Aces and Kings
Aces and Kings, by Michael Kaplan and Brad Reagan, is the latest in a fast-growing genre of books based on professional poker players’ stories and profiles, is an excellent collection of anecdotes and backgrounds of the biggest and brightest stars of the poker world today. It features profiles on all of the following players: Puggy Pearson, Amarillo Slim, Doyle Brunson, David ‘Chip’ Reese, Stu ‘The Kid’ Ungar, Erik Sidel, Phil Hellmuth, Men ‘The Master’ Nguyen, Howard ‘The Professor’ Lederer, David ‘Devilfish’ Ulliot, Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson, Barry Greenstein, and short features on the women of poker, Internet players, and the rising stars Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey and Erick Lindgren.
The main thing that Kaplan and Reagan extract from each player is how they got involved in poker, and what part of their game makes them unique in the poker world. For instance, they give information on Lederer’s bookmaking lawsuit (which was completely bunk, but gave him a large headache all the same) and his intellectual approach to the game, Ferguson’s Internet Relay Chat poker days and his strictly mathematical approach to poker, and how Reese came to Vegas on his way to law school, and with his expertise at stud poker, he never made it to Stanford and stayed in Vegas.
The most interesting chapter is on Stu Ungar, and his rise and fall from the top. If you know the story it’s nothing new, but some insight as to his last days as well as excerpts of an interview in his last days make it stand out above the others. The chapter was actually included in a two-part series in CardPlayer recently, so you might have seen it there.
The authors didn’t shy from controversy, either. In Men ‘The Master’s’ chapter, they address a chip-stealing controversy from Foxwoods Casino recently. A fire broke out in his room with his crew of players, and the casino found tournament chips in his room. Men denies the allegations, but he was barred from the tournament-the official statement was that he was barred simply for the fire, and not for the chips. No official word has ever been given from the casino about the situation, though it’s been widely thought that Men and his crew of Asian players have long been cheating and/or colluding with others in the group (which has been documented on an ESPN broadcast, where Men made Mihn Nguyen fold split queens against Men’s split jacks in a stud event).
The book retails on Amazon.com for $16.47, and is available at the bottom of this page. Compared to other books of its type, I really enjoyed the detail given by the ten to fifteen page chapters. If you’re looking for a good read on your next plane ride out to Vegas, this is definitely worthy of your time.
Review by Jon Eaton
Biggest Game in Town
Probably the most famous book about big-time poker, A. Alvarez’s Biggest Game takes you back into the first years of tournament poker. Set around the World Series Of Poker in the early ’80s, Alvarez wrote at length about the people and places that make up the poker world back then.
Probably the best part about the book is that it’s not quite as ‘linear’ as most other books. Alvarez doesn’t go from chapter-to-chapter describing the rounds of the tournament, nor does he even go through in an real order. This is a collection of stories and events throughout the early part of the poker days that have become legend today.
When I read this book, I wanted to actually see these poker events take place. I have since seen videos of the old World Series tapes you could by in the Horseshoe gift shop, but none of them do the job that this book does in depicting the glory days of Doyle Brunson and the gang. If you really want to ‘see’ what it was like back then, this book is as close as you will get.
Alvarez writes on a level that is perceivable by the novice poker player, and also writes from a fairly independent viewpoint. That is, Alvarez was a poker player himself, but unlike players like Phil Hellmuth and the likes, he has no vested interest in the business of poker, therefore, he writes very openly and honestly and the people and places around him.
His observations of the opening events of the 1981 World Series Of Poker, leading up to the conclusion of Stu Ungar’s championship, are definitely the best passages ever written about poker. The entire time, I felt like I was immersed in the smoke-filled poker rooms of the early ’80s, and that I was actually watching Ungar take down his second title in a row.
I’ve read a lot of books that have tried to emulate this book, but no one has come close. If you’re looking for a true classic about the game of poker, then Alvarez wrote this one just for you. Any true poker fan should try and pick up a copy of this and read it at one point.
Review by Jon Eaton
Just to confuse matters, there’s two new Steve McQueen box sets available, one from MGM featuring the previously issued DVD’s of The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven and Junior Bonner with a new Special Edition of The Thomas Crown Affair, and the other from Warner Home Video with a new special edition of The Getaway and new to DVD issues of Tom Horn and, at long last, The Cincinnati Kid, regarded in many quarters as the finest poker movie ever made.
If one is only interested in the poker movie, it is available singly, at long last. To answer the question “why did it take so long to get this out on DVD'” we need to remember that with corporate sales and shifts over the years, there’s a fair amount of consolidation of back issues which means that Warner owns most of the old MGM films. Since The Cincinnati Kid is a fairly cult item, and in terms of broader sales, doesn’t quite have the marketable pizzazz of, say, Singing In The Rain, it took Warner a while to get to it.
The transfer is very good, and in its original widescreen aspect ratio, so we can finally dump our old pan and scan VHS tapes. As extras, the DVD offers an alarmingly dull commentary from director Norman Jewison, and a fitfully amusing commentary from the Celebrity Poker Showdown team of ex-Tiltboy Phil Gordon and comedian Dave Foley. Gordon offers some interesting insights into the world of big stakes poker and player psychology, even though he sort of chokes while defending the madly improbable final hand. There’s also a little nifty period feature about the film’s card consultant teaching Joan Blondell how to deal in the big game.
So how does The Cincinnati Kid hold up forty years down the road’
According to Jewison, parachuted in after Sam Peckinpah had been shooting for two weeks, he found Ring Lardner’s adaptation of the Richard Jessup novel to be “turgid.” Not having ever seen that script, we can’t judge Jewison’s assessment. We can say that the film is considerably softer than the novel a terse piece of hard-boiled existential fiction with debts to Hemingway and Dashiell Hammett.
One sees this particularly in the way the film treats the principal female characters – the soft lit lyricism of the scenes where The Kid follows Christian (Tuesday Weld) home to her family farm have no equivalent in the novel, and casting Ann-Margaret as the bad girl temptress is vaguely bizarre (Ann-Margaret may have looked hotter than Georgia asphalt, but she always had to strain to play bad girls – she just seemed like a nice girl in a sexy package, as if her jaw-dropping physical presence was a form of dress-up).
The poker scenes, though… Steve McQueen remains the guy every poker player wants to be when he sits down at the table (Matt Damon notwithstanding), the essence of cool. And when he takes that hellish beat at the end of the movie, one only wishes that any number of tournament pros would choose to emulate his icy emotional control. You don’t hear him berating Lancey for misplaying his hand (let’s face it, he does misplay that final hand, badly).
Tony Holden in Big Deal has delineated what’s wrong with the final scene of Cincinnati Kid in excruciating detail, its mathematical improbability, the way it misplays the film’s own themes (Lancey’s the man because he improbably outdrew the kid at the river’ How does that make him “The Man'”).
And, as Phil Gordon notes in the commentary, even though Karl Malden’s Shooter announces “no string bets” before the game starts, there’s at least two old school string raises in the final game – I call your five hundred… and raise you two’ thousand”
The atmosphere in the film is tremendous, even if the period detailing is vague. It’s supposed to be Depression New Orleans, but don’t study the wardrobe two closely. The performances, most notably of McQueen and Edward G. Robinson in particular, but also Rip Torn as the film’s villain, are superb. And who can forget Robinson looking at Torn and telling him “What you paid is the looking price. Lessons are extra.”
A very worthwhile issue that should be in any poker player’s movie collection, though so old-fashioned, with its emphasis on five card stud, that it was a period piece forty years ago. I’d rank it slightly lower than Rounders as a poker film and slightly behind The Hustler in the “gambling as existential quest” genre.
Review by John Harkness
Diary of a Mad Poker Player
Diary of a Mad Poker Player: A Journey to the World Series of Poker by Richard Sparks. It’s a sign of the times that someone thought Diary of a Mad Poker Player was worth publishing. It’s not a bad book, but five years ago, one can just hear the publisher: “So, the guy goes to the World Series to win a seat, and then doesn’t’ Well, where’s the hook'” Apparently, in the era of the poker boom, we don’t need the hook.
Which hasn’t stopped the publishers from some clever ploys in the book’s packaging. At no point on the cover of the book will you find any indication that Sparks didn’t play in the Main Event at the Series, or any event at the series.
So when he fails in his dream to be the next Chris Moneymaker, he decides to become the next A. Alvarez. The Biggest Game In Town casts an awfully long shadow over this book, as it does over everyone who writes the tourist version of World Series trip report. He’s not nearly as elegant a prose stylist as Alvarez, but then again, who is’
Okay, so Richard Sparks isn’t playing in the big one, and he’s a self-acknowledged non-great of the game. What’s he gonna give us that we can’t get elsewhere’ A lot of ruminations on the possibilities of online cheating. Indeed, an exercise in cheating at the play money tables at Party, and then some interviews with a Paradise rep, Mike Sexton of Party, and PokerStars head of marketing, Dan Goldman. The interviews discuss online cheating as well as other topics.
Which of these are informative’ Sexton has a great golf story about playing Brunson on what he calls the biggest golf bet in history, Goldman talks about the impact of the Series win on Moneymaker, and says that Sparks is welcome to try cheating at the real money tables at ‘Stars.
There’s also a very good interview with Sammy Farha, the best I’ve seen, where he talks about how he picked the heads-up phase of the WSOP main event to play very badly, even worse than Moneymaker. It’s a slightly negative viewpoint of Farha, but they give him a little praise as well. It’s still one of the most interesting “inside the mind” of a great player pieces I’ve encountered, and kudos to Sparks for that. It’s the best chapter in this book which is otherwise rather thin on insight into anything but the self-recriminations of a mediocre player. And, let’s be honest, we all know exactly what that sounds like–it’s the voice inside our own heads.
Oh, and the title is inaccurate. Frustrated player, perhaps. Self-loathing player, definitely. Not a lot of sales value in those titles, though.
I recommended this book if you must have every poker title published, otherwise, there’s more important and interesting books to read before you get to this one.
Review of John Harkness
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story
After a long delay, High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story is finally seeing domestic release. The film was extremely successful at the major film festivals and has been eyed by poker players for a while, but had yet to pick up distribution throughout the US.
Finally, New Line Cinema picked up the project and has put it on the Starz movie network, with the DVD version hitting shelves on March 15th. I recently had a chance to view the movie, which was a relief since I had been waiting for over a year to see it!
Michael Imperioli, of The Sopranos fame, stars as Stu Ungar. Imperioli transforms himself into Ungar very well. While he is not a spitting-image replacement for Ungar, he pulls of the part perfectly.
The story, which was written, directed and produced by A. W. Vidmer, is accurate enough that I consider it the only true biographical information on Ungar’s life available. Vidmer takes us from his childhood days on the streets of New York to Stuey’s troubled days in Las Vegas.
Others notably appearing are Vince Van Patten, Pat Morita, and the late Andy Glazer. Renee Faia, with a very limited acting resum’, plays Ungar’s wife Angela.
The film focuses more on Ungar’s life than Poker. If you’re sitting down to watch this movie with the mind set that you’re going to watch a sequel to Rounders, then you will be disappointed.
However, if you’re really interested in seeing a glimpse at the all-too-short life of one of the greatest poker players (and all-around card players) of our time, then this film is a definite hit.
One of the best aspects of High Roller is that it was painstakingly made with the intent to be accurate. I remember reading a Q&A with the filmmaker Vidmer about the process to write the script and it was very involved, even with some notes from his family.
One of the scenes I remember vividly was the final hand of his first World Series victory in 1980. I had to think to myself who he was playing heads up, because the actor they chose to portray Doyle Brunson was far from a Doyle-look-alike. Once I figured that out, I remembered the way the hand went down, and it was perfectly accurate. I appreciated the little details that they really strive to get down.
The lows of this film are few and far between, but there are obvious scenes of somewhat torturous dialogue from the less-experienced actors. The most noticeable are with Stu’s childhood actor, and late in the film I had a hard time buying the father-daughter interaction. But with this being Vidmer’s first major film and most of these actors not being A-list, there’s little to complain about.
This film is extremely turbulent, much like Stu’s life. You see Imperioli go from a wide-eyed 20-year-old to a down-and-out Vegas junkie. It’s a rough ride at times and really tears at you to see such an amazing individual with the high-level of intellect that Ungar possessed go straight down the drain.
However, that’s how it happened, and it’s one of the best films about poker or poker players you’ll see. I highly recommend this film to anyone with any interest in Stu Ungar’s life.
Review by Jon Eaton
Making of a Poker Player
The Making Of A Poker Player by Matt Matros. You might remember watching during the 2004 WPT Championship, you undoubtedly saw Matt Matros make quite the impression. He played solidly and really didn’t make any mistakes until his (as the magazine show that followed it stated) donkey move with A5 against eventual winner Martin de Knjiff.
To Matt’s credit, his raise on the turn would have won the pot had Martin missed the board and was just trying to pick up the pot with a bet. But regardless, we saw the birth of a new face in poker.
Matt is a regular on some of the poker forums on the Internet and plays regularly as jacksup online. Just before he hit the WPT final table, Matt had written this book. It follows Matt from the early days of playing kitchen table poker with friends in high school to his days playing at Foxwoods. It ends up in the postscript discussing his final table at the WPT, as it was added at the last minute following his $700,000 cash.
This book, however, is no regular poker book. It isn’t a strategy book, and it’s not simply a long tale of poker hands and experiences from the tables. This is actually a good mix of both, which is something I haven’t seen done before. Not only can you learn from it (at any experience level), but it’s a very entertaining story about the recollection of a poker career through the eyes of a now-experienced and solid professional.
Matt shows you his mistakes he made coming up the ranks and how to avoid them, along with teaching the basics of the games and how to win at them. It covers Limit Hold ‘Em, No Limit, Pot Limit, and a little bit about Omaha and Stud. He even grazes over other games like kitchen table crazy games like no peak and others.
A few of the things he writes about are extremely elementary, but the text is trying to appeal to both novices and experienced players alike. It does extremely well in that area. In fact, I was really pulled in by the book, and wanted to keep reading it. I was actually surprised, because I figured any book that’s remotely targeted at beginners would bore me.
The exact opposite is true, because it also teaches even experienced players. At the very least it will help you review some parts of your game. Matt also dives into a little bit of game theory, which should definitely start becoming a part of any serious player’s toolbox.
Thankfully Matt leaves his ego at home and is extremely humble throughout. Some poker authors seem to forget that even though they think they are the greatest player to ever play the game, they really aren’t. Matt is admittedly still learning the game, as is everyone who plays regularly-as the old saying is that you should be learning something new every time you play.
In all honesty I can’t think of anything about the book that I didn’t enjoy. It seems that most poker books today are hit and miss, with some just rehashing concepts you can find in other books. Some even give bad advice and have really sketchy material. Among all of these bad titles, this is a major breath of fresh air. I highly recommend it.
Review by Jon Eaton
No Limit Life
As a man who has had considerable success in a very short period of time in the poker world, Charlie Shoten might have some thoughts of interest to poker players who aspire to reach the heights Shoten has reached.
Many poker players these days, in my opinion, limit themselves by tilting easily or being unable to maintain their discipline and patience, not to mention making an ass of themselves by launching into angry tirades.
Poker players will find highly valuable insights in this book, into both poker and life in general. Shoten reveals his belief that a healthy mental approach to life allowed him to achieve success in poker. He goes into detail both about what the proper life mind set is and also how the reader can attain it. Shoten continues to say one can never have sustained success in poker without the proper mind set. He has, to my eye, a strong and valuable message. As with many poker books, and many self-help books I suspect, the book will suit some people better than others and therefore help some people more than others. Some people will not believe in Shoten’s message, and some who do may never be able to implement his ideas due to internal personal reasons.
I understand poker anger is an issue I feel needs to be addressed. Even if you don’t see poker anger as I do, or view Shoten’s message as favorably as I do, the book is nevertheless valuable as are many other poker books, as a resource to add to any player’s general poker knowledge. When I read Hellmuth’s book, for example, I didn’t like it much. I disagreed with much of what I read in fact, but it has still added to my poker game. In time, I found one or two small ideas I agreed with and sometimes use, and it also provided some insight into how other players might be thinking.
To sum up, then, you can and should find something very valuable in this book to improve your poker game and perhaps your life. But even if you find the ideas inside aren’t something you fully accept and implement, it is still a valuable read and may help you from time to time even if it isn’t something that will change your life and turn you into Tuan Le.
Beyond the ideas, No-Limit Life by Charlie Shoten has amusing cartoons, famous quotes, is easy to use and is visually pleasing. This is important for a casual reader to keep his interest, and also significant to the reader who takes the book to heart, because the inclination will likely be to read and reread it to fully absorb the concepts therein so it needs to be easy to negotiate.
Review by Jeff Henry
One of a Kind – The Rise and Fall of Stuey “The Kid” Ungar
One Of A Kind – The Rise and Fall of Stuey ‘The Kid’ Ungar The World’s Greatest Poker Player by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson was actually a complete surprise to me. Not surprising in the fact that I loved it, but surprising in the fact that I had no idea it was coming out! I had heard in the past about a book Nolan Dalla was working on about Ungar, but hadn’t heard anymore about it. It seemed to be on the back burner, as Dalla is a very busy man as is.
Finally it hit bookshelves just recently. I was in the media room of the Rio when I heard Nolan discussing it. He had just run out of advanced copies but got me one in his next batch a few days later. I immediately started reading it, despite that I had a few other readings I needed to finish first.
The interesting thing here is that suddenly, with the explosion of poker, there’s an insurgence of material about ‘The Kid.’ The movie High Roller touched on some of Ungar’s past, but was not a real official biography of his life. Now that I have read this book, I’d be hard pressed to recommend that movie to anyone who isn’t a die-hard poker fanatic. I feel it lacks a bit in the gory details and the real grit of Ungar, which is what this book really brings out.
The one thing that Alson and Dalla didn’t do in this book is hold back. With the help of friends and family, they have brought us the first official biographical look at the most amazing poker player of all time.
The book starts out from the very beginning, giving the reader a candid look at his home life and his childhood years. He is quickly thrust into the world of cards, and with the help of the mob, books some big wins in the gin world. His rise to fame in gin quickly eliminated his competition, as no one wanted to play the man!
Ungar moves along through life with little direction or authority and learns on his own. As he enters Vegas, he is shown a lifestyle he had no idea existed. With no one to tell him right from wrong, Ungar enters the poker world and becomes a complete wreck in the process, ruining his life through drugs.
The story of Stuey’s life is no secret, and is a story that most poker players are familiar with. What most don’t know is the good that existed in one of the most confused men to ever play the game. Ungar was a great father for his children, dealing with some of the hardest things a father can deal with (separation, divorce, suicide, etc.).
The rise to the top in the poker world was a rocky ride at best for Stuey, as he gambled away most of his winnings. The fall was ten times harder, as he slowly become completely dependent on cocaine and eventually began smoking it in the crack form. Ungar’s life spiraled out of control until his untimely death in 1998.
Dalla and Alson give by far the best look into Ungar’s life ever recorded. If you have any interest in Ungar at all, this is definitely the route to take to learn more about this amazing player. My only hope is that this book will maybe deter someone else from taking the same destructive path that he chose.
Review by Jon Eaton
Positively Fifth Street
Positively Fifth Street is a story based around James McManus’ run in the 2001 World Series Of Poker. James was one of the only reporters to actually enter an event he was covering (he was writing an article for Harpers at the time) and make the final table. He took a respectable fifth place finish at the final table.
The book begins by discussing the details of the Ted Binion murder leading up to the trial. The trial is just ending as James arrives in Las Vegas. All of the trial details can be found online if you want to know more about the murder of Ted Binion. At the end of the trial, two suspects, Ted’s wife Sandra and her boyfriend, were convicted of murder. The verdict has since been overturned in appeals.
As the World Series draws near in the book, McManus gives us the details behind the early events of the World Series. McManus takes the reader on his journey from the start to the end of the event. The final details of the thrilling last few hands between T.J. Cloutier and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson definitely end the story well.
As far as actual poker playing in the book goes, a lot of overly tight and timid play highlight McManus’ style. He could have definitely done worse, but he sure didn’t play like he wanted to win. In either case, the journey to the final table is a very enjoyable read, and offers some insight to big-time tournament newcomers.
Review by Jon Eaton
The Professor, The Banker, and the Suicide King
Michael Craig recently released The Professor, The Banker, and The Suicide King, detailing the inner workings of the biggest cash game in poker history. Craig gives us intimate details about the multi-million dollar group of professionals who took on a rich banker from Texas named Andy Beal. If you’ve ever been interested in how the biggest cash games in the world operate, it’s a very interesting look into the game and the players in that game, where money most people would consider lifetime savings are won and lost in a single pot.
Craig takes the reader from the first line on a journey that will keep you turning pages. The story starts off following Ted Forrest, who was in Los Angeles looking to head to Vegas for the night. Ted was a regular at the time in the $2,000-4,000 and up games, and phoned the Bellagio on his ride out to the desert.
When Ted finds out there’s a $10,000-20,000 game going, he takes his entire bankroll and sits down with just enough to play. He curiously finds only two players playing-Todd Brunson, son of legendary Doyle, and a man he’s never seen before. Ted managed to lose most of his stack immediately, but wound up a winner of over $1 million.
He later found out about the group of players the mystery man (later he found he was named Andy Beal) had challenged. The group, known to most poker players as ‘The Corporation,’ had scraped together their bankrolls to play Beal that night. Ted was later included, and no hard feelings were had for the money he had taken from the game that night.
From here, Craig details Beal’s almost obsession that overcomes him, as he attempts over and over to ‘beat the pros.’ His goal is to take the stakes so high that the pros are out of their comfort zone-and by the end of the book, the stakes escalate so high that they’re playing $100,000-200,000 poker!
I don’t want to give away all the interesting tales that Beal conjures up in this book. I will note that the book does tend to drag on a few times, but once Beal heads to Vegas in the subsequent chapters, the story picks right back up. I can’t think of anything more interesting to read about than people shuffling $25,000 chip stacks.
In all, I was taken off guard by this book, since I didn’t think the two sides could ever fully agree on a story. Thankfully they both gave enough input and the stories were straightened out enough for this amazing tale to come out. I highly recommend checking this book out if you are looking for a good poker story.
Review by Jon Eaton
Author Andy Bellin has been through highs and lows that many poker players have been through. Of the somewhat autobiographical books about poker, Andy seems to have been through the dark times just enough times to really give you a good feel for what it’s like to play poker for a living.
Often a little cynical, his own analysis of the poker world makes for a very entertaining read. This is not to be mistaken with Positively Fifth Street or other poker ‘novels.’ Nation is a collection of stories, anecdotes and experiences Bellin has been through in his lifetime as a poker-playing author.
Poker Nation by Andy Bellin starts discussing an intense hand in an underground club. His description of poker hands aren’t quite as vivid or as thought-provoking as James McManus’ in Positively Fifth Street, but then again, Bellin was never playing at the final table of the World Series Of Poker in this book.
Throughout the 200-plus page book, the reader is taken on a trip through the poker clubs of New York through his experiences in poker, including some light poker strategy (just to acquaint the reader with poker theory), as well as a little background on poker tournaments and the World Series Of Poker. There aren’t many dry moments, and the writing is definitely lively enough to keep you turning pages.
Bellin doesn’t exactly speak highly of the poker ‘lifestyle,’ as he essentially labels most poker players as degenerate gamblers. While his observations ring true in a lot of cases, the somewhat negative viewpoint he provides the reader is slightly misleading. While I can’t argue with his depictions of being down-and-out and hurting because of your losses, Bellin never really gives an insight to the brighter side of poker.
This is probably as a result of having written this before the major parts of the poker boom took place. If Bellin had been able to write about the amazing stories of Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer, it might have brightened up the book.
However, this is not to say I disagree with his conclusions or feel the book is in any way inaccurate. In fact, it’s closer to accurate than most books that shed a much brighter light on the poker scene. There are more losers than winners, and that’s what Bellin exposes.
If you’re looking for a great book to read on a plane ride to Vegas, I recommend this one for your next trip. In fact, I recommend it anyway. Check it out.
Review by Jon Eaton
Caro’s Book of Tells
Mike Caro, the ‘Mad Genius’ of poker, is probably most well known for his Book Of Tells he put out more than 20 years ago. This 300-plus page book covers most of the common physical ‘tells’ players give off at the table. For the serious player, I feel this is another must-read.
The book covers the following sections of tells as broken down by Caro: tells from those who are unaware, tells from actors, some general tells, as well as a few other sections about this difficult-to-grasp art. The book is full of black-and-white images, all of which are telling of the age of the book. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone wearing a ‘Member’s Only’ jacket would have been considered fashionable at this time. While it’s stood the test of time very well, I would sort of like to see an update to this classic (although it has nothing to do with the style of clothing-I feel that it’s a little dated because so many people know this book so well).
That aside, there’s much to be learned from this book. While a lot of these gestures and odd tells people give off will almost never be seen, the logic he has behind each tell is what you must acquire. You won’t hardly ever see someone give off tells as obvious as the actors in these pictures, but again, all Caro is doing is getting you on the right track looking for oddities and strange things at the table.
If you can successfully decipher what each of these tells really means and remember it, then you will be much better off than those who haven’t read it. Some people will intentionally give off false tells to those they believe have read this, so the counter-tells will have to be learned as well.
If you get one thing from this book, it should be the poker phrase that will never, ever be untrue: generally speaking, weak means strong, and strong means weak. If you can figure that much out, you’re on your way to reading players like you can read this book.
Review by Jon Eaton
Harrington on Holdem 2
The second installment of Dan Harrington’s Harrington on Hold ‘Em series, published by Two Plus Two publishing, was just recently released. For those who are familiar with Dan Harrington and read his first book, you probably know what to expect out of the book. For those who read Two Plus Two books regularly, you probably know what to expect out of the editing job.
The contents of the book are of great value to a no-limit tournament player. The topics cover how to make moves in the later goings of a no-limit tournament, and the guidelines you need to follow on how to adjust gears as you progress towards the end. Some of them might not be new to the reader, but for those who have never discussed no-limit strategy at great length, it should greatly improve your game. It’s loaded with real-life examples to help you grasp the ideas clearly.
I mentioned the editing job for one reason-it’s atrociously bad. I can’t even begin to tell you how terrible Mason Malmuth’s editing job is in this book. I literally stopped reading at one point, because the page was so full of errors I had honestly lost track of what the passage was trying to say.
Normally I don’t care about minor errors and little details that are messed up. But the problem is, there’s so many in this book, that there’s probably going to be a book published just as long as this one is with all the corrections in it! Two Plus Two is known for not caring in the least about these things, and it hurts this book greatly.
If you can get over the numerous grammatical and context errors (numerous times, examples have bad math and incorrect references to their diagrams), then the actual lessons learned in this book are invaluable to the reader. I had a tough time separating myself from the writer in me and the interest I had in finishing the book.
One of the best sections for beginners is Harrington’s heads-up play section. If you’ve never played heads-up poker or haven’t given it much thought, you can learn a lot from this. I’ve never seen anyone discuss how to play no-limit poker heads up, and he gives it a thorough write up. Everything from what hands rank well against a random hand, to how to play your hands. The best part is, he takes real-life examples (one from the Turning Stone tournament Phil Ivey won on live TV), and simplifies them so you understand why each player is doing what they are doing.
Overall, if you’re looking to add to your collection of poker books, and you’ve read the first volume, then this is a must have. I would recommend waiting until they release a later print of this book, with less errors in it. If they decide that it’s important enough to do so.
Review by Jon Eaton
Harrington on Holdem
Dan Harrington has finally written a definitive book on the basics of no-limit hold ’em tournament poker. For the first time in print are many of the techniques that pros today use to their advantage to win major poker tournaments.
Many of you are familiar with Dan, but for those who don’t know who he is’ his list of accolades start with the 1995 World Series main event championship, and most recently he reached the final table in the 2003 and 2004 world championship events. He’s won numerous tournaments in his lifetime and has two total World Series bracelets.
In Harrington on Hold ‘Em: Volume 1, Dan teaches basic fundamental pre-flop and post-flop play as well as how to change it up and how to bet your hands. Dan also goes through some basic bluffs and reads on hands. It’s not for the novice-you really must know how to play poker fairly efficiently first.
However, if you are like many other poker players and are new to no-limit tournaments, this is an excellent foundation for you to have underneath you. For those of you who already know most of this material, it never hurts to have a little refresher.
Knowing your own game inside and out is a key thing, and Dan teaches that to you. He teaches you to know your own table image and how to play off of it. You can see this in action-watch Dan bluff in tight spots at the 2004 World Series final table on ESPN! Dan gets respect for his image at the table, and he can make bluffs as such.
I highly recommend this book. I was so highly convinced this one book took my tournament game to the next level of steady cashing, I told my friend if he didn’t cash in his next tournament after finishing the book I’d pay his entry fee back. He made the final table and was convinced of it himself.
The one thing he told me was the book made him in control of his play throughout the tournament, and he was more observant of everything that went on around him. One thing I notice is the book has me looking at every detail going on around me at the table-noting every time someone bets and raises and noting the amounts and when and where in my mind.
Two Plus Two publishing have been innovators for years in the field of poker publishing. This book follows their last hit in the poker world, Small Stakes Hold ‘Em. That book was one of the first ever produced for play against loose, low-limit games. Others have touched on the topic, but they dominated the category with that book.
Likewise, Harrington On Hold ‘Em is a very good read that will teach some fundamentals of play in no-limit tournaments never available elsewhere. If you’re a tournament player, you must read this book-your opponents will be.
Review by Jon Eaton
High Low Split
High-Low Split Poker For Advanced Players by Ray Zee is the classic book on hi-lo split. An important read for beginners and anyone preparing to play either online or live. The two games are very similar in approach and the insights and strategies into one game can often be applied to the other. Understanding the winning principles will also give your overall poker game a boost, especially in holdem, lowball, Omaha high, and seven card stud.
Both of the sections are especially well structured and organized. The keys to these games are in two areas that Zee addresses quite well. The first concept being the relative hand strengths. This reading provides the basics for playing split games in ring games and shorthanded tables.
Understanding starting hand strength relative to that of your opponents is extremely important, especially when trying to raise for value in a multi-way pot and when trying to isolate another player. Ray Zee offers solid strategy approaches to playing low style drawing hands and big pairs, key hands in these games.
He also clearly defines the hands in which you should avoid, since their win rate is negative. He also discusses hands that will separate you from your competition.
The other key to success Zee stresses in both this game and Omaha high-low split is the importance of playing tight. The tighter you play in choosing both the hands you play and in deciding the course of action to take after the flop in Omaha high-low (and on fourth street in 7 card stud hi-lo) are essential to understanding the poor expectation of chasing in these games.
For the most part this book can clearly get you headed in the right direction in these very profitable forms of poker. However, to master these games you may have to supplement your reading after this book on these games to get a more complete understanding of aggressive plays and tournament strategy.
Review by Bo Jungblut
Not one single book in the history of poker should be emphasized more than Professional Poker by Mark Blade. That’s how much I believe this book means to the poker world. I mean, Super System might be the Bible, but this book is the Encyclopedia. I guess it depends on your religious beliefs as to which is more important or correct’ but just go with the analogy for now.
Mark Blade has written a very practical and useful guide for how to go from a recreational, winning poker player, into a full-time professional. Along the way he helps you decide if this path is correct for you, and gives you some pointers to help your journey. From someone who has been there and done that, he gives you basically all the information that took years of hardships for many before you to learn and accept fully.
Your advantage over those before you is with this book, you don’t have to go broke to learn how to play poker. You can now learn the exact principles for bankroll management, game analysis, and moving up in the ranks without dropping $10,000 or more.
My unfortunate belief that this book is so great is unfortunate because I have a feeling not many are aware of this book. When I saw it on the shelf, it really didn’t stand out’it looked like one of the dozens of other books put out in the past two years about poker. I glanced through it, and was actually unimpressed at first. In fact, I didn’t want to buy it!
Something told me to give it a chance and I purchased it, with the intentions of reviewing it for you loyal readers. When I was halfway through, I was immediately amazed at how well written and organized it was. Everything was clear and concise, and every important point was hammered out for you to fully understand.
The thing about me reading this book is I already possess most of this knowledge, mostly from learning the hard way. Therefore, I can fully understand the concepts presented, and can completely confirm that Mark has done his work here. If you read this book, apply the concepts and learn how to play the game right, you have a winning recipe here. It’s no secret that the concepts Mark has given you in this book are winning concepts, because every professional player should already know what Mark knows.
Many professionals got lucky when they started. Whether they really stood the test of time or just had beginners luck may remain to be seen, but this text will spell out for you how to avoid having to just get lucky to succeed at poker. To be fair to those who didn’t use the key concepts of this book to make it to the top, Mark does approach topics like playing on a short bankroll and playing for bigger scores through satellites and so forth. There is some legitimacy to these approaches, and he spells them out for you.
Whether you are wanting to do this for a living or you just want to play seriously, this book should be the first thing you buy before going any further. I can’t begin to tell you how important it is to understand how long the long run really is, and how to achieve the goals you set out for yourself through proper bankroll management. Mark will completely spell these things out for you in plain and simple English, and if you follow his advice, I will see you at a final table in the near future.
Review by Jon Eaton
Small Stakes Holdem
When the Hold’Em explosion hit poker rooms across America, hundreds of thousands of inexperienced players were beginning to play limit Hold ‘Em for the first time. The number still grows today, as poker rooms continue to expand around the country. As a result, 2+2 Publishing put their stamp on the low-limit world with this instant classic, Small Stakes Hold ‘Em: Winning Big With Expert Play.
In sharp contrast with their previous writings such as Hold ‘Em Poker For Advanced Players, Ed Miller and company suggest playing a new brand of poker. Instead of playing relatively weak-tight for the games today, they suggest playing more pots and playing much more aggressively. The fact that you play better poker and don’t play marginal-to-hopeless hands means that you’ll exploit your opponents tendencies to offset your slightly looser-than-normal play.
For example, they will recommend in many spots to raise with such marginal hands as A-Ts, even from an early position. The reason behind their logic is today’s games are so soft that players will give you action with even weaker hands almost like clockwork. They even advocate some plays that might seem strange to the typical middle-limit player, like raising into a crowd on the button with a hand like A-Js.
Again, this is all a drastic change from previous writings, even on low-limit games. The logic in the past about raising with marginal hands out of position was that if you get action behind you, you are beat and are drawing already. The problem with these previous thoughts is that in games today, players are cold-calling two, three and even four bets with almost any two cards. A typical $3-6 Hold ‘Em game could have as many as six players on average seeing a flop.
To beat these games today, you must adjust your style of play. Some of the topics and strategies in here can translate into higher-stakes games, but typically these are best kept to the white chip games and loose middle-limit games.
Overall, if you want to stand a chance in the ‘no fold ’em’ games of today, you must adjust your strategy drastically. This book offers most players a good guideline how to do just that.
Review by Jon Eaton
Super System 2
Super System 2 was the most anticipated book in the history of poker. Heck, it says so right on the cover. So when Doyle Brunson’s super sequel finally reached my local bookseller, I bought one as quickly as I could, scarcely stopping at the adjacent coffee shop to claim a free sample of fudge.
Super System 2 was delayed for both production and distribution, a rare achievement for a book in the now-oversaturated gambling paperback market. Still, I was happy to fork over my $34.95 (plus tax, minus free dessert sample) to find out what, exactly, reading an update of the Bible would actually be like.
At 667 pages, SS2 exceeds in length even its behemoth of a predecessor, which sported 602 pages of text and oddly drawn, yet surprisingly endearing cartoons. The caricatures are back for the sequel, along with updated chapters on high-low seven-stud, limit holdem, and no-limit holdem, still the Cadillac of poker according to Doyle.
Super System 2 also adds chapters on pot-limit Omaha, Omaha eight-or-better, triple draw, and online poker. Gone are the chapters on seven-stud high-low (no qualifier), five-card draw, and even plain old vanilla seven-card stud from Super/System. Also thankfully missing from the original edition are its often-incoherent grammatical aberrations; the editors at Cardoza Publishing seem to have the arbitrary capitalization of the first edition drawing dead.
Doyle’s latest ‘course in power poker’ like the original sports a scintillating lineup of poker celebrities as chapter authors. Joining Brunson for the sequel are Mike Caro, Bobby Baldwin, Todd Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Jennifer Harman, and Lyle Berman.
While Brunson’s chapter on no-limit holdem is superb, not much is new from the original Super System. Doyle does, however, pen a decent chapter on online poker, albeit with a few-too-many plugs for his also-ran DoylesRoom.com room.
Lyle Berman’s pot-limit Omaha primer is a good introduction to the game, with intermediate and beginning concepts clearly explained.
The same is true for Baldwin’s Omaha-eight chapter, though the Bellagio CEO delves a little deeper into the depths of his game.
The real value of SS/2, however, is found in the chapters by its two youngest section authors, Daniel Negreanu and Jennifer Harman. These two sensations, long daily fixtures in the highest cash games in the world, stop at nothing to reveal the secrets of their assigned games.
Negreanu’s chapter on Triple Draw is a joy to read and should enable even a novice to jump into a game. Scenarios are succinctly and accurately categorized, and the chapter retains an excellent sense of structure unseen in the other sections. The only problem with the section is not Daniel’s fault; the chapter would only be better of Triple Draw were more widely played at the sub-stratospheric limits.
That leaves Harman’s tutorial on limit holdem as the book’s true gem. Harman, widely considered the poker world’s best female player, patiently holds the reader’s hand as she teaches a winning course in poker’s most common game. Beginners can jump right into her section, while advanced players also stand to benefit from the tips within. Harmon accomplishes this impressive feat while avoiding bone-dry style of other limit holdem texts in the image and likeness of the standard Sklasnky and Malmuth fare.
Though a more significantly updated no-limit section would have sealed the deal, Negreanu and Harman’s sections are alone worth the price of purchase of Super System 2. Though it may never enjoy the sacred-text status of its predecessor, Super System 2 should find its way on most players’ bookshelves.
Review by Pete Cilento
The Theory of Poker
If it seems like I keep reviewing books that are all excellent, it’s because there are literally dozens of top-notch literature available today on poker. Theory is by far the one that should be at the top of the list. This classic by David Sklansky is definitely the one book that every poker player should have on their shelf.
In fact, I feel The Theory Of Poker one is so important, that it should be declared the true Bible of poker. Super System might have this label now, but I truly feel that this is the most important book a player can read on the subject.
Theory covers aspects of poker that are universal; that is, they can be used in any form of poker. It spells out in fairly plain English what every specific play and tool that there is available to you. While the actual writing itself is a little off (Sklansky and Malmuth admit in their 2+2 Publishing books that they aren’t professional writers), it’s not bad enough that anyone will have a hard time reading.
The topics covered in the book range from the fight for the ante, slow-playing, the free card, and the psychology behind poker. It’s very well organized and each section includes a simple summary to review what you just read.
The important thing to realize about Theory isn’t that it’s a good book about poker, it’s that your opponents have read it, too. Therefore, I feel anyone serious about poker is required to read this to get ahead of the curve. The more you know about what your opponent knows, the better off you are.
In short, if you have just one book to buy to learn about poker in general, this is definitely it. Be forewarned-this book reads like a textbook. It’s not exactly fun to read, but then again, poker isn’t about having fun, it’s about making money.
Review by Jon Eaton
Tournament Poker for Advanced Players
Tournament Poker’ is one of the best reference books that a tournament player can own. While it does not go into as much detail as books like The Theory of Poker, it contains tons of information on a broad range of tournament topics. It also provides a very good “jumping off” place for every tournament player to begin or continue their thought process about the game.
Tournament Poker For Advanced Players by David Sklansky is geared towards good ring-game players, who are looking to add tournaments to their repertoire. Advanced tournament players can glean enough information from this book to warrant buying it, but the book is of invaluable importance to the poker player who simply haven’t given tournament poker much thought before.
The biggest and most important concept in Sklansky’s book is the “gap concept”. Basically, he says that you need a better hand to call a bet than you need to make a bet. This rings so true, as it plays into an aggressive player’s style. Many aggressive players just take for granted that their style of play works, and don’t think about the rationalization behind their aggressive style. It is always important to understand why something works, and not just be content to do what you perceive works for you. By gaining a deeper understanding of poker in general, you will become a much more efficient tournament poker player.
Another solid section of the book is one that addresses game theory, especially as it relates to bluffing. Basically, Sklansky shows the mathematical formula behind maximizing your EV with bluffs. By putting your opponent on a hand, and by finding the odds that the pot is laying your opponent to call a bet, and then by only bluffing that exact percentage of the time, you are maximizing the EV of making that bet. Sklansky shows a very easy way to do this, by picking a range of cards (equal to the odds that the pot is laying the opponent) and then bluffing only when one of those pre-determined cards falls. This is a great tool for all tournament players, and works especially well in all limit tournaments.
This book, along with a multitude of others (Theory of Poker, Tao of Poker, etc.) are must haves. This brings up a very interesting point-one of the major things that separates the winning tournament poker players from the dominating tournament poker players. You must use poker books as a stepping off point, NOT as a final destination. If you only read these books, and then repeat the knowledge in route memorization, you aren’t increasing your knowledge of tournament poker, and any advanced player will be able to crush you.
You must play tournaments consistently with an open mind, thinking proactively about the game and about your opponents. The concepts in this book are very important, but you shouldn’t simply take them as fact and move on. You should learn them and try to apply them to your own game! Each individual has a different playing style that suits him/her. Some are more aggressive, some are tight. Use the tips, and adapt them to your personal game winning style.
Review by Aaron Bartley
Bad Boys of Poker
Shout Factory and the World Poker Tour are back for another DVD. This time around, they have put the episode Bad Boys Of Poker on DVD, complete with a load of special features and a pretty nifty package. Considering it’s just one episode, it’s no wonder that it’s so cheap-it lists at Amazon.com for just $13.99.
The DVD comes with one excellent feature (which I raved about on the Season 2 DVD set), a commentary track from Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Laak. The two hooked up on that DVD set for commentary on the LA Poker Classic and the WPT Invitational. This time around, the commentary is more lighthearted as the tournament was a freeroll for a WPT Championship seat.
The one interesting part of the episode, in which Antonio puts in a third raise, pushing all-in, against Gus Hansen. Hansen makes an interesting call, getting about two-to-one pot odds with a Td-8d, which was only a small underdog to Antonio’s pocket sevens. Antonio and Phil dissect the play and realize that the range of hands Antonio has there warrants the call-they believe Gus knows that Antonio likely has A-K, A-Q, or a small pocket pair, so interestingly enough, the call is mathematically close to right.
Without commentary tracks like this, a lot of home viewers might not ever understand how Gus could make such a call. Gus will gamble anytime he thinks the math is right, and as a result, home viewers see him playing interesting hands every pot almost. His style is so strange, that the typical WPT fan won’t understand the subtleties of his game, but Phil and Antonio give great insight into the chaotic game of Hansen.
The special features also feature loads of ‘Bad Boy moments,’ in which different players throughout the first two seasons of the WPT make bold plays and run their mouths at the table. There are also player bios of each of the six players of the tournament. If you’ve seen all the WPT episodes, this is likely not new material, but rather a nice added bonus of some memorable moments from the show.
Overall, if you’re a die-hard poker-on-TV fan, you really should add this disc to your library. I’ve watched the commentary tracks from both this and the WPT Season 2 DVD set numerous times, and learn something every time I watch them. If you’re a big student of the game, these will only help you in the long run.
Review by Jon Eaton
Poker for Dummies
One of the most popular teaching series has stepped up to the next level. The “Dummies” series has recently released a DVD entitled Poker for Dummies. This DVD stars one of the more popular players on the poker circuit, Chris Moneymaker, the 2003 World Series of Poker champion. The co-star is Barry Shulman, the publisher of Cardplayer magazine.
The video is aimed at novice players, home players, and new B&M card room players. However, a good 40 minutes is targeted simply at the basics of Texas holdem. The two go over betting structures, blinds, hand rankings, and general strategy for the game. Most of the tutorial is presented at a card table which makes it very easy to follow and more enjoyable to watch. This movie would be great for beginners who are just starting to play the game.
For intermediate players however, the DVD drags significantly. Both stars of the movie probably will not be staring in any Hollywood productions. The material is presented in a dull fashion, however, the graphics are very promising.
Toward the end of the video, the more interesting facts about poker are revealed. Barry Shulman talks about the art of the bluff and tells that are present in the game. For a person that has played poker for a good two years this was the only new information. Shulman refers to poker as a game of life, in which only the people with most of the facts will come out ahead. This quote helps out a lot when you have a mom that hates the fact that her son is gambling.
The final segment talks about Chris Moneymaker’s top ten secrets to his World Series championship. Going into this section I expected way more than what was presented. Two of his secrets were to ‘develop a signature style’ and ‘always play your best game.” This is where Moneymaker rocks out his shades that gave him the edge in the World Series. Whew! What a moment.
Poker for Dummies is a good incite into the world of poker. I would recommend this DVD for beginning players looking to find out a little more about the game and how it is structured.
However, for intermediate players looking to step up their game, it was a let down. There were some good information at the end of the video, but most of it was devoted to other things. Poker for Dummies retails at $16.99 and you can purchase it at the top of this page by clicking our link to buy it now.
I would recommend that you buy this for your girlfriend so they can figure out how to play poker. I’ve had trouble trying to get my girlfriend to play cards with me and my friends-I guess I’m not that great of a teacher. So I relied on good old Chris Moneymaker to teach her for me. I can proudly say that she takes all my money now. Thanks a lot Chris!
Review by Scott Bonz
World Poker Tour Season 2
Shout Factory’s World Poker Tour Season 2 DVD, an eight-disc collection of the second full season of the Travel Channel’s smash hit hits the shelves today. Featured on the eight-discs are 14 episodes of the WPT tournaments, each about 90 minutes in length, and a load of special features that were not available in the first season DVD collection.
The most noted special features in World Poker Tour Season are the two audio tracks of commentary by Daniel Negreanu and Erick Lindgren, both WPT champions. Their commentary over the PartyPoker cruise and the PokerStars cruise tournaments are both top notch, with a lot of thoughts about the play and their own actions throughout. Daniel was in both, notching a 3rd in the PokerStars.com episode, and Erick beat Daniel heads-up in the PartyPoker episode.
The duo work together amazingly for their two episodes. However, it’s so interesting to me I wish they had simply done this on every episode with one or two players. Hopefully, next time this is expanded upon by Shout Factory.
Also included is an extended “Poker Corner” show, that featured pros Annie Duke, Phil Hellmuth and Negreanu talking about the season finale, the WPT Championship at the Bellagio. There are also player profiles (of which are featured throughout the episodes themselves), poker corner bits (again, the bits all organized that are featured by Shana during the show), and a feature about the WPT Hollywood Home Game. If you watch the Travel Channel and the WPT religiously, there’s nothing new here, but a lot of people might have missed the “Poker Corner” show.
If you’ve seen the episodes on the Travel Channel, then you know what to expect as far as content goes for the episodes themselves. As far as what I think of the World Poker Tour, if you’ve never seen it… then I would definitely recommend every player watch these discs. If they plan on playing poker fairly seriously, then you have nothing to lose watching these.
As far as the best tournaments of the season… I recommend the PokerStars Cruise, as well as the WPT Championship. All of the episodes are entertaining, so there’s little reason to not watch all of them.
For those of you who plan on maybe playing in a big event, these are valuable studying tools. It of course is all short-handed final table play, but you can at least learn some hands that players you might face have played. Information is priceless in tournament poker.
Overall, the DVD’s are a valuable learning tool as well as a great piece of entertainment. Some of the extras aren’t all that great, but for the $59.99 retail value of this massive DVD set, it’s well worth your money.
Review by Jon Eaton