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The Best Book Ever Written About Poker
My mantra was "I don't do book reviews." Time to rephrase that to "I don't usually do book reviews." There is a place for this one.
The book is Tommy Angelo's The Elements of Poker. It is, flat out, the best book ever written about poker.
It is also not about poker - like Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance wasn't about motorcycle maintenance.
Like Pirsig's masterpiece, Angelo's book is about life, how to live it, how he's lived it and mislived it. It's about how to live poker, not just play it. And how to make sure it doesn't play you.
Angelo is widely regarded as the pro's coach. I'd heard about him. Most longtime players have. Guys who play at the poker book by another hot shot. Fuggedabout'it." (Sorry about that, but I lived in Brooklyn for 35 years).
On tilt: "The defining feature of tilt is that there is an emotional link in the chain of cause and effect ... There are three main causes of tilt: Winning, Losing, Breaking Even."
On the most profitable hands: "It is not pocket aces ... It must be a hand that gets played a lot of different ways."
Reciprocity: "Before anything flows, there must be a difference. Between different elevations water flows. Between different pressures, air flows. Between different poker players, money flows."
Players you dislike: "You might use your betting to try to make him less happy, [better to] use it to make him less wealthy."
Entitlement: "No matter how good you play, or how bad they play, you are not entitled to win. If you have time and money, you are entitled to a seat. That is all."
On bad beats: "All my money's in the middle, my cards are face up, and I've got the best hand and the river beats me. I'm unrattled and unwavering. I make my next play like it was scripted, because it was."
Mistakes: "A mistake is when you make a decision that you think was not your best choice." (Italics added.)
I didn't bother to make any comments on these last couple. I shouldn't need to. But it would be very good if you were to read them over very slowly and think them through very carefully.
Angelo meditates. He didn't always. Angelo breathes. He didn't always. He plays better poker since he started doing these things.
I am reminded of the two Zen novices who are standing beside a gently flowing river and comparing the greatness of their masters.
The first says, "I am studying with the finest teacher in the land. You see that apple tree across the water? If he wanted to, he could make an apple fall, float across to him and he would eat it."
His friend nods and says, "My master is not so great. He merely eats when he is hungry and drinks when he is thirsty and he breathes all the while."
With whom would you want to study?
Arthur Reber has been a poker player and serious handicapper of thoroughbred horses for four decades. He is the author of The New Gambler's Bible and coauthor of Gambling for Dummies. Formerly a regular columnist for Poker Pro Magazine and Fun 'N' Games magazine, he has also contributed to Card Player (with Lou Krieger), Poker Digest, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Titan Poker. He outlined a new framework for evaluating the ethical and moral issues that emerge in gambling for an invited address to the International Conference of Gaming and Risk Taking.
Until recently he was the Broeklundian Professor of Psychology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Among his various visiting professorships was a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Now semi-retired, Reber is a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
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