effect as the multistate market would immediately be significant.”

[LL] “Yes, the Golden State could be pivotal in undoing the damage of Black Friday. Five years before that fateful day, Fischman quotes lawyer Chuck Humphrey: ‘In today’s tolerant atmosphere, the risk of being charged with a criminal misdemeanor [for playing online poker] is far less than the chance of getting a speeding ticket.’ This proved accurate for the players but not for the poker sites themselves, and we’re all still trying to recover.

Fischman, who won two WSOP bracelets during the summer of 2004, was less prescient regarding cheating in online poker. Just a year after his book came out, several accounts on Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet were conclusively determined to have cheated by independent analysis of hand recaps.1 In fact, the cheating on Ultimate Bet had begun the year before, while the Pennsylvanian was still writing.2 Of course, even if Fischman had known any of this, he wouldn’t have wanted to denigrate the product he was trying to sell a book about.

The timing was especially unfortunate because this is a good book, covering a wide range of topics including styles of play, the online lobby, online etiquette, chat abbreviations, special online features, hand histories, statistics provided by sites, and record-tracking.

Fischman details his basic strategy for both online and live play. He covers Sit-N-Gos then moves on to Intermediate Strategy and Multi-Table Tournaments. He correctly decries ‘Stop-Win’ limits while okaying ‘Stop-Loss’ limits because losing that much money might negatively affect your play.

As a bonus, Fischman provides brief biographies of a random set of players: Cliff ‘Johnny Bax’ Josephy (who would go on to final table the WSOP Main Event in 2016), Noah ‘Exclusive’ Boeken, Carlos Mortensen, Michael ‘The Grinder’ Mizrachi, Darrell ‘Gigabet’ Dicken, Mark Seif, Thomas ‘Thunder’ Keller, and Eric ‘Sheets’ Haber.”

[SS] “Does this make up for the time you wasted on Doyle’s book?”

[LL] “Kind of. But it’s not like this book was perfect. For example, Fischman expects you to lose your first online deposit then prescribes a risky bankroll strategy to help you go broke!

Nevertheless, as online poker slowly returns to the U.S. legally, Online Ace returns to usefulness state by state.”

Title Online Ace
Author Scott Fischman
Year 2006
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Comprehensive introduction to online play with intermediate-level strategy.
Cons Nine pages of blank “Session Notes” for you to fill in were a waste of paper. A downloadable PDF would have been more useful and saved trees.
Rating 4.0


  1. A good summary of the hole card peeking scandal was posted to the TwoPlusTwo forums on May 18, 2008.
  2. See the Wikipedia section on the cheating scandal in the Cereus Network article.

“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


  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.

“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

“Making the Final Table” Review

[LL] “I’ve always dreamed of playing in the World Series of Poker, but it would actually require a lot less travel to play in the World Poker Tour”, Leroy the Lion remarked.

[RR] “Sure, they have a festival at Foxwoods every year”, Roderick the Rock suggested.

[SS] “Sorry, it’s not there anymore”, Stan the Stat corrected. “The closest stop is now the Borgata in Atlantic City.”

[RR] “I wouldn’t think any less of you if you a won a WPT bracelet instead of a WSOP bracelet!”

[LL] “Would be pretty cool if a bunch of us drove down and tried to get in through a satellite.”

[RR] “How much are the entry fees?”

[SS] “The cheapest ones are under $100.”

[LL] “I’m ready; I just finished reading Erick Lindgren’s Making the Final Table. Okay, I’d never be good enough to play in the WPT just by reading that book. But it did put the thought into my head.”

[RR] “It’s a book just about playing on the WPT?”

[LL] “Well, most of the advice covers any Texas Hold ‘Em game but is framed in the context of the WPT. After a brief introduction to the World Poker Tour, Lindgren gives intermediate level advice about playing on the tour, referencing actual tournament setups, blind structures, and even the television lights.

Mike Sexton’s Shuffle Up and Deal, published the same year, gives more of the history of the WPT, but Making the Final Table is a level higher skill-wise.

Lindgren takes a very aggressive approach. Because tournament payouts tend to be top-heavy, he’s willing to bust out early trying to get a big stack, and he’s willing to keep gambling as the event goes on to get to the final table well-equipped. He has no interest in min-cashing or reaching the final table last in chips.

Like Daniel Negreanu, Lindgren believes in the small ball approach to poker. He plays more hands than most, prefers to keep pots smaller before the flop, and uses his superior hand reading skills after the flop. Because he has a wider range than his opponents, he can almost always reasonably represent a hand that hit the flop.

In middle position, Lindgren will play any cards that can flop big, like Ace-Jack or Jack-Nine suited, while in late position, he will play almost any two cards for at least a call.

Other good sections of the book include the most common postflop mistakes (and how to take advantage of them), what to consider when trying to steal the blinds, what to expect if you reach the final table, and how to play heads up.

While the advice specifically addresses the World Poker Tour, most of the book is applicable to any poker tournament.”

Title Making the Final Table
Author Erick Lindgren
Year 2005
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Good introduction to the World Poker Tour, especially if you want to play on it. Solid, wide-ranging, intermediate-level advice.
Cons Less than a hundred pages on strategy1, far too short (and low level) to prepare you to play on the WPT.
Rating 2.5


  1. The first couple of appendixes waste 22 pages on instantly outdated WPT ranking lists of Millionaires and Money Leaders that are no more than trivial historical curiosities.

“Tournament Poker” Review

[LL] “Tom McEvoy’s Tournament Poker is a dense 424-page tome,” Leroy the Lion began

[RR] “Is ‘dense’ a good thing or a bad thing?” Roderick the Rock interrupted.

[LL] “That depends. If it makes me feel dense, then I don’t like it. But in this case, I just mean that there isn’t much fluff. It’s lots of meat and potatoes.”

[RR] “Which you like.”

[LL] “Yes, the book covers general tournament poker strategy briefly before diving deeper into numerous variations: Hold ‘Em (Limit, No-Limit, and Pot-Limit), Ace-to-Five Lowball (With the Joker), Deuce-to-Seven Draw, Omaha (Limit, Pot-Limit, and High-Low), Seven-Card Stud (High and High-Low Split), and Razz. For games I was already familiar with, like Hold ‘Em, I could have used even more depth, but for the others, the amount of detail was good most of the time. Seven-Card Stud got a reasonable 76 pages, while the three lowball games were shortchanged a bit (18 pages for Ace-to-Five, 8 for Deuce-to-Seven, and 22 for Razz).”

[RR] “Does McEvoy find all poker variants to be roughly the same?”

[LL] “He definitely thinks there are plenty of common threads between them, especially in tournaments. For example, expect players to be their sharpest in the early rounds. Don’t get married to a hand, especially in games like Hold ‘Em where having the nuts is rare. In the middle rounds, you can steal from the tighter players. In the late stages after the money bubble, you should be more aggressive, especially against the shorter stacks and those whom you think are just trying to move up the pay ladder.”

[RR] “Let me guess, he thinks a tight aggressive strategy is correct…, and his concept of tight is much tighter than most players play now.”

[LL] “Yes, especially in the early rounds of events. But realize that part of that is because most of his opponents were tighter then, too. On the other hand, McEvoy wasn’t afraid to ‘double up or go home’, since if you bust out of a tournament very early, you’ve saved yourself time compared to busting out at the money bubble. He’s even okay with exiting on a semibluff.”

[LL] “Overall, I got a lot out of this book, especially in the poker variants I don’t usually play. His general tournament strategy may need to be tweaked somewhat with the recent change to deeper pyaout structures, but his overall plan is still appropriate if your goal is to win tournaments rather than just run deep.”

Title Tournament Poker
Author Tom McEvoy
Year 2004 (originally published in 1995 but significantly updated)
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Detailed tournament tips for 11 poker variants.
Cons A little dated but not horribly so.
Rating 3.5

“Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em” Review

[LL] “As much as I like T.J. Cloutier poker playing skills, he actually may not be that effective as a teacher because he’s too talented“, Leroy the Lion bemoaned.

[RR] “You mean that he’s too good to relate to us mere mortals?” Roderick the Rock suggested.

[LL] “Exactly. In Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em, which he cowrote with Tom McEvoy, Cloutier says that you should be able to remember the 30 or 40 key hands from an 8-hour poker session!”

[RR] “That’s pretty much every hand I don’t fold preflop.”

[LL] “I’ll be lucky to remember 3 or 4, at least in terms of who was in the hand, all of the cards, and the approximate bet sizes. I can usually recall a couple of big double ups and bad beats…”

[RR] “And of course, the hand that knocked me out of the tournament!”

[YY] “That’s why hand recaps are so great when you play online. You’ve got a complete, perfect recording of every hand!” Yuri the Young Gun noted.

[LL] “He really needs a training course on how to remember everything he wants you to remember. This is one of the reasons why I like playing online so much… I can write down all the notes I want without anyone knowing or complaining.”

[YY] “You could use a HUD, too.”

[LL] “Yes, a heads-up display with everyone’s stats would be tremendously useful, but I’m sure Google Glass and its ilk will always be banned from live poker events.

Anyway, if you can get by the problem that you don’t have T.J. Cloutier’s photographic memory, the rest of the book is pretty good, albeit quite tight by modern standards, not that I’m saying that can’t work anymore if you adjust for how much looser everyone else is playing.

Although the book covers both the Pot-Limit and No-Limit variations of Texas Hold ‘Em in separate chapters, most of the advice applies to both. The differences are mainly preflop where in Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em, you can play more speculative hands like suited connectors and suited Aces because the raises are usually smaller than in No-Limit Hold ‘Em. Cloutier likes making pot-sized bets in No-Limit though, making the postflop differences even smaller. The all-in bet distinguishes No-Limit Hold ‘Em from Pot-Limit, but the book doesn’t really discuss it, as it conflicts with the authors’ conservative styles.

Some of their other main points across variations:

  • Observe how your opponents are playing. Everything depends on this, since the same exact bet from two different players can mean very different things.
  • In tournaments, play tight and solid early, open up during the middle stage, attack at the bubbles, but let other players knock each other out to get to the final table. Once you’re at the final table, play to reach third place, where the big money starts. Then you can play for the win.
  • If you want to win a World Series of Poker bracelet, which should be the ‘goal of every serious tournament player’, you’ll get better practice in single-table satellites than supersatellites as the former will have better quality players.”

The book includes twenty practice hands, which are loaded with high pairs and Ace-King, since those are the hands he wants you to be playing.

Before the conclusion, the book winds down with a couple of entertaining but not very educational chapters of poker stories (also sprinkled throughout the earlier sections) and an interview of Cloutier by Dana Smith.”

Title Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em
Author Tom McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier
Year 1997 (2004 update)
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Fairly deep thinking about both Pot-Limit and No-Limit Hold ‘Em, especially for the different stages of deep-stack tournaments. Thorough preflop and postflop advice. Amusing anecdotes.
Cons Supertight style needs to be adapted for modern play. Too much “intuition” and fuzzy math. Expects you to have a great memory.
Rating 3.0

{ The Hold ‘Em at Home blog is brought to you by THETA Poker Pro, the strongest, fastest, and most configurable Texas Hold ‘Em game for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Apple TV. }


“Doyle Brunson’s Super System” Review

[LL] “I guess it’s my turn to review some books”, Leroy the Lion suggested. “I just inherited a huge box of them from an uncle.”

[FF] “Sorry to hear. How did he die?” Figaro the Fish inquired.

[LL] “Oh, he didn’t die. But he was about to. His wife said she’d kill him if he didn’t stop squandering their retirement savings playing poker.”

[RR] “I guess the books you got didn’t help him much”, Roderick the Rock ventured.

[LL] “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You can give a person a book to read, but you can’t make him think.”

[SS] “So, you like the books?” Stan the Stat asked.

[LL] “They’re a mixed bag, but in general I thought they were pretty good if a bit dated. I think you’d particularly like the history books though, Stan. Those are timeless.”

[SS] “Oh, absolutely. I’d love to borrow any of the ones you won’t be reading soon.”

[LL] “I’ll bring some to the next tournament.

Most of the books are from 1999 to 2009. But a few are older, starting with a classic, Doyle Brunson’s Super System, from 1979. Since I’m reading them in chronological order, that’s where I’ll start.”

[SS] “If I remember, Brunson originally self-published the material as How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker and sold it for $100 a pop in 1978.”

[LL] “That sounds about right. But that’s a fairly rare, valuable book. If my uncle had that he could have sold it and kept playing a little longer.”

[LL] “Anyway, Super System covers a lot of ground. Brunson got expert help for most of the poker variations:

  • Draw Poker: Mike Caro1 not only covers draw poker extensively but discusses tells long before his own book on the subject came out. He also contributed fifty pages worth of computer-calculated probability tables for the appendixes.
  • Seven-Card Stud: Chip Reese had just won the 1978 WSOP $1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split and went on to win the 1982 WSOP $5,000 Seven-Card Stud.
  • Lowball: Joey Hawthorne, a poker theorist, and Doyle Brunson cover Ace-to-Five, Deuce-to-Seven (which Brunson won the 1976 $5,000 event in), and Razz (which Brunson won the 1998 $1,500 event in).
  • Seven-Card Stud High-Low Split: David Sklansky would go on to write over a dozen of his own books on poker and gambling.
  • Limit Texas Hold ‘Em: Bobby Baldwin captured all four of his WSOP bracelets between 1977 and 1979, including the 1978 Main Event just after this book was published.
  • No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em: Doyle Brunson won four of his ten WSOP bracelets in No Limit Hold ‘Em, which has been his favorite since well before it even arrived in Las Vegas.

[LL] “There’s no arguing with Brunson’s credentials or how groundbreaking Super System was, but he did take a few missteps. He believes in poker ESP (‘I believe some good Poker players actually employ a degree of extrasensory perception’), rushes (‘After I’ve won a pot in No-Limit… I’m in the next pot — regardless of what two cards I pick up‘), and the weakness of female players (‘Nor do I like to see women at a Poker table’).2

Overall, though, this book is still an excellent primer for all the different poker variations it covers. I certainly learned a lot about Draw Poker and all the Stud variants that I wish I knew when I played them as a kid. We’ve started to play them more in the side games here, too.”

Title Doyle Brunson’s Super System
Author Doyle Brunson
Year 1979
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Covers several types of poker over a comprehensive 605 pages. Teaches what used to be an aggressive style of play.
Cons What used to be aggressive is just normal now and won’t work like it used to. Although much of his advice is still valid, Brunson published Super System 2 in 2005.
Rating 3.0


  1. The Draw Poker chapter is the only one Brunson didn’t write any of.
  2. The three quotes are from page 23, 450, and 24, respectively. To his credit, Brunson later retracted what he said about women, acknowledging that they could play just as aggressively as men in Poker Wisdom of a Champion.

    On the same page, Brunson also said, “I doubt that any of my children will decide to play professionally. It can be a very good life, and it has been for me, but my children haven’t come from the background that produced good Poker players.” Thirty-seven years later, his son Todd joined him in the Poker Hall of Fame.



[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…”


  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.