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Old 04-19-2017, 04:51 AM   #1
Mason Malmuth
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Requested Book Reviews

Hi Everyone:

In my book Gambling Theory and Other Topics there are a bunch of book reviews. However, this book was last updated in 2004 and I've written a bunch of reviews over the years since that last update that appeared in the Two Plus Two Online Poker Strategy Magazine. Also, there have been some requests to get these reviews published again so I'm getting them together and will repost them in this thread.

A couple of points. When I review a book, it gets a rating of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best plus some comments from me. The reviews I'm going to post received my rating at the time they were written and if I was doing one of these reviews today the rating might be different. This has something to do with increased understanding of the subject matter, especially if the subject is no-limit hold 'em.

I'll also be adding some "Current Comments" to the reviews where I see fit. In addition, all comments on the reviews are welcome.

Reviews Written after 2004

Super System 2 (7) by Doyle Brunson. Even though this is not a bad book, it certainly comes in under expectation. It has a number of problems. First and foremost, while short chapters of 50 to 80 pages may have worked well in the original Super/System when the poker literature was still quite sparse, that’s not the case today where there are a number of 300 page plus books which are detailed and very accurate. Thus it fails when compared to the depth of other books that are available for specific games.

This problem becomes compounded by the inclusion of over 200 pages of material that in my opinion is questionable at best. This includes Crandell Addington’s “History of No-Limit Hold ‘em,” Doyle’s chapter on “Online Poker,” Mike Caro’s “43 Exclusive Super/System 2 Tips from Mike Caro’s University” which while worthwhile for a beginner is too elementary for a book of this stature, and the World Poker Tour chapter by Steven Lipscom.

Two other serious problems are the fact that parts of the book are written at a high school level, and the very important no limit chapter is essentially the same as the one that appeared in the original Super/System. Expert poker players are not necessarily expert writers and some professional editing was sorely needed, and those who bought this book to see what changes Doyle would have made to his no limit strategy after over 25 years are going to be very disappointed.

On the other hand, the chapter on Omaha eight-or-better is excellent, it contains the only write up (as of this moment) of triple draw lowball, and I thought the seven-card stud eight-or-better section offers some good advice. It also contains a chapter on pot-limit Omaha but I’m not knowledgeable enough in that game to comment on it.

So while I think that Super System 2 is worthwhile, I also believe it could have been much better. Perhaps in a few years an improved version will come out.

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Ace on the River; An Advanced Poker Guide (10) by Barry Greenstein. There are many people who are pretty good players but who can’t crack the small circle of really top players. Much of the reason for this has very little to do with their skill at the poker table, it has to do with psychological holes in their make up. Barry Greenstein is perhaps the most successful poker player of the last few years, and this book does a pretty good job of explaining why that’s the case.

Put another way, it’s about how a pretty good player can always play his best, and avoid those times when he doesn’t. Here’s an example: “There is great value in playing side games with seats available for emotionally drained players who just got knocked out of the daily event at a tournament. Don’t be one of the victims. If you last a long time in a tournament, don’t play in a side game immediately after getting knocked out. Tournament play is more tiring than side-game play.”

A few people have objected to this book because with the exception of some hand examples at the end, it’s not a how too text. They feel that while many topics are touched, there is not enough in depth discussion on how to actually play. While I think this point has some merit, it’s also not the purpose of Ace on the River. As Greenstein has stated on our forums at www.twoplustwo.com, there are other books that concentrate on this area. He is targeting those players who should be doing much better than they actually do, and to this end I believe he accomplishes his goal.

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Stepping Up (3) by Randy Burgess. The idea here is to give guidelines for those who want to move from home games to more serious low limit games in a public cardroom or on the Internet. While this concept certainly has merit, too much of the given advice is confused and convoluted as well as being weak tight. For example, on page 57 it states when playing against a tight player: “Or if you got AK before the flop in hold ’em, you fold right behind a tight raiser who you’ve watched only raise with QQ or better rather than trap yourself with a dominated hand.” Well, while this advice is probably correct against a queens or better raiser, I can’t remember ever playing against someone who was this restrictive. In addition, to be completely sure of something like this would probably require hundreds of hours of close observation of this opponent in action.

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Professional Poker; The Essential Guide to Playing for a Living (8) by Mark Blade. Despite it’s title, this is not a book on strategy, rather it addresses those other issues that serious players have to wrestle. Topics include quitting your day job, how much you can make playing poker, loaning money, bankroll requirements, staking, getting your poker education, what’s it like to be a full time pro, emotional issues, and a few strategy tips (at the end).

Some of the sections, such as the discussion of staking and how 300 big bets is not a precise bankroll requirement were quite good. But I also feel the book has its flaws. First off, dispite the author’s statement to the contray, much of this material has been written elsewhere. Second, if the 282 pages of text would have only been about 200, it would come across much better. At times it seemed that sentences/paragraphs were just added to take up space. And third, the constant promotion of his other (not yet published) books does get annoying.

However, even with these drawbacks, many of you, especially if you’re relatively new to poker, may want to pick up this text. This is particularly true if poker is something that you might be very serious about.

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The following reviews have been added after 11/24/05

Weighing the Odds In Hold’em Poker (8) by King Yao.In many ways this is a very good limit hold 'em book. Some of the analysis and discussions are terrific and it’s at a level of detail that should help even the most serious players, and the short handed chapters are some of the best material currently published in this area.

However, the reason my rating isn’t higher is that I also thought the book was flawed in some aspects. One example is what the author calls DIPO or “Do I have pot odds.” All this is is a way to compare your potentially good cards plus the size of the pot to the cards that fail to complete your hand. While there is nothing wrong with it mathematically, it does create much unnecessary work that would be very difficult to do at the poker table. In fact, if this section was removed from the book without replacement, this text would have received a rating of 9 instead of an 8.

Another problem has to do with the way some of the analysis is done. Yao seems to rely a little too much on “hot and cold” simulations where all cards are dealt out without regard to betting action. For example, when holding ace-ten offsuit in the big blind against a raise from a solid player “from early/middle position” he concludes “You are offered higher pot odds to see the flop, so it is worthwhile to call. Be quick to dump your hand if the flop does not fit your hand.” In my opinion, this hand in this spot should always be folded before the flop. Part of the reason, is that against a solid player who raises from early position, ace-ten offsuit will frequently either win a little or lose a lot. Thus lack of playability needs to be taken into account and Yao fails to do so.

Another example. Yao states “If many players have limped in, ace-queen-suited can be a reasonable raising hand, but king-jack suited no longer is.” I routinely raise with both of these hands in this spot.

Again, this is still a very good book despite these problems, and I do recommend it.

Current Comment: This book has stood the test of time much better than most poker books that are 12 years old. So this is another indication that my rating of 8 may have been low. In addition, I would now call from the big blind with the ace-ten offsuit in today's more aggressive games where typical players now have a much wider raising range.

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How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker; The Wisdom of Dickie Richards (2) by Penn Jillette and Mickey D. Lynn. From my point of view this book is a major disappointment. First off, there is very little “how to” instructions contained in the text. It is mostly a book of bizarre stories from someone who they call Dickie Richards but whose real name is not revealed about all the money he has stolen from different people.

Second, it is full of four letter words and many demeaning expressions, and is simply one of the most crude and vulgar books I have ever read. Perhaps that’s the “Penn Jillette style” and some of you might find it mildly entertaining, but in my opinion there’s little worthwhile information here and both authors should be ashamed of themselves.

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Poker Protection; Cheating ... and the World of Poker (10) by Steve Forte. For those who don’t know, Steve Forte is recognized by many as the world’s foremost authority on cheating. This includes all casino games as well as poker, but this book concentrates solely on poker. The text includes much discussion of all the different cheating options (and many variations) that are out there as well as lengthy discussions on how to protect yourself. Many photographs are also available. Topics include collusion, sleight of hand, holding out, marked cards, tournaments, online poker, and much more. Simply put this is must reading for the serious player, especially if you play in a home game where your risk is much higher. I found much of the material to be fascinating and learned a great deal from it.

Current Comment: Unfortunately, this book is difficult to find today.

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How Good is Your Limit Hold’em (8) by Byron Jacobs with Jim Brier. This is a book of hand problems where the author steps you through the hand in a question and answer format. His answers show the thinking that is required in a game as complex as limit hold ’em and should be good practice for intermediate players who are striving to improve their games.

There are three reasons my rating is not higher. First, many of the questions concern situations which to me are highly debatable, yet the author gives definite answers. For instance, saying that calling is clearly a better play than raising when you have QT on the button after three players have limped in is in my opinion not clear. I think that rasing is often the better play. A game this complex is not as cut and dry as Jacobs sometimes represents it.

Second, I flat out disagree with a few of the answers. For instance, before the flop if I’m one off the button in a six handed game that is populated by tight players, the two players to my right both fold, and my hand is 87, I’m raising every time, not folding as Jacobs recommends. Part of the reason for this raise is to help balance my raises those times my hand consists of bigger cards.

Third, I found the layout of the book to be awkward. Having the answers on separate pages that follow the problems made it necessary to frequently go back and forth between pages which in turn made the information somewhat difficult to read and retain. A better layout in my opinion is to have each answer immediately follow each question.

However, despite these criticism, this is a pretty good book and those of you who are still working on your game should benefit from it. Just keep in mind that there should be more flexibility in your strategy than is shown here and that some of the answers may not be framed in a complete context.

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The Making of a Poker Player (5) by Matt Matros. Along with the poker boom there is also an avalanche of poker books. Many of these are autobiographical in nature with some strategy discussion thrown in. In general, I find these books boring and egotistical, and don’t see their appeal (and they usually don’t sell very well). This text is a typical example as the author takes us from playing poker in his dorm room to becoming a tournament star. The book is well written so some of you may find it more entertaining than I did, and the strategy advice should be helpful to those of you who are relatively new to poker. But the fact is, the more I read the more bored I got.

Part of the reason my rating of this book is lower than what most would give it is that Matros recommends books by authors such as Ken Warren, Gary Carson, and Ken Buntjer which I feel should be left off of any reading list. For someone who is claiming to be giving expert advice, it’s my opinion that these recommendations show his thinking about some aspects of poker to be highly flawed. In addition, he seems hostile towards many things that are associated with our company Two Plus Two Publishing LLC including our website at www.twoplustwo.com. So perhaps that is clouding my judgement a little.

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Play Poker Like Johnny Chan (8) by Johnny Chan and Mark Karowe. For those of you relatively new to poker, this is a surprisingly good book. While the text is fairly short, it does contain good discussions on several different poker games including limit hold ’em, no limit hold ’em, seven-card stud, seven-card stud eight-or-better, (limit) Omaha high, Omaha eight-or-better, and pot limit Omaha. There is also discussion on tournament strategy and general poker concepts, plus some filler material. While a few advanced ideas do appear, most of the text is designed to teach solid play and is aimed mostly at low limit games. You won’t be able to play like Johnny Chan after reading this, but it will get you started down the right path. And as Chan says, you then need to “practice, practice, practice.”

Current Comment: Some people I knew who were familiar with this book were surprised my rating was as high as it was. But I did like the book.

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How to Win No-Limit Hold’em Tournaments (2) by Tom McEvoy and Don Vines. Yet another book written on poker tournaments by McEvoy and another writer that says very little. Most of the advice is centered around the idea of being aggressive, especially from late position, but to also make sure to protect your stack. But it contains very little advice that is specific in any way, and after reading it I don’t believe that new players would have any more of an idea as to how they are suppose to approach tournament play than before they picked up this text.

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The following reviews have been added after 1/24/06

Poker: The Real Deal (4) by Phil Gordon and John Grotenstein. This is an introduction to poker and the poker lifestyle. But I found it very disappointing. Part of the problem is that the book seems to describe poker from a point of view of “this is the way we would like for it to be” than from “this is the way it is.” So we’re told to act like a drunk, have lots of heart, and what kind of clothes to wear. Maybe someone new to poker will find this interesting, but I certainly don’t.

Another problem with the book is that it touches on a great deal of strategy, much of which is highly questionable. For example, on page 57 it explains how in limit hold ’em if you check raise when the flop comes KT9 after you have flopped a set of tens, you may get the third player to fold for two bets when they hold “a potentially dangerous hand that otherwise might have been worth a call, like KJ or QT.” Well almost no one is ever going to fold either of these two hands for just two bets, and they shouldn’t.

The reason I don’t rate this book lower is that it is well written and some of you may find it entertaining. But for someone like myself who has spent a lot of time in public cardrooms, it has little value.

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Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book; Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold’em (8) by Phil Gordon. This is a surprisingly good book that quickly goes through many points of strategy dealing with no-limit hold ’em and exactly how the author plays in specific situations. It is more geared for tournament play than cash game play, but much of the material is applicable for both. For instance, Gordon explains why he likes to raise a little less when he is first in from an early position than when he is first in from a later position. It has to do with the fact that his average first in raising hand up front is much stronger than his average first in raising hand when he could be stealing — a good point that I’ve never seen any place else.

The reason I don’t rate the book higher is that parts of it are in major need of a professional editor, and one section about BOW, short for “Biggest Online Winner” is analyzed incorrectly. Gordon needs to understand when he holds AK and the flop comes A76 that the possible hands he gives for BOW are not equally likely. Specifically, if BOW plays virtually all hands, he’s much more likely to have a weak “gut-shot straight draw” than either a set or a straight-flush draw. On the other hand, given that Gordon has probably raised when he holds an ace-king, many of the potential gut-shot hands that BOW could have would have been folded before the flop. No wonder Gordon states “I’ve tried to emulate his cash-game style to some extent, although I haven’t been nearly as successful with it as he has.”

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Making the Final Table; No Limit Texas Hold ’em Strategies for Surviving and Thriving (7) by Erick Lindgren. This is a short quick summary of how the author plays major poker tournaments where he has been very successful. It’s based on an aggressive approach than on one where the emphasis is just on survival. This includes making many small raises before the flop early in the tournament when the chip stacks are still deep relative to the blinds with the intention of outplaying your opponents on the later streets, and taking advantage of opponents who begin to play too tight in their effort to just make the money. There are also discussions of playing in the middle stages and the playing at the final table including how to play against the big and small stacks. There’s also a section on poker math written by Matt Matros.

This text is a good overview of how this successful style works and touches on many topics that tournament players need to consider. However, the reason it doesn’t rate higher is due to its short length. It’s sort of like putting dots on paper without drawing the lines to connect them. While the information that’s here is worthwhile and accurate, it needs to be explained in more detail with more detailed examples. So most of you should view it as supplemental reading.

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Kill Phil (10) by Blair Rodman and Lee Nelson. In Tournament Poker for Advanced Players David Sklansky introduced a simple all-in strategy which he called “The System,” and which would give a complete novice a chance in a major tournament. This book picks up where Sklansky left off and presents a powerful tournament strategy based on the all-in move. In fact, it presents four such strategies from “Rookie” to “Expert,” and there’s no question that the better tournament players are not going to appreciate these all-in tactics.

There’s also some very good discussion on how the best players use “small ball” to get the money and how to defend against these experts, and the sample tournament towards the end of the text is also quite helpful. A must read, especially for those of you just getting into the poker tournament scene.

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The Book of Bluffs; How to Bluff and Win at Poker (5) by Mat Lessinger. I found this to be an uneven and confusing work that to be fair was difficult to evaluate. Most of the book the author goes from one bluff to another with little coherence between the hands. He underestimates the value of the semi-bluff, especially in limit games, and doesn’t seem to understand that identifying situations where your expectation is positive is more important than having your opponent fold. The bluffs seem very results oriented and some of the reasons for their success, such as the top card pairing on the river, aren’t even mentioned. And finally the bluffs move from limit to no-limit to no-limit tournaments with the author not recognizing the differences between how these very dissimilar games should be approached and how typical players play them.

On the other hand, there are some positives. Counting your bluff outs, something that very few consider, is a worthwhile idea, knowing when your opponent is close to all-in is important, and knowing when to listen to your opponent has value. So some of the analysis is reasonably good.. A pretty good player who can recognize all the weaknesses may find some value here.

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Over the next few days, I'll be adding more reviews in additional posts in this thread.

Best wishes,
Mason
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Old 04-19-2017, 06:31 PM   #2
Beverly71
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Hey Mason,
Do these reviews reflect how you feel about these books TODAY? Or are these your old reviews on these books?

Thanks Mason!
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Old 04-19-2017, 07:39 PM   #3
Mason Malmuth
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Quote:
Originally Posted by Beverly71 View Post
Hey Mason,
Do these reviews reflect how you feel about these books TODAY? Or are these your old reviews on these books?

Thanks Mason!
Hi Beverly:

Generally my opinion today is consistent with my opinion at the time the review was written, but I'm adding some current comments to help in this area.

Best wishes,
Mason
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Old 04-19-2017, 10:39 PM   #4
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Sounds good Mason. Knowing what you know now, do you still feel Kill Phil is worth reading and a must read for tournament play in 2017? I just picked it up the other day and curious on your thoughts.
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Old 04-19-2017, 11:37 PM   #5
Mason Malmuth
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Quote:
Originally Posted by Beverly71 View Post
Sounds good Mason. Knowing what you know now, do you still feel Kill Phil is worth reading and a must read for tournament play in 2017? I just picked it up the other day and curious on your thoughts.
Hi Beverly:

It's been a long time since I read it, but Kill Phil should still have value. However, much of it is based on the all-in move and more players today are probably better able to defend against it.

Best wishes,
Mason
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Old 04-19-2017, 11:42 PM   #6
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

As always....thanks for your help and advice Mason!
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Old 04-20-2017, 01:41 AM   #7
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

thanks Mason.. are you currently reading any books now?

Did you finish Grinder's book? I remember a thread about it a while back and you seem to be getting quite into it.
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Old 04-20-2017, 02:17 AM   #8
Mason Malmuth
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

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Originally Posted by avatar77 View Post
thanks Mason.. are you currently reading any books now?

Did you finish Grinder's book? I remember a thread about it a while back and you seem to be getting quite into it.
Hi avatar:

I read about 70 percent of it and haven't gotten back. But based on what I read it gets my recommendation.

Best wishes,
Mason
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Old 04-20-2017, 04:22 AM   #9
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Here's the next group of reviews.

Reviews After May 1, 2006

Winning Texas Hold ’em; Cash Game Poker Strategies for Players of All Skill Levels (4) by Matt Maroon. This is simply another book on limit hold ’em and it contains advice that can be found in many other places. Thus, if you have already read some of the other books on the same subject this one will add very little with one possible exception. It also contains some errors which is why the rating is not higher. A couple of examples:

1. If you are in the big blind with limpers the author says to always raise with aces, kings, queens, and ace-king, and “occasionally pop a hand like AQs or AJs with a few limpers just to keep them guessing.” I would routinely raise for value with many more hands than this.

2. “Only check raise if you are fairly sure that someone will bet, especially if the pot is large. The larger the pot the higher the danger of giving a free card.” Here the author fails to recognize that in very large pots many players automatically call for one bet so risking the dreaded free card is often well worth it.

and Maroon also advocates “fit or fold” which should cause you to miss out on many situations where the expectation is positive.
The one exception might be his chapter on short handed play. He does a good job of explaining why in these games it’s necessary to be aggressive. But at times his advice seems too aggressive to me, so even here I can’t quite recommend it.

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In the Money; Strategies for Winning Texas Hold ’em Cash Games (4) by Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari. This is a great book if you want to be told over and over how incredibly talented the author is and what a fabulous lifestyle he lives. But if you’re interested in learning how to play hold ’em better, this is not the best source. Specifically, the author has problems separating limit concepts from no-limit ideas and gets some of his examples wrong. For instance, in a heads-up pot when your lone opponent checks to you on the flop and your hand is a draw he cautions against betting against a frequent check raiser. Of course in limit your bet should be automatic. Esfandiari thinks that the odds of completing your hand when you have flopped a flush draw “are 47-to-9, or 5.22-to-1.” Of course 38-to-9 is correct. And finally, in an example where his opponent has AJ on a board of 9
84T he states “Here, I made him pay for his flush draw” without realizing that his opponent also has an open end straight draw plus an ace all of which would have been good in the example given.

A couple of other misconceptions is that the author thinks you should always value bet on the end if it’s most likely you have the best hand and that you should bet the amount you believe your opponent will call. First off, you should only value bet if you feel you will have the best hand the majority of times your opponent calls, not just the majority of times. And second, you should bet the amount that maximizes your expectation. This can be a different figure from the amount your opponent is most likely to call.

On the other hand, some of his no limit discussion is fairly good. For instance his explanation of when you should bluff or accept a free card on the turn has value. So some of you who are looking specifically for no-limit advice may want to give this a read.

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The Poker Tournament Formula; New Strategies to Beat No-Limit Hold ’em Poker (8) by Arnold Snyder. For those who don’t know, Arnold Snyder is one of the premier authorities in gambling, who like many others has now ventured into poker, and thus producing his first book on the subject. But it's a difficult book to evaluate and it immediately created much discussion on our forums at www.twoplustwo.com.

The good news about his text is that it will definitely help many of its readers play better. That’s because it correctly outlines the aggressive style of poker that is needed for poker tournaments, especially those with small buy-ins. This alone would normally make The Poker Tournament Formula at least a 9 on my scale since there aren’t many books that will clearly improve the expectation for typical players.

But there is also bad news. I do not agree with the premise of the book which has to do with tournament speed, that is how fast the blinds (and antes where appropriate) are increased. Snyder seems to think that you should play your hands differently when the blinds go up every twenty minutes as compared to once an hour. But it’s my opinion that tournament speed has virtually nothing to do with how you should play your hands.

In Harrington on Hold ’em; Volume II: The Endgame, Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie explain how the cost per round, which they refer to as “M” should influence your strategy. Specifically, when your “M” gets low, you need to play aggressively and start making moves, and you do this regardless of how fast the blinds are increased.

It just turns out that in the tournaments that Snyder targets, your “M” will usually be low. Thus he and Harrington will agree on most of the plays that The Poker Tournament Formula recommends. But they will disagree on the reason.

Here’s an example. As part of his basic strategy Snyder says to raise regardless of your cards if the first five players fold and it is now up to you. Harrington would agree with this if your “M” was low which again will usually be the case in small tournaments. But I can’t see how this play can be right if you have a lot of chips compared to the cost per round unless the remaining players are playing very tightly.

Here’s another example. On page 229 Snyder states:

“By far, the most common type of playing error you see in the fast tournaments will be the failure to play with sufficient aggression. If you are the first player into the pot preflop, you should almost always come with a raise, regardless of your hand or position.”

So if you had an “M” of let’s say 25 or higher, are first in on the button with a small pair, the players in the blinds have lots of chips, you should raise and reduce your chance of winning a very large pot. I hope most readers see the fallacy here.

Another problem area is that Snyder doesn’t seem to realize that in poker tournaments chips change value, that is the more chips you have the less each chip is worth due to the percentage payback nature of tournament prizes. One consequence of this is that he thinks always rebuying and adding on is correct where clearly with a large stack relative to the other players you should not (unless the chips can be purchased at a discount).

Another spot this error shows up is in his chapter on cheating where Snyder is very concerned about chip dumping, especially at the final table. Apparently Snyder is convinced that when one partner deliberately loses all his chips to his associate that it hurts the honest players. In fact, just the opposite is true (with a possible exception being a marginal player dumping chips very early in the tournament to a tournament expert). That is chip dumping is not the problem, but due to the fact that the more chips you have the less each chip is worth, players who even up their stacks is the concern. So Snyder has this one exactly backwards.

Here’s an extreme example. Suppose you play in a one table sit-n-go on the Internet or in a public cardroom that pays three places. In your game is a team of eight players who very quickly dump all their chips to one player. You got to love this. You would now be assured of finishing in the money and your expectation would be far higher than if you were against honest opponents.

I can’t help but think that in some of these small buy-in tournaments Snyder has watched terrible players go off by making ridiculous all-in bluffs or just terrible calls where they didn’t have a chance and think he was being cheated. While not being aware that players evening up their stacks, especially in the late going where the effect of the chips changing value is the strongest, was the real concern.

In a nutshell, what I’m saying is that although his strategies are almost always right, it is sometimes for the wrong reason. But it will increase the expectation of most who read and study it. So I settled on a rating of 8.

Reviews After Aug 6, 2006

Ultimate Guide to Poker Tells; Devastate Opponents by Reading Body Language, Table Talk, Chip Moves, and Much More (8) by Randy Burgess and Carl Baldassare. This short but well written text is actually a good introduction for those of you interested in what is known as “Tell Theory.” This would include novice players as well as more experienced players who are still new to “Brick and Motor” cardrooms.

Worthwhile topics include involuntary tells, individual tells, chip-handling tells, verbal tells, telegraphs, and tells in different forms of poker. There is also good discussion on how to avoid your own tells which is a topic usually neglected by writers (including me) who venture into this field.

The reason I don’t rate this text higher is that this is not a definitive work, and certainly doesn’t replace Caro’s original book. But I do recommend it.

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Dirty Poker; the Poker Underworld Exposed (1) by Richard Marcus, The World’s Greatest Cheater. The author claims to be a cheat and I certainly believe him because he has cheated on this book. Any knowledgeable poker player who reads it will immediately recognize that Marcus knows nothing about his subject, makes claims that are absolutely ridiculous, and gives examples that are borderline fantastic.

The book begins in Aruba where Marcus and two associates are colluding in a $20-$40 limit hold ’em game. While it’s being dealt honestly, he and his partners are signaling their hands. The two partners each have a pair of kings, he has ace-queen suited, the flop comes ace-ace-eight, and the live one has ace-jack. Now I’ve been playing poker for a very long time and have never seen a hand like this. But for Marcus, they are commonplace.

Other errors include discussion of the World Super Bowl of Poker (in addition to the World Series of Poker and the World Poker Tour); the idea that colluders want to put someone in the middle so they can get lots of raises in, something that virtually never happens since it is so easy to pick up; the idea that in tournaments partners try to dump all their chips to one player, especially late in a tournament, where just the opposite is the danger; and thinking that shoot-out tournaments are winner take all where they too are of the percentage payback format. But the grand topper of them all is the pot limit Omaha hand which supposedly comes from Internet poker where with three players contesting the pot, you not only have set over set over set on the flop, but a higher set is made on the turn, and the nut flush as well as four of a kind appear on the river.

------------------

Phil Gordon’s Little Blue Book; More Lessons and Hand Analysis in No Limit Texas Hold ’em (7) by Phil Gordon. This is a pretty good book of no-limit hold ’em hand analysis that is designed as a followup to Gordon’s successful Little Green Book, and in that sense it is also successful. Many hands are presented that the author has played along with his reasons for making the decisions that he did and a short “Key Analysis” which sums up the most important point of each hand. Most readers, especially those new to no-limit hold ’em, should find this book helpful.

The reason my rating isn’t higher is that I thought the initial chapter on cash games was quite weak. Here the hands presented are simplistic and the analysis lacking. Fortunately, the rest of the book, which is about 75 percent of the text, is on tournament play and is far superior. In fact, if the cash game chapter would have been left out, my rating would be higher.

Another small weakness is that Gordon often evaluates his chip position in the tourneys based on the number of big blinds he has as opposed to cost per round (which takes into account the antes). This can have the effect of making you think that you are in better shape than you really are, especially late in a tournament.

However, despite these problems, this work still has value. So it does receive my recommendation as supplemental reading.

Current Comment: Many players today do evaluate their tournament chip position in terms of big blinds. So my criticism here should be discounted.

---------------

Hold’em on the Come: Limit Hold’em Strategy for Drawing Hands by (4) Rolf Slotboom and Dew Mason. There’s really nothing wrong with this book which is mostly written by the second author listed with some comments interspersed by the first author. On the other hand, it has very little value. It’s a discussion in extreme detail of exactly how many outs you really have with a drawing hand and exactly how big the pot needs to be to play. In almost all cases none of this information is necessary. In limit poker, if your strategy is to always play if you have 6 or more outs, to play in large pots if you have four outs, and to require extremely large pots if you have two outs, you’ll be playing just about right. Knowing that instead of having 8 outs you only really have 7¼ outs because one of your outs may be somewhat tainted is fairly worthless to your overall strategy. So unless you’re someone who just wants to read poker books, this is one that can be skipped.

There is also a funny quirk with this text which I’ll mention here. By my count, Slotboom’s picture appears twelve times in the text, yet no picture of Mason ever appears. In addition, at the very beginning of the book, there is an endorsement page with quotes from five well known poker people. Each one of these praises Slotboom while only one of them even mentions Mason. Yet Dew Mason (if that’s even his real name) is the one who wrote the main text.

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The Full Tilt Strategy Guide: Tournament Edition (10) by Andy Bloch, Richard Brodie, Chris Ferguson, Ted Forrest, Rafe Furst, Phil Gordon, David Grey, Howard Lederer, Mike Matasow, Huckleberry Seed, Keith Sexton, Gavin Smith, and edited by Michael Craig. This is an excellent book that is dedicated to all forms of tournament poker, but it also contains much information that is applicable to side games as well.

Its strength is the great diversity of all the different authors who don’t always agree on every point. Thus the reader has a lot to think about and that process, along with all the information available, should help those who take this book seriously become a better player. To be specific, I thought the sections by Andy Bloch, Chris Ferguson, David Grey, Howard Lederer, and Gavin Smith were very strong, especially the limit hold ’em discussion by Lederer which is some of the best material I have ever read on the limit game.

My major criticism is that the authors (or perhaps the editor Michael Craig) tried to pack to much information into one book and that this text should have been done in two volumes. This would have allowed for fuller explanations of some of the concepts and more examples illustrating important points.

But again, this is an excellent work that is a welcome addition to the poker literature. So it receives my highest rating.
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Old 04-21-2017, 10:40 PM   #10
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

mason, thank you for this.

agree almost wholeheartedly...... i may have a bit more love for matros and esfandiari books.

hadn't thought of arnold snyder's excellent first book in a long time. seemed like his 2nd book was a just a rehash, especially given that the one criticism i had for the 1st book is that it's pretty general advice. very few card examples. ok for one book, but definitely no need for 2nd book if it also doesn't have card examples. anyway AS first book is really really good and we seem to agree on that.

surprised you like something like lindgren's book. i like them but they seem a bit fluffy as per poker advice.... maybe it's just early poker books vs. later books. many earlier books are pretty much pre-flop, pot odds vs. implied odds, push? call the push?. and that worked really well for a long time. maybe still today in smaller tournaments.
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Old 04-21-2017, 10:45 PM   #11
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

mason, have you read/reviewed anthony holden's Big Deal? highly esteemed writer who got interested in poker. he did a sequel - Bigger Deal - but i didn't think it was near as good, or at least it covered a period of time that all of us lived and knew about.
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Old 04-22-2017, 01:19 AM   #12
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

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mason, have you read/reviewed anthony holden's Big Deal? highly esteemed writer who got interested in poker. he did a sequel - Bigger Deal - but i didn't think it was near as good, or at least it covered a period of time that all of us lived and knew about.
Hi rivercitybirdie:

I have read this book, thought it was very good, but can't find my review and perhsps didn't write one.

Best wishes,
Mason
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Old 04-22-2017, 02:05 AM   #13
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

mason, thanks for the response.

have you reviewed Gus Hansen's book about winning the Aussie Millions?

people - including me - just loved that book although not totally sure what it was supposed to be other than Gus' entertaining mind process.

certainly NOT a how-to manual or anything that work for others... it's funny how he raises so very very much and never seems to get called. it doesn't make sense logically but like i said it works for him
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Old 04-22-2017, 02:36 AM   #14
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

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mason, thanks for the response.

have you reviewed Gus Hansen's book about winning the Aussie Millions?

people - including me - just loved that book although not totally sure what it was supposed to be other than Gus' entertaining mind process.

certainly NOT a how-to manual or anything that work for others... it's funny how he raises so very very much and never seems to get called. it doesn't make sense logically but like i said it works for him
I have not read it.

Mason
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Old 04-22-2017, 06:27 AM   #15
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Reviews After Dec. 13, 2007

Advanced Limit Hold’em Strategy; Techniques for Beating Tough Games (7) by Barry Tanenbaum. This is a very difficult book to evaluate. On the one hand it has some very good discussions, but on the other hand it contains a number of errors and some flawed reasoning.

First the good parts. The author is a successful and experienced poker player, and he clearly understands how situations can change depending on who you are up against. So there’s excellent discussion on how to balance your play to confuse your opponents, how to target opponents who may be weak, and how many other factors, such as image, position, previous action, hand reading skills, tells, and how to make your opponents think you are playing a little differently than you really are can also impact your decisions. And perhaps most important of all, how to think ahead to the later rounds so that you can anticipate how the hand might be played.

These are all strategies that the better players use to extract money from the merely good players where just playing tight won’t get it done anymore. Once you move to limits that are a little higher where more good players populate the tables, you need a complete set of poker skills, and this book emphasizes much of this.

But then we run into the errors and flaws. Some of these are minor in nature such as thinking that when you have a pair of queens the probability of overcard(s) flopping is only one-third. But others show a complete misunderstanding in how to analyze poker problems where expectation is the key, and others just make me question the author’s judgement in some situations.

Here’s an example. On page 38 Tanenbaum discusses a hand where he holds ace-queen and raises. He get’s a call from a “fairly tight player,” and then is reraised by a “somewhat loose” player on the button (and the blinds fold). So the question is, should he call the three bets or make it four bets and anticipate the player in the middle folding about half the time? The author’s conclusion is that he should be able to win this pot at 42 percent of the time, and that will allow him to show a profit for the hand. Therefore he should make it four bets.

Needless to say, the error here is that he doesn’t compare the expectation of making it four bets to the expectation of only calling three. It just might turn out that even though four bets would still allow for a profitable play of the hand, three bets might be even more profitable.

There are other errors like this, and some of them even lead to weak tight play. We are told not to bet a 12 out hand when last to act on the flop in a multiway pot if tricky and/or aggressive players have checked since you are so likely to be check-raised. The error here is that Tanebaum doesn’t seem to understand that if you check your expectation for that round is zero, and if you bet and get checked raised, since you have 12 outs, your expectation is close to zero, but you won’t always be check-raised and some of the times when you’re not check-raised your expectation will be very positive.

A final example from page 140, and there are more, is a hand where the author who has achieved a loose image raises with the Q9 on the button and gets called by the small blind who has “shown signs of tiring of my aggressive play.” The flop comes the QJ4 and Tanenbaum decides to check behind to “encourage action.” He states: “I thought this would be a good play in part because a few rounds earlier, I had raised and then folded in a similar situation.” Well you can’t have a loose and tight image at the same time.

There’s also one other aspect of this book that needs to be addressed. It's simply the fact that the author constantly advocates trying to achieve the “illusion of action,” which is essentially the same as achieving a loose image. It has always been my contention that in games where the size of the bet is relatively small compared to the size of the pot, that you’re much better off with a tight image, and it’s also my opinion that the constant advocating of the “illusion of action” is flat out wrong in limit hold ’em. (This is different from games such as no-limit hold ’em where getting that giant bet paid off is what you strive for.)

But what’s interesting is that this text contains many examples of plays where having a tight image is important. An example is on page 145 where the author states “You don’t need to hold the best hand if you are not going to have to turn it over.” I agree with this. I also think that you should almost never attempt plays like this if you achieve a loose image, so why is stuff like this even in this book?

Well, I think there’s a simple answer. The reality is that if you were to follow the author’s advice, you don’t achieve a loose image at all. Instead, you will be looked upon as a tight-solid player who is also capable of throwing in an unexpected play every now and then. And this, by the way, is exactly how you should play limit hold ’em. So while the advice in general on how to play is right (in my opinion), it's often characterized as something different which could be confusing and costly to those who are new to limit hold ’em and who are trying to become proficient in this game.

So in conclusion, this could be an excellent book if the errors get cleaned up in a future edition. Now that the author has been alerted to them, a future edition may deserve a higher rating. But I still recommend this version as supplemental reading.

---------------------

Reviews after 6/15/08

Power Hold’em Strategy (7) by Daniel Negreanu. This text, written in the Super/System style features tournament star Daniel Negreanu and chapters written by Evelyn Ng, Todd Brunson, Erik Lindgren, Paul Wasicks, David Williams, and of course Daniel Negreanu. It’s difficult to evaluate because of the lack of specifics of the content, the amateurish writing in some spots, and the incompleteness of many of the chapters.

This last point needs to be addressed more fully. Some of the chapters seem to start in the middle and end before they are finished, with little logical flow. That is they almost appear to be excerpts from larger not yet completed projects. In fact, publisher Avery Cardoza hints at this in his preface when he states that Todd Brunson “who threatens to write his own magnus opus.”

Evelyn Ng (6): Her chapter is a beginner’s strategy for no-limit hold ’em tournaments. It actually accomplishes this goal fairly well and it’s built around the idea of making larger than standard pre-flop raises so that the best players, who look for high implied odds situations, will be reluctant to go against you unless they hold a strong hand.

The reason I don’t rate this section higher is that including it in this book seems questionable. Power Hold’em Strategy is hyped as the book which will show how these “stars of the game” actually play to win at very high rates. So a beginner strategy belongs someplace else.

Todd Brunson (2): This section titled “Winning at High-Limit Cash Games” is actually about high-stakes no-limit hold ’em and not limit hold ’em. Topics include how much to buy-in for, identifying how your opponents play, hands that you can get trapped with, and a few other topics. Obviously Todd Brunson is a top player, but there’s just not much here. In fact, this chapter more than any other looks like an excerpt from a larger book.

Erik Lindgren (3): Here we get Lindgren’s thoughts on playing no-limit hold ’em online. We learn that he likes to play many hands in position, concentrates on picking up betting patterns, recommends to take notes on your opponents so that you can quickly identify their styles and abilities for when you may run into them again, and a few other things. Again, there’s nothing wrong with what’s written here, but there’s just not much to it. Finally, this chapter finishes up with “10 Strategies for Short Stacked Tournaments” which like the Ng chapter is really beginner material and probably doesn’t belong in this text.

Paul Wasicka (4): This section titled “Short-Handed online No-Limit Hold ’em” should be retitled “Tidbits on Short Handed-Hold ’em” since it's not any where close to a complete playing strategy. Specifically, there is no discussion on starting hands or how to play your hands on the later streets. So if gaining an understanding of short-handed no-limit hold ’em is your goal, you’ll need to go elsewhere.

On the other hand, if you already have the fundamentals of short-handed no-limit hold ’em down, there are a few ideas contained that are certainly worth picking up. Specifically, I thought his discussion of the metagame and playing against a manic had real value. But there just wasn’t enough to rate this chapter any higher.

David Williams (8): Finally, after well over 200 pages, something worth reading. Here David Williams talks about mixing it up and why it is essential to sometimes play your hands differently. Now there is nothing enlightening with this statement. I’m sure that virtually everyone who reads this book will be aware that you don’t play your hands the same all the time.

However, what gives this chapter its value is that the author does a very good job of explaining what he’s thinking about when he makes an unusual play and what his motivations are for changing his play at that instant. One of the problems that frequently occurs with poker books by top players is that they can’t really explain how they play. So they tend to give advice that’s generic in nature and often weak tight since this is something they can explain easily. But that’s not the situation here. Williams is able to open up his mind, so to speak, and go through exactly what makes him tick in a poker hand, and this is something well worth reading.

Daniel Negreanu (9):Now we come to the feature, and by far longest chapter in the book — “Small Ball.” This is Negreanu’s, and other top tournament pros, approach to no-limit hold ’em tournaments. It’s built around playing many hands in position, frequently with a small raise, so that your implied odds can be massive, especially against a weak player who will have trouble folding a medium strength hand such as top pair or an overpair.

But small ball is more than just this. It’s really a way to get you to the later streets with plenty of chips so that you can outplay your opponents, and this can include checking hands where appropriate, and trying to steal the pot when the situation is right.

In fact, what’s most interesting about this chapter is that in many places it has very little to do with tournament poker. It’s just a very good discussion on how to play no-limit hold ’em when the stacks of both you and your opponent are deep, and there are many examples late in the chapter where Negreanu has you in a cash game as opposed to a tournament. And that’s the flaw of this chapter. While the material is well worth reading, it doesn’t cover many tournament situations, such as when the stacks are short, that the “small ball” expert must face when playing this style is not appropriate. In addition, there’s virtually no discussion of how to handle multiway pots. So because of this, my rating is only a 9 as opposed to a 10.

------------------

Reviews after 12/25/08

Limit Hold’em: Winning Short-Handed Strategies; Techniques for Limit Hold’em Games with Six Players or Less (8) by Terry Borer, Lawrence Mak, with Barry Tanenbaum. This is a pretty good book mostly devoted to the six-max games that are now popular on the Internet, but many of the ideas are applicable to all forms of limit hold ’em as long as your opponents are playing in an aggressive manner. The text emphasizes using available computer software to help you make the best possible decisions and preaches a moderately aggressive, though somewhat tight (in my opinion) for short-handed play, style. There are also chapters for each round of play and three of chapters for what they call “super short-handed” play which is usually either three or four players only. Plus some supplemental material at the end of the book focusing on tilt, bankroll requirements, ethics, personal development, and other topics. However, this supplemental material adds very little to the overall value of the text and probably should have been placed in a different book.

One error the authors make is they state on page 34 “The blinds come around more often forcing everyone to play a different style of game.” Of course this type of reasoning which is common among many poker players is not accurate. Hands should be played because their expectation is profitable, not because it will soon be your blind. However, this error doesn’t seem to effect the strategy advice they give.

Another area of weakness is that the authors don’t address what happens when weak players make their standard plays. For example, many of these players at a full game will limp in first with a marginal hand regardless of their position. However, when they raise, their hand is much stronger. Now if one of these players raises first in on the button, his hand is most likely quite strong no matter how many people are in the game.

A third area of weakness is that the authors don’t present how they came up with their starting hand advice and exactly what the differences are between their standard advice and their expert advice. Specifically, they don’t explain that their expert advice will increase fluctuations and that some of these hands may actually have negative expectation, but playing this fast may allow for your positive expectation hands to win even more.

Other than this, I found most of the book well thought out for the games it addresses and thus it receives my recommendation, and the many hand examples should be helpful to most readers. Also, the emphasis on what is usually the best play but not necessarily always the best play is sound strategy especially in the aggressive super short-handed games that the authors address.

Elements of Poker (4) by Tommy Angelo. In the avalanche of poker books that have been released the past few years, it’s just expected that non-standard books, whatever that means, will appear, and this includes the self-help variety which is what we have here. This author writes 144 elements, which are snippets of his thoughts on lots of different subjects related to how he perceives playing poker and the impact that certain actions and attitudes have on your mental make-up and how these actions and attitudes can affect your play.

Even though the elements are written in a witty fashion, with cute made-up words and catchy expressions, the question I ask is “Will any of this help a beginning or intermediate player achieve better results at the poker table?” It's my opinion that the answer is no. Boosting someone’s confidence without supplying solid strategic advice (or at least giving the source where that advice is available) is, again in my opinion, a sure formula for negative results.

Now with this being said, there are some ideas in this text that I do think have value. For instance the ideas of striving to have two tight players seated on your left and then the live ones will take care of themselves, his “look to the left” discussion, and some of his starting hand discussion where he emphasizes hands that you should never play are worthwhile.

But there are also discussions that don’t seem to have any value at all, or if they have value exactly where that value is derived is not explained. This includes “Slow Folding and Fast Folding,” some of his tournament discussion, and the idea that king-queen is in a hand group all by itself.

The reason I don’t rate this book lower is that there are probably a few people out there who might get some benefit from this stuff, or at least adamantly think that it helps them, and perhaps for a small minority or readers that might be the case. But this text is certainly not recommended, even as supplemental reading.

Current Comment: Before anyone asks the question, and even though some people think highly of Elements of Poker, my opinion of this book has not changed.
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Old 04-22-2017, 02:29 PM   #16
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Mason, if there is no "current comment" at the end of the posted review, does that mean that you still stick with the initial review and your thoughts on the book haven't changed?
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Old 04-22-2017, 05:40 PM   #17
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

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Mason, if there is no "current comment" at the end of the posted review, does that mean that you still stick with the initial review and your thoughts on the book haven't changed?
Not necessarily. It just means I had no reason to make a comment.

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Old 04-22-2017, 06:01 PM   #18
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

But if your opinion of a book TODAY differed from your option of it years ago, you would've left a "current comment?"
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Old 04-23-2017, 03:37 AM   #19
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

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But if your opinion of a book TODAY differed from your option of it years ago, you would've left a "current comment?"
Hi Beverly:

In most cases the rating would be the same. But keep in mind that the understanding of poker strategy, especially no-limit hold 'me, has improved. So it's possible that a few of these books would have slightly lower ratings if read today.

Best wishes,
Mason
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Old 04-23-2017, 02:38 PM   #20
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

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... keep in mind that the understanding of poker strategy, especially no-limit hold 'em, has improved.
Mason,

Having previewed Matthew Janda's new book, No Limit Hold'em for Advanced Players, can you share your preliminary review of it?

Much appreciated!
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Old 04-23-2017, 11:48 PM   #21
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Reviews after 10/5/09


Swayne’s Advanced Degree in Hold’em (1) by Charley Swayne. This is a text that focuses on limit hold ’em with one long chapter on no-limit hold ’em. This review will only address the limit hold ’em section, and the no-limit hold ’em review will be reserved for a future time.

The book is filled with literally hundreds of charts, tables, and diagrams, plus a few quizzes to help you master all the material, and seems to base many on its conclusions on computer simulations which the author refers to as “billions” of calculations. My impression is that Swayne has little experience at actually playing hold ’em, and only a small understanding of mathematical statistics which causes him to get off track in many places, and in this review I will attempt to give a quick chapter by chapter scan of the material.

The book begins with only a small amount of introductory material and we are quickly introduced to something called a PATL Matrix where the acronym PATL stands for passive, aggressive, tight, loose. This matrix in all sorts of different forms is referred to and used over and over again throughout the book.

An early example of how these ideas get confused is on page 19 Swayne states:

At an extremely passive loose game 10-handed table, with the best starting hand you can get, AA, you will win 30% of the time. That means your AA will lose 70% of the time.

Of course, this is only true if all your opponents always play and then always go to the river. Even in a game as described, you can expect your aces to do better than this.

Also early on, we are told not to play for serious money until we get enough experience. Swayne then defines experience, and he repeats this in many places throughout the text, as playing a minimum of 250,000 hands. It’s always been my opinion, that if someone takes the games seriously and plays only in live games, he can become a competent limit hold ’em player in six to eight weeks. That’s approximately 10,000 hands.

In addition, we are told that you must first become a strong limit hold ’em player before you can even consider playing no-limit. I bet on our forums, it would be easy to find many hundreds of good no-limit players who have virtually no experience at limit hold ’em.

The third chapter is on “Reading Opponents and Their Hands.” Much of it is on tells where the author presents many well known ideas along the “when weak act strong” concept. This is probably reasonable against inexperienced (and I don’t mean less than 250,000 hands) players, but against the better players at the higher limits it can get you in trouble. For example, Swayne states that when an aggressive/loose player has a good hand he will not only be aggressive with his betting, but also become louder and more aggressive with his talk. While this may be true with some people, it’s also something that a good player might exploit against someone who only thinks on this level.

Next we have a short “Deception” chapter and then a chapter called “Boardology." Most of this is very basic and it won’t be commented on here.

Chapter 6 is “Playing the Blinds.” Here Swayne seems to confuse risk, which some of us refer to as variance, and expectation. For example, on page 63 he states:

Your job is not to gamble. Your job is to win money. Part of winning is to keep your risk low. Your risk playing the blinds is outrageous compared to late position. Part of winning money is not losing it. ...

It appears that Swayne is not aware that in many situations in poker, as is the case in virtually all forms of beatable gambling, there are many situations where the price you pay for a positive expectation is increased risk. This will be particularly true in the blinds where in many spots you should call with a fairly weak hand.

Also, in this chapter, on page 65 Swayne makes the following statement:

In no limit you will find you must aggressively defend your blind at least 75% of the time against a loose raiser in late position, even though you will have to play many low probability hands.

What this is doing in the limit section of the book is not clear, but just the opposite is true, and it appears that Swayne has limit and no-limit hold ’em confused.

Then we come to “The Numbers Chapter.” Most of this is an explanation of how odds and probability work and relate to each other. But the process of developing what hands are playable also begins here.

Skipping ahead, on page 324 Swayne states:

Slightly different win/loss percentages are possible, For example, JT has a slightly higher chance to make a straight than 98 because, as you know, a straight must contain a T or 5 and with JT one of the T cards is used.

Of course this isn’t accurate. And as one of our posters, toronto_pro, pointed out, “Given the misunderstanding demonstrated on page 324, you’ll see that every chart on page 92 is fudged slightly, giving higher probabilities for hands containing a ten or a five!”

We then come to a chapter on “Relative Strength.” Here the author is attempting to show how the strength of individual hands can change depending on the number of opponents, and he produces a number of graphs illustrating this. However, as far as I can tell, these graphs are based on computer simulations where the opponent(s) hold random cards and automatically play to the river which is not realistic poker and can lead to starting hand errors.

Chapter 9 is the “Which Hands to Play” chapter, and if you have gotten this far in the book, it is what we have been waiting for. It includes lots of charts and graphs, and we are introduced to something called “The Swayne Win Factor” which is suppose to be related to your preflop expectation. It would take way too much space to explain all my objections to this idea, but it seems to be based on the number of players who are dealt cards and how tight or loose the game is. However, how hands are played doesn’t seem to be considered.

For instance, if you have ace-jack and are in a “mega-tight” game with nine opponents, your win factor is less than 1.0 meaning that your preflop expectation is negative. But what if a bunch of players have passed and it is likely you can pick up the blinds? Now your expectation should be positive no matter what your hand.

There are also adjustments given for your win factor depending on your position and the kind of game. For instance, at a tight, very aggressive table in a ten handed game, you need a win factor of 1.5 to play on the button, but if the game was instead tight and very passive, your win factor now only needs to be 1.1.

Anyway, all this leads to what hands we can play and they appear in seven pages of charts starting on page 199.We see that at a very aggressive/tight table if you are in early position, that the only hands you can play are AA, KK, and QQ, while on the button you can add JJ, and AKs. Well I don’t know about you, but my starting hands will include a lot more than this.

On the other hand, if the table is very passive/very loose, there are now a lot of hands that you can play, but I still don’t agree with the chart. Specifically, the smallest pair you can play from early position (in this type of game) is a pair of eights, but the implied odds should be there for any pair.

Another section in this chapter has to do with pot size, and most of this is on play after the flop, and here is a quote from the text (from page 220):

For example, you have AK. Your are 3rd to act. You raised. Everyone except the little and big blind folded. They both called. At this point there are six small bets in the pot. The flop comes and you miss. The small blind checks; the big blind bets. Should you call? There are seven small bets in the pot. Look at the Truth Drawing Numbers. They say there must be at least 8 bets in the pot for you to consider calling. There are only 7. You must fold.

For purposes of this discussion, we won’t get into what a Truth Drawing Number is. But let’s say you do need eight bets in the pot to make your call correct against a legitimate hand. If you fold here every time as Swayne recommends, you’re going to be very exploitable, and good players will quickly realize that they should almost always bet unless they make a strong hand which they might want to play differently.

Chapter ten, “Betting,” is the last limit hold ’em chapter. This is mainly a series of (many) short concepts that seemed designed to help you play. To save space, I’ll only give two quotes. The first is from page 244:

When someone check-raises you, unless you have a great hand, you are probably beat, and should fold. Even the aggressive/loose won’t usually check-raise unless he hits; he just bets out or raises, trying to push everyone out. The aggressive/tight who missed will check-raise if he smells weakness.

Again, needless to say, anyone following a strategy like this should be highly exploitable.

The second is from page 246:

Limit. The flop comes. A player has an open-ended straight. He is last to act. One opponent bets in front of him.

The other player has put in 1 bet. Our player must put in 1 bet. So our player is putting in ½ of the bets or 50% and that is more than his probability of 31%. He would fold.


Obviously the problem here is that Swayne has forgotten about the bets already in the pot from the pre-flop action as well as not considering the additional bets that could be made if a straight card comes. Also, this advice is consistent with the discussion that is presented on the bottom of the previous page. However, it is inconsistent with his discussion of “Truth Drawing Numbers” where the size of the pot is taken into account when making calls.

And the last thing to be mentioned from this chapter is again tables appear on pages 252 and 253 which show starting hands, this time in relation with how you would play them, that again appear strange. For instance, with king-six suited at a 6-handed mega-loose table you need, for basic play, at least five callers (or the anticipation of five callers) to call. (Notice that means that everyone must play.) However, for this same hand in a ten handed game, you would only need four callers. Again, and stuff like this appears constantly throughout the book, Swayne seems to think that the number of players dealt into the hand somehow impacts what you play. He fails to understand that a six-handed game is essentially the same as a ten-handed game after the first four people have passed. Again, I believe this has something to do with how he did his simulations which are not taking into account how poker hands are actually played.

-----------------------

Reviews after 11/1/09

Swayne’s Advanced Degree in Hold’em (3) by Charley Swayne. This is a text that focuses on limit hold ’em with one long chapter on no-limit hold ’em. This review will only address the no-limit hold ’em advice since the limit hold’em section was previously reviewed.

This section, while still quite poor, is better than what was written for limit hold ’em. Thus the rating is a little better. However, with that being said, it’s still not recommended and it’s not always clear which game the author is referring to.

In the introduction to the book, Swayne emphasizes how you first need to master limit hold ’em before attempting to play no-limit hold ’em cash games which needs to be mastered before you go after the no-limit hold ’em tournaments. So when first reading this chapter, my thought was that the emphasis would be on the cash games, but as far as I can tell almost all of it pertains to no-limit tournaments.

The reason I state “as far as I can tell,” is that a good portion of the material may apply to both cash games and tournaments. But the author almost never makes it clear as to which one he is talking about. For example, on page 278 Swayne writes:

Chapter 6 is written for limit players. Playing the blinds in no limit is different, as players defend their blinds more when playing short handed or when raised from late position.


This certainly is not true in a no-limit cash game. The reason is that it usually costs more to defend your blind and the penalty for being out of position is greater. However, in a tournament, especially late in a tournament where players with very short stacks are moving in a lot, if your chip position is good and since position no longer matters once you or an opponent are all-in, it might make sense to defend a little more from the big blind (assuming no one else is in). So it’s not clear in this spot which form of no-limit hold ’em, cash games or tournaments, that Swayne is even referring to.

The one area where this chapter is fairly good is the discussion of what the author calls “The tortoise strategy.” This is the same as what is known as small ball where expert tournament players try to play many hands with small raises, especially when they are in position. Much of what Swayne writes on this topic seemed correct to me so I won’t comment on it with one exception.

And the exception is that it would have been nice if Swayne would have explained why small ball can work in tournaments but is not a cash game strategy which is associated with top no-limit hold ’em cash game players. The answer has something to do with the fact that the initial raise size (before the flop) helps to size all the bets from the flop on. However, in a tournament, this raise does not have to be as large since antes are already in the pot (once you get pass the first few rounds). Thus to have an initial pot the right size for future bets does not require the first raise to be as large. (See No-Limit Hold ’em: Theory and Practice by David Sklansky and Ed Miller for more discussion.)

Anyway, similar to my previous review of the limit chapters of this book, here are a few quotes with some comments. On page 281 Swayne states:

If your hand is not good enough to raise with, unless you have a draw that will bust your opponent, fold.

Of course this is not true. In no-limit, there are plenty of good hands, such as top pair/top kicker on the flop, that are best to only call a bet with since you don’t want to make the pot too large in case your hand is second best.

On page 309 it states:

If you believe you are ahead in the hand and you smell a draw, you can use Expected Value to get opponents to fold. Good players on a draw know Expected Value and will not call if your bet is sufficiently high.

This theme appears in many places. When Swayne puts his opponent on a draw, the advice is to make a bet so large that they will almost never call. He even gives examples where he will compute a bet size that gives his opponent, who is on a draw, negative expectation to continue, and then advises to increase it by a significant amount to make sure this person folds.

What is happening is that I suspect the author is confusing tournament advice where you prefer to take the pot down as soon as possible, especially if your edge in the particular hand is small, since you do not want to get unlucky and lose most (or all) of your chip stack. However, in this spot, where you are sure that your opponent is on a draw, you don’t want him to fold. Instead, it’s much better for him to call when he is not getting the proper odds from the pot thus (theoretically) making you more money on the hand than what you would make if he folds immediately.

On page 320 there is an example where on the flop there is $650 in the pot and your opponent bets $200 and you believe he has an open ended straight draw. Swayne then, to make his calculations easier, assumes that there is $900 in the pot and computes that you need to bet $900 to make the Expected Value for your opponent to call $0 (with two cards to come). But here he forgets that you first have to call the $200 making the pot a total of $1,050 (or $1,100 to make the calculations easier). Thus putting $900 in the pot as Swayne recommends would not produce an expectation of $0 as is stated.

And some of the material is not even consistent with itself. For instance, on page 324 it states under the sub-header of “Heads Up:”

You must play almost every hand, approximately 80%; If you don’t the blinds will eat you alive.

But on page 331 under the sub-header of “Heads up tournaments and cash games” you will find:

Do not defend your blind with any hand that has less than a Win Factor of 1.2. Many good players will have a minimum Win Factor of 1.3 or 1.4.

The definition of Win Factors is given earlier in the book, but suffice it to say that these two statements, just a few pages apart, contradict each other.

But my favorite statement in the book, which appears on page 324, and which was cited in my review of the limit material is:

Slightly different win/loss percentages are possible, For example, JT has a slightly higher chance to make a straight than 98 because, as you know, a straight must contain a T or 5 and with JT one of the T cards is used.

This one isn’t worth a comment except to say that the jack-ten and the nine-eight have the exact same probability to make a straight.

And finally, just to show the type of errors that this author makes, we have from page 303:

Unpaired hole cards have a 32% chance of making at least a pair on the flop and any opponent has a 6% chance of having a pocket pair. Therefore, any player has a 38% of having a pair when the flop comes.

In reality, the typical opponent will have a much higher chance of having a pair on the flop since he will play almost all of his paired hands and only a small portion of his unpaired hands. For instance, if an opponent was to play 90 percent of his starting pairs, and 25 percent of his non-paired hands, he will have at least a pair on the flop approximately 45 percent of the time.

0.4471 =[(0.90)(0.06) + (0.94)(0.25)(0.32)] / [(0.90)(0.06) + (0.25)(0.94)]

where:
0.06 is the proportion of time this player starts with a pair
0.90 is the proportion of time this player plays a pair
0.94 is the proportion of time this player starts with a non-pair hand
0.25 is the proportion of time this player plays a non-pair hand given he starts with one
0.32 is the proportion of time this player makes a pair given he starts with a non-pair hand

But what Swayne has done is, in some ways, even worse than not taking into account how your opponents might play. He just assumes that a typical player will play every hand and thus adds together the 32 percent and the 6 percent to come up with 38 percent. But even this is wrong since he will start with a non-paired hand 94 percent of the time meaning that non-paired hands will become a pair or better approximately only 30 percent of the time. Hence doing it Swayne’s way, the answer should be 36 percent and not 38 percent.

Current Comment: I've always been amazed as to how bad some of the stuff that comes out on poker is. But in this case, and it's the reason my two reviews above were so thorough, this author was being promoted as the "Math Guru" on Negreanu's video training website which I think was called "PokerVT.com." Just another reason why my opinion of Negreanu is so negative (and the site PokerVT.com is long gone).
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Old 04-24-2017, 11:11 PM   #22
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Reviews after 1/18/10

No-Limit Texas Hold ’em; A Complete Course (6) by Angel Largay. In 2003 the first poker shows appeared on television and the no-limit hold ’em craze began. Soon after the first no-limit cash games began to appear on the Internet and in the brick and mortar cardrooms, and the first no-limit hold ’em cash game books, including this one targeted for small stakes live no-limit games, made their arrival.

Unfortunately, the precise game that this text covers doesn’t really exist anymore, or at least is not as common as it once was. That is games featuring many bad players and a low buy-in cap. However, if you are sitting in a game which either meets this criterion or features several bad players with relatively short stacks, then the advice Largy gives is reasonably good.

The book consists of six chapters with the first four being basic material that most experienced players can skip. But the last two chapters which cover play on the first two cards and then on the flop and beyond is where the best material is. However, as previously stated, much of the advice is for playing against bad players and against better players it would need to be toned down some.

An example is the author recommends making an oversized raise with a big pair if there are limpers in the pot. His reasoning is that “An oversized raise tends to indicate in the inexperienced player’s mind that you are bluffing, and you will likely get that original caller to call the raise as a result.” While this may be true against the type of player that Largy describes, these players are far less common today than they were just a couple of years ago.

The book does have some drawbacks which is why my rating is not higher. The author, instead of just giving good strategy advice, is constantly touting his own play and includes a number of highly questionable plays that he has made.

The most extreme of these is a hand in a $1-$2 blind game with a $100 cap where he calls a $20 raise after three other callers with the 82. The big blind then raises to $100, “and everyone, including me, calls.” His thinking is that first he’s getting 4-to-1 to call (for $20) with a garbage hand and that this wasn’t the type of hand he would lose any money on after the flop. Well I disagree. There are many flops which have the potential to cost plenty.

Largy goes on to argue that once the bet size is increased to $100 the pot is offering 6.5-to-1 to call and he will win often enough for his call to be correct. Well, that part is debatable since it depends on the particular hand ranges that his opponents will play. However, even conceding this point, the hand should still have an overall negative expectation due to the initial $20 call. However, I do agree that the play may not be quite as bad as it first appears.

Anyway, it’s my opinion that this book has value as supplemental reading. There are certainly better sources today to learn how to play no-limit hold ’em cash games. But reading this text, especially if you filter out some of the extreme examples he gives, has value particularly in games that feature bad players with relatively short stacks.

Current Comment: With hindsight, I believe this book should have rated a little higher. But then again, keep in mind that the games described in this book would be tough to find today.
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Old 04-28-2017, 11:39 AM   #23
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

cool thread, thx mason
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Old 04-29-2017, 02:30 AM   #24
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Mason,

Its too bad you didnt grok Elements of Poker. Perhaps doing something outside your box--like going to Burning Man for example- might boost your appreciation for this work.

Eagerly awaiting your review of Mr Angelo's latest tome.
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Old 04-29-2017, 03:05 AM   #25
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Re: Requested Book Reviews

Mason,
What are your "today's" thoughts on the Harrington on Holdem series?
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