If you scan the bookshelf of any serious poker player, one author that will keep popping up is David Sklansky. Many popular online and offline pro players will tell you one of the first books they picked up as they were learning was one of Sklansky's.
Greg Raymer, 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event champion, even said in an interview the biggest influence on his game was Sklansky's The Theory of Poker.
"It was one of the first books I bought, and it taught me all of the most important basic concepts applicable to any form of poker," Raymer said. "I still consider it the most important single poker book anybody can read if they want to improve their game."
That's high praise from a recognized professional who could probably just as easily write and market his own poker book now that he's a well-known pro. So the question is, what makes Sklansky such an expert? Or more to the point, how did he become the first name on a pro's lips when talking about poker authors, but not when he's talking about actual players?
David Sklansky the expert
David Sklansky was born in New Jersey, the son of a Columbia University professor of mathematics. Growing up in Teaneck, N.J., he inherited his father's math abilities and describes himself as a math and logic prodigy.
It was while attending the University of Pennsylvania that Sklansky began playing and analyzing the game of poker. He and some friends would often cut classes to play, and then they would analyze each hand and discuss how it could be played better.
It wasn't long before young Sklansky gave up the academic life altogether. First he put his math knowledge to use as an actuary, which didn't last any longer than his university career.
While on the job he discovered a faster way to do some of the calculations and took that discovery to his boss. The boss told him he could go ahead and do it that way if he wanted but wouldn't pass on the information to the other workers.
"In other words, I knew something no one else knew, but I got no recognition for it," Sklansky is quoted as saying in A. Alvarez's The Biggest Game in Town.
He continues, saying "In poker, if you're better than anyone else, you make immediate money. If there's something I know about the game that the other person doesn't, and if he's not willing to learn or can't understand, then I take his money."
Which is exactly what David Sklansky proceeded to do. He quit his job and moved to Las Vegas where he was able to find the freedom of a gambler's life. He could be his own boss and be rewarded directly for his abilities.
It didn't take long for Sklansky to start seeing those rewards either with a win in the $1,000 Razz event at Amarillo Slim's Superbowl of Poker in 1979. He followed that up with three World Series of Poker bracelet wins in the next few years.
His first bracelet wins came during the 1982 WSOP. Sklansky won the $1,000 Draw High and $800 Mixed Doubles events. The next year he clipped on another bracelet with a win in the $1,000 Limit Omaha event.
He had several final-table finishes at the WSOP in the following years as well as cashes and final tables in other tournaments up until 1991. Then Sklansky dropped off the poker tournament radar.
He didn't give up the game, though; he just shifted gears in the poker world. Instead of tournaments, he continued to play in cash games, which he prefers, and by that point he was also working on his poker and gambling books.
David Sklansky the author
In 1983 David Sklansky co-wrote Winning Poker with Roger Dionne and has since written 12 more books on various forms of poker and gambling. His most popular, 1753, was first released in 1987, and his most recent book was '>8937, released in May 2006 and co-written by Ed Miller.
He has also produced two instructional videos for poker players and continues to write articles for poker magazines and other publications. Going even further into the gambling industry, Sklansky is often sought out by casinos, Internet gaming sites and gaming device companies who are looking for a consultant. One example is he helped develop the new casino game World Poker Tour All-In Hold'em by Lakes Entertainment.
Eventually, tournament poker lured Sklansky back. In 2001 he made the final table of the $1,500 Omaha event of the WSOP, where he placed fifth and, the following year, he cashed in the Main Event.
His career as an author and a poker player came together when he was invited to the World Poker Tour By the Book Invitational in 2004. The special tournament brought together poker authors and professionals such as Phil Hellmuth, Mike Caro, T.J. Cloutier, Mike Sexton and Doyle Brunson.
David Sklansky outlasted them all to reach heads-up play against Texas Dolly, where he defeated him as well.
He credits the World Poker Tour with the resurgence of poker's popularity and with his own new interest in returning to the table. Since that event he's been seen regularly at tournaments and participated in Season 2 of the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament.
In 2006 he cashed in three WSOP events and made his biggest cash so far in the WPT Doyle Brunson North American Poker Classic, earning $419,040 for his third-place finish.
He has yet to win the "Big One," the WSOP Main Event, but you can be sure that with a new interest in tournament play again and his wealth of poker knowledge, David Sklansky is going to pose a threat at the poker tournament tables.