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Old 01-22-2008, 11:44 PM   #1
Foucault
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Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

There are probably better poker books out there, but I have never enjoyed reading one as much as I enjoyed Tommy Angelo's Elements of Poker. It's a delightful read, alternately light and weighty, funny and stern, but a lot of my enjoyment came from the realization that I was getting better at poker from reading it. I was thinking about things I had never considered before, and I was thinking about things I had considered before in a new light.

Elements of Poker is like no other poker book on the market. For the most part, it isn't about pot odds or percentages or hand ranges or bluffing or raising or any of that other stuff that other books tell you how to do. Technically, it does include a pre-flop starting hand chart for hold 'em, but- well, you'll see. Elements of Poker is about how to play poker, literally how you should be while you are playing. It's about where and how you should sit, what and how you should think, when and how you should act, how and to whom you should speak, and even how and why you should breath.

Angelo begins by explaining that you have three poker games: "Your A game is when you play your best and feel your best.... Your B-game is everything between your A-game and your C-game.... Your C-game is when you play poorly according to you." By his reckoning, most poker books tell you how to improve your A-game. That's all well and good, but as he makes clear, poker is a stressful, psychologically and physically brutal game. No one can play his A-game all the time. Most of Elements of Poker, and all of the best parts, is about how to lop off your C-game and spend more time playing your best. Whereas fiddling with the margins of your A-game may improve your win rate by .5 BB/hour or so, getting out of your C-game is usually worth much more. Often, it's the difference between winning and losing.

For Angelo, profit stems from reciprocality. That is, it flows from all of the things that you do better than your opponents. If you get Aces on the button and raise, you haven't won anything yet, because anyone can raise with a pair of Aces. But if you fold those same Aces to a check-raise on the turn, in a spot where your opponent would have lost his stack, then you have turned a (theoretical) profit.

But it's not just about how you play your hands. Every decision you make is an opportunity to decide better than your opponents will. You can eat better, choose your seat better, pay more attention at the table, and quit better than they would. Quitting is big in Angelo's world. Players more prone to tilt than myself will probably find his advice on this point especially valuable. Personally, I struggle to find time to play as much as I should, so I'm more interested in ways to recover from the C-game mentality or even to improve my C-game rather than ways to quit. Still, it's a good section and a powerful idea.

The underlying theme here is self-control. The reader certainly gets the sense that this book is the product of a long, perhaps ongoing struggle between Angelo and his tilt. He's been a professional poker player for a long time, and what he reveals in Elements of Poker are the paths that he has taken to acquire greater control over his thoughts and greater discipline in his actions. What worked for him may not work for everyone, but it at least makes for instructive examples:

Don't set expectations: "When you feel disappointment or relief, you have painted the Ace with your desires and fears- you attached."

Avoid entitlement: "You are not entitled to play bad just because they are playing bad. You are not entitled to tilt on the grounds that anyone would tilt with the terrible luck you've had.... If you have time and money, you are entitled to a seat at the table. That is all."

Don't think in terms of streaks: "All of my good streaks and all of my bad streaks... have had one thing in common. They did not exist in your mind. They only existed in my mind."

Ignore the chat box when playing online: "Let's say you wanted to make it more likely that you will make misclick mistakes. And that you wanted to increase the probability that you will be distracted from the game and miss something important. And let's say you wanted to disclose information to your opponents about yourself that will help them play better against you. How might you achieve all these goals with one action? Chat."

Keep your reads flexible: "If you have an inflexible image in your mind of an opponent, then whenever he changes, your evaluation of him will be wrong."

Breathe. Damn near an entire chapter is devoted to this one.

When he's at his best, Angelo seems to tell you things that you already know, except that he states them so simply, clearly, and powerfully that you attain a new and deeper sense of their importance. Pay attention. Play your position. Find games you can beat. Everyone knows this stuff, yet everyone gets it wrong all the time.

At its worst, Angelo's writing devolves into gross oversimplification or mystical mumbo-jumbo. When you know you want to get all in on the next street, bet 1/3 of the effective stacks on this street. No matter what. Guy with a $1000 open raises to $40 and you've got Aces? Make it $300. That's an actual example from the book.

A lot of the more traditional poker advice tends to veer off track like that. Most of the Tournaments chapter, for instance, is an argument for the importance of survival backed up by numbers the author seems to fabricate out of thin air. I do sympathize with his reasoning for giving up tournaments, though: "the pain equation is way out of whack." Busting out of a $100 tournament can feel as bad, or worse, than losing ten times that in a cash game.

Angelo's discussions of ethics may prove controversial as well. We're not talking about marking cards or multi-accounting here, but rather some genuine gray areas related to whether you should point out a dealer error in a pot that doesn't involve you or when and how you should reveal your hand at showdown. He admits that what he advises can result in your revealing more information than is necessary about your hand and maybe even open yourself up to angel-shooting. Ultimately, though, he offers a compelling, almost Nietzschean justification: "In the grander scheme, you could say that the reason your opponents say, 'I missed' is because they are weak, and the reason you say don't say 'I missed' is because you are strong, which means you are competing for money when you are strong and your opponents are weak. How fair is that?"

And that brings us back to reciprocality. Every time you make a better decision than your opponents, even when you're deciding about something seemingly tangential like what to eat or how much to sleep, you profit as surely as you do when you make a heroic call or amazing fold. The former a lot easier to address, though, and there's generally a lot more room for improvement there. So while the other poker books will tell you how to make even better decisions on a few key points (betting, folding, calling, raising, checking) that you probably understand pretty well already, Tommy Angelo's Elements of Poker will help you recognize and take advantage of the many other opportunities for profit that exist all around you.
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Old 01-23-2008, 10:54 AM   #2
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

Thx a lot (ordered it before reading this)
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Old 01-23-2008, 11:04 AM   #3
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

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Originally Posted by Foucault View Post

At its worst, Angelo's writing devolves into gross oversimplification or mystical mumbo-jumbo. When you know you want to get all in on the next street, bet 1/3 of the effective stacks on this street. No matter what. Guy with a $1000 open raises to $40 and you've got Aces? Make it $300. That's an actual example from the book.
What's wrong with that? Do you never overbet? Makes it look like you don't want to see a flop. Like you have two scared jacks or tens. That bet gets paid off more than you might imagine. And the math about getting it all in on the next street is correct. This all goes to planning your hand.
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Old 01-23-2008, 11:19 AM   #4
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

Enjoyed the review. Will add book to my next purchase list.
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Old 01-23-2008, 11:36 AM   #5
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

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What's wrong with that? Do you never overbet? Makes it look like you don't want to see a flop. Like you have two scared jacks or tens. That bet gets paid off more than you might imagine. And the math about getting it all in on the next street is correct. This all goes to planning your hand.
I don't doubt that there exist players against whom this is a good, maybe even the best, way to play Aces. But that's got a lot more to do with a specific opponent than with the need to get all the money in on the flop. Most of the time, something like tihs will kill your action from a lot of worse hands and get paid off by stuff like KK, maybe AK and QQ that would have played a big pot with you no matter what. And from a metagame perspective, the absence of big pairs from your range when you 3-bet a smaller amount is suicidal against an observant opponent.
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Old 01-23-2008, 01:31 PM   #6
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

I agree that's not a good way to play aces all of the time. And if you make that big of an overbet with AA, you need to be making it with other hands too. Just like your normal size raises must also include AA some of the time.

I didn't read Tommy to be saying that's the way to play aces all of the time, however. He was just giving an example of a play that can be run.
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Old 01-23-2008, 03:29 PM   #7
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

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What's wrong with that? Do you never overbet? Makes it look like you don't want to see a flop. Like you have two scared jacks or tens. That bet gets paid off more than you might imagine. And the math about getting it all in on the next street is correct. This all goes to planning your hand.
There's a clear connection there with PNL.
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Old 01-23-2008, 03:31 PM   #8
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

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I don't doubt that there exist players against whom this is a good, maybe even the best, way to play Aces.
You're missing the point. The point is the math involved. WHEN you want to get it all in on the NEXT STREET, bet 1/3 your stack now. If you don't want to get it all in on the next street, don't.
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Old 01-25-2008, 12:50 PM   #9
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

Just finished this book.
I rate this very high on the must read list for the struggling pro.
Tommy does what Tommy does in this book. Makes everything simple to understand with a flair.
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Old 01-28-2008, 02:11 PM   #10
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

(**Warning: I spend some time tearing apart the tourney section and less time praising the book, but it is a really good book.**)

I just got done reading this over the weekend. I thought it was a very good book that would be a great book if Tommy cut out the tournament section. That part of the book tries to be technical (that is, it delves into the mathematical side of tournaments a fair amount and spends a lot of time there.)

The problems are that this type of work really is in complete contrast to the rest of the book, and that the information is all pretty trite for anyone who has seriously considered tournament play. The first element, on being most prepared for bubble play, is ok, but nothing spectacular. In the other section tommy spends a lot of time talking about Dollar Value (DV) which I usually call Cashing Value or Cashing Equity (and I believe is the standard term, though I don't post or read about tournament play any more so maybe I am out of touch with the jargon.) Also, I don't think Tommy really addresses the pros and cons of tournament play thoroughly, but rather gives his personal reasons for not playing in them. (That is fine, but in that case you should say here are the points important to me rather than here are the good and bad points, then omit several of each. I don't have the book in front of me so maybe he did qualify it more).

At any rate, if you just ignore the tournament section the book is exceptional. Also, this is a self published book, and I would really love to see Tommy write an article on how that worked out (especially with some numbers).
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Old 02-04-2008, 06:45 AM   #11
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

Can a non-holdem player get a lot from this book?
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Old 02-04-2008, 09:34 AM   #12
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

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Can a non-holdem player get a lot from this book?
Absolutely, easily 75% of the book is not specific to any poker game, and even the portions that are ostensibly about hold 'em contain a lot of broadly applicable wisdom.
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Old 02-04-2008, 02:58 PM   #13
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

Really good review, thanks man! I got to order this book in the next few weeks.
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Old 02-05-2008, 06:38 PM   #14
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

I think the review is spot-on. Tommy's writing style is very agreeable, and the book is a good read. This is a book about everything relating to poker EXCEPT the cards, and I don't think there's another poker book like it. It will be of the most benefit to those who play what Tommy calls "table poker" (i.e., live poker in a B&M poker room), but most of the concepts are universal to the game.

More than anything, this is a book about self-discipline, and about dozens of little things you can do to develop it if you don't have it, and ways to apply it once you do. Though I wish Tommy all the success in the world, I hope most of the folks I play against never read this book or heed its lessons.
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Old 02-05-2008, 08:19 PM   #15
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

What do people think about Tommy's advice on thinking about one's breathing?

I understand it can calm one but I really do not like the idea of consciously thinking about my breathing when it is usually something your body does "in background" leaving one's mindfree to do other stuff.
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Old 02-06-2008, 02:15 AM   #16
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

If you concentrate the mind on breathing, a lot of other stuff takes care of itself. It's worked for hundreds of years. You can trust it.

Being effortless takes a lot of work.
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Old 02-06-2008, 10:58 AM   #17
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

Being able to control your breathing means so much in terms of self-control - mental, physical, and psychological. If you can learn how to calm yourself down quickly and quietly (in poker terms between hands or during the next one after getting agitated), it can be invaluable.

As someone who has done both competitive running and public speaking, being able to understand and control breathing is something I've learned how to do.

You say your concern is having your mind free to do other tasks - wouldn't it be better to have a clear mind free rather than a cloudy pissed off one?
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Old 02-14-2008, 10:03 PM   #18
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

I am highly dissapointed with the book.Many people were so excited about it, that perhaps i expected too much, but...

Ok, first thing first - i am NL cash online player, like probably at least 90% of 2+2 .

This book, when it talks strategy, is mostly about limit and when it doesn't talk about strategy, it talks about live poker etiquette (a lot of which is dedicated to limit related situations too).While the live poker advices are certainly good (i played live few times and some of the things i will take into consideration), most of the stuff is redundunt and totally unneeded for an internet player.

The strategy advice is pretty bad.Tournaments section is contrived and filled with jumbled advices, rarely practical in real situations (like weird calculations, which you can't ever make at the poker table and will be rarely of use to you even reviewing the hands after the tournament).The NL advice is horrible.Gross overbets with monsters and limping 72s OTB after 5 limpers are apparently things that Tommy recommends.

Good parts of the book: Angelo's style of writing is amusing and easy to read.The guy obviously is a veteran of the game and a smart person, so a lot of his advices, especially the reciprocality stuff, 6th street/splaining and some of the tilt tidbits are good (but too short and unfocused nevertheless).Some general poker wisdom parts are very good as well.

Breathing section is worthwhile too for people that are willing to use it (for me personally it won't work, but overall i see where he was going with it).

In other words, at best this a bit more philosophical "Ace on the river" w/o pictures and at worst this is Ken Warren teaches hold'em desperately trying to be something that it is not.

If you are an Nl player (i only skimmed through the limit section, searching for general advice and i don't play limit, so maybe the advice there is decent), i would recommend to completely ignore his strategy advices and to focus only on the general stuff.

Overall, i'd rate it 5/10 at best.
It's a shame too, because i was looking forward to this book very much.I think Angelo's good name as a proven coach/poker thinker clouded people's judgement a little bit.
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Old 02-14-2008, 11:19 PM   #19
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

I like it and am only about 50 pages in so far. I kind of had a problem with his statement that not a lot of players are beating the rake, and of those people hardly anyone is making any decent money.

About overbetting in the AA hand, read the section on spr in pnl.
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Old 02-15-2008, 01:52 AM   #20
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

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I am highly dissapointed with the book.Many people were so excited about it, that perhaps i expected too much, but....
I tilted after reading the word "advices" 17 times and couldn't finish reading.
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Old 02-15-2008, 03:42 AM   #21
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

I also thought it was overrated for the price

some decent stuff, but it's not that relevant for me
Inner Game of Tennis
and
Zen and the Art of Archery
handled the mental aspects

Kill Everyone answered the tourney questions better and more in-depth

reciprocity is a cool idea, but available via Angelo's website articles
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Old 02-15-2008, 12:13 PM   #22
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

Excellent review Foucault. I'm really enjoying this book too. It's true that the tournament part is not the best, and some of the DV #'s are flat-out wrong. But tournament strategy is definitely not the main area in this book, so no big deal.

My favorite part is the idea of working on your C-game. As Angelo points out, almost any time you're analyzing a hand away from the table, you're working on your A-game. What about if this hand arises when you're tired and have just taken two bad beats? Increase profits by chipping away at the C-game ... great message.

I also really enjoyed the material on live poker, despite rarely playing live myself. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
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Old 02-15-2008, 12:32 PM   #23
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

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I tilted after reading the word "advices" 17 times and couldn't finish reading.
Then you should tilt less...or be tiltless.Read about achieving it in Angelo's book.It's somewhere between how exactly you should move your chips in live game and confusing tournament advices advices advices advices advices advices advices advices advices advices advices advices advices advices advices advices advices (that's 17).
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Old 02-15-2008, 01:15 PM   #24
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

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Excellent review Foucault. I'm really enjoying this book too.
+1

It's an excellent poker psychology/how to think about poker book. It's like Tommy is talking to you, telling you how he looks at/handles various poker situations.
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Old 02-15-2008, 03:17 PM   #25
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Re: Review: Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo

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At its worst, Angelo's writing devolves into gross oversimplification or mystical mumbo-jumbo. When you know you want to get all in on the next street, bet 1/3 of the effective stacks on this street. No matter what. Guy with a $1000 open raises to $40 and you've got Aces? Make it $300. That's an actual example from the book.
What's your point here? That's neither mystical nor grossly oversimplified. It is exactly what it is. He's in line with PNL on this one. He also could have said if you want to get it all in in 2 streets, then put in 10% of effective stacks now. So?
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