Poker Books: Putting Their Advice to Use

Poker-Harrington 3
Harrington even teaches in French!

Poker books provide players an almost unlimited resource for improving your game.

Some of history's greatest players and strategists have put their thoughts and poker secrets inside a dust cover.

Any kid with a library card (or their 'rents' VISA) can grab these books, and read all about the little intricacies and high-level thinking that go on in a pro's head.

They can benefit from years of experience in just a few hours of reading. (Of course, whether you can actually learn from a book, or if you need the experience to truly acquire the knowledge, is an argument best left for eccentric psychologists.)

It's one thing to read a strategy book; it's another to understand it and it's another thing altogether to truly accept and integrate the knowledge into your own game.

Your Skill Level

Your skill level and general poker comprehension have to be taken into account when reading poker books. You have to remember that the players writing these books are typically very advanced ones, playing with some of the world's strongest opponents.

Daniel Negreanu
Concepts used to beat Daniel Negreanu may not be directly transferable.

The theories and concepts used to beat players like Daniel Negreanu may not be directly transferable to the players in your weekly 25¢/50¢ game.

It's not possible to make a read-based play on reverse implied odds if you don't understand the concept of implied odds to start with.

Trying to solve even the most simple calculus problems will be impossible until you first understand algebra. Poker is no different: until you understand and truly master the very basic building blocks of the game, the advanced stuff is useless to you.

You can look at a calculus question and its answer, memorize them and never get that question wrong. Without knowing how to get from the question to the answer, once a single variable is changed you'll have no idea where to start.

You want to understand the reason for making a play rather than memorizing a specific situation to make it. Players who progress too quickly, skipping the basics, often know when to raise or just call. But they can't tell you why they should raise; they just know they should.

If you don't understand that that one specific raise you're making is exclusively for value, you will never understand how to size that raise properly, depending on the player you're extracting the value from. Or, even worse, you may not know when the raise would lose you money.

The Game You're In

One of the best cash-game books available these days is Harrington on Cash Games, volumes I and II. These books explain every aspect of cash-game play in a well-laid-out format, with plenty of example hands to help drive home the concepts.

Unfortunately, unless you're playing at the same tables as Dan, the information isn't directly transferable.

His books talk about raise sizing, explaining how you should be raising pre-flop typically from 3-5 times the big blind. There are many games in the world where this simply doesn't work. Plenty of $2/$5 games out there have a standard opening raise of around $35, or seven times the big blind.

This is a standard raise, meaning it can vary. If you're going to make a larger-than-average raise, you're going to have to raise to $50 in this game, as anything less is almost irrelevant. An opening raise of 10 times the big blind completely changes the dynamic of the game.

If you're playing a $2/$5 with a $35 standard bring, you're actually playing a $5/$10 game with a short buy-in. The concepts that apply to a $2/$5 game don't qualify since it's playing one full limit higher, but the concepts for a $5/$10 game also don't apply, because the whole table has bought in short.

Robert Cheung
The players dictate how large a game will play. Playing $2/$5 with Robert Cheung will require a $35 bring.

Poker is never constant - the texture of the game will change from city to city, even from room to room. The ideas and concepts found in books are absolutely worthwhile and greatly beneficial, but they have to be taken as theory.

Use them to understand the reasoning and the route to the solution; don't just follow the example plays mindlessly. Only once you understand why the author is telling you to do something, try to break it down and reapply it to the game you're at.

Theory versus Practice

You could sit down, read and reread every poker book ever written, and understand the concepts of how poker works and the theories behind playing it. But this doesn't mean that you will be successful your first time at the table.

You can read every book ever written on playing hockey, but until you spend the time learning how to skate, you'll never score a goal. Poker is a skill game based as much on practice as on knowledge.

At the same time, if you take two similar players with the same amount of poker experience, and have one of them sit down and read a stack of poker books, that player is going to come back to the table stronger than the other.

When the first great poker books hit the masses, many pros were worried that the average skill level of players in the game would immediately catch up to theirs. It didn't happen exactly as they feared it might.

Even though many players read the books, almost no players had nearly as much experience as the pros. In the end, those with experience got the better of the new poker students.

When the Internet came along, you had kids seeing more hands in one month than the old pros had seen in their first few years at the tables. With the Internet expediting the experience, the new students of the game were able to put their book-learnin' to use.

As a result, the combined influence of online play and access to poker books has substantially raised the average skill level of the common poker player.

The more poker you play, the more books you should read, but without one, the other is of little use. If you don't know where to start, check out our book reviews - they should give you an inkling of which books might be worthwhile for you.

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