Poker Reviews: Blogs, a DVD, and Books

“No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en;
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.”

–William Shakespeare
Apologies to my loyal readers, as this post marks the first in three weeks, but working for the fastest growing Online Poker Room in the world has left me with little time and even less energy. I can happily report that the few sessions I’ve put in at the tables (virtual and real) have been extremely profitable, and the cards have been kind.
I haven’t had any poker epiphanies, but I thought I’d run through some stuff that’s been on my mind or that has made me think a little bit harder about my game.
Full Tilt Poker: bigger and better every day
If you haven’t noticed, hand histories are now available for Full Tilt Poker ring games and are now supported by Poker Tracker. It took a while, but we got there!
Also, congrats to my man Bill Rini who has taken the plunge and signed his soul over to Full Tilt Poker. Bill will be a great addition to the Full Tilt team, and I look forward to building the site along his side.
Old school Online Poker Wisdom
Props go out to one of the few remaining original heroes of RGP, Mr. Andrew Prock. For those of you that are unfamiliar, Prock’s blog is an infrequently updated treasure chest of nuggets of superb limit holdem wisdom. Rarely do I find myself reading a Prock post where I don’t find my self saying, “damn, why didn’t I think of it like that.” Enough with the praise, here are two recent posts that had me awestruck at the simplicity of optimal strategy in such a complex game:
Prock on “The Wall”
“The Wall” is a pretty standard strategy used in limit games by most of the better players. It is a very simple strategy, and applicable to a wide range of hands and situations.

  • When you have the initiative, bet.
  • If you lose the initiative, call.

Prock on “The Biggest Leak”
For most average players, their biggest leak is that they call too much under all circumstances. You see this in the low limit fish on every round of play. You see this in the high limit fish postflop tenacity.
Both of the above seem so common-sensical to be obvious, but meditating on them a bit makes one realize how many levels of thinking are involved in limit poker. I’ve always been a strong advocate of Occam’s Razor, the principle which states: Of two equivalent theories or explanations, all other things being equal, the simpler one is to be preferred.. Maybe I’m a romantic game-theorist, but I think Occam’s Razor applies to games: the simplest strategy is usually the best. Thanks for the wisdom Andy.
Poker on DVD
Final Table Poker With Phil Gordon
I finally got a chance to check out Phil Gordon’s Poker DVD, and was pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the production as well as the strength of the instruction. In short, the DVD is an excellent walk-through of the way a world-class tournament player (although some people might argue otherwise, I truly believe Phil is one of the best NL tourney players when he’s got his A game) thinks about many difficult situations in the context of a tournament.
The DVD takes you through Phil’s thought process at the final table in a simulated WPT event, and covers a variety of different situations that arise in every tournament. For stone-cold beginners looking to learn how to play tournament poker, this is a great start, since it really illustrates the many levels of thinking involved in no-limit tournament play, while also focusing on fundamental concepts such as pot odds and starting hands. For intermediate players, it will help them improve the way they think about their final table play– the first time I was caught at a final table against a group of tough players, I wasn’t sure how to adjust my game from survival mode to attack mode, and ended up being outplayed by more experience players. Final Table Poker prepares the intermediate player for the wide range of situations that can come up at the final table, giving the player some “virtual experience” to draw on when they make it to the final table in a real tournament.

The DVD’s biggest strength is that it’s very well suited for “situational learners.” Many people have difficulty immersing themselves in a poker tournament– there are so many variables to account for, and books that try to create a context for decision often fall short at attempts to immerse the reader in the environment. For example, although Harrington’s books offer some great problems to ponder, it’s usually difficult for me to get a feel for the table from lead-ins like:
Situation: Late in a major tournament. The table is a mix of conservative and aggressive players.
The biggest strength of Final Table Poker is that you’re forced to sit behind Phil for an hour and a half, and have no choice but to observe the tendencies of the other players. Thus, when the decision points come up, you can understand the decision in the context of the game far better than you can in any book.
For a much more in-depth review, I recommend checking out Bill Rini’s review here. Bill is rarely wrong with his reads, and his review is on the money.
Bottom Line: If you’re a a newcomer to tournament poker, an intermediate player who lacks final table experience, or consider yourself a “situational learner,” you’ll get your money’s worth from Final Table Poker. While there probably is nothing new for experienced tournament players, the DVD is genuinely funny and entertaining to watch.
Poker in Print
One of a Kind: Rise and Fall of Stuey Ungar
I just finished “One of a Kind: Rise and Fall of Stuey Ungar” the Nolan Dalla/Peter Alson, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. The book is a biography of Stuey’s life from childhood to death, held together by actual quotes collected by Dalla in the 90’s before Stuey’s death.
Dalla and Alson tell many great stories about Stuey’s incredible talent for gambling and insatiable appetite for action, but seemed hesitant to explore the dark side of Ungar. The book offers many explanations for what made him so great at any card game he played, but there is little exploration of the demons that drove Stuey to his many vices. The authors leave it to the reader to determine Ungar’s propensity for things that hurt the people that cared about him.
Bottom Line: “One of a Kind” was an interesting read, and the interspersion of quotes from “The Kid” himself give the reader a chance to get inside the mind of Ungar. I’m usually not a huge fan of biographies, and I found some parts of the book to be uninteresting, but there are enough great stories in it to make it a worthwhile read.
The Professor, The Banker, and the Suicide King
I won’t say too much about this book other than “read it.” This one was difficult to put down from start to finish, and contains some great stories told by a great writer. Hats off to Michael Craig for capturing the crazy world of ultra-high-stakes poker. According to a reliable source, Craig was able to get the real inside story behind many of the craziest bets and biggest games in poker over the past decade. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Craig’s tales, some of which were so crazy that they seem almost like folklore.
Alright it’s time to hit the tables. I still have to plow through Harrington on Hold Em Volume II and Barry Greenstein’s “Ace on the River,” but that’ll have to wait until after I test my luck against the fish. Good cards to everyone not at my table, and thanks for reading.

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