Don't Learn Everything from Poker Books

Poker Books

You know the saying, "Buy you the books, send you to school, and you'd eat the covers off of 'em"? Well, I really did used to eat the covers off of them at Kelp U. I just got so frustrated with forced reading about applied mathematics (or whatever tomorrow's class was), that I would go on a mini-rampage. While I made the campus bookstore happy, it was a rough experience.

It's not like that when you read about poker and it's actually pretty entertaining. You're learning about something that you already enjoy and studying from published experts on how to make larger profits at the table. We have our own group of poker authors in the aquatic world - yours truly included - and I've also taken the time to read some poker books from your world. While many texts give some extremely useful advice, I think that typical online poker players should be advised to learn from a different perspective. Here are some of my observations…

Poker books are written by poker pros for a reason: they've proven themselves to be consistent winners. Obviously, they're winners for a reason and they've decided to share some of their knowledge with readers. Unfortunately, I think that a lot of advice given in classic poker strategy books, or even newer books written by pros, can steer low-limit online poker players in the wrong direction. For example, many consider Doyle Brunson to be one of the greatest poker legends who has written some excellent poker books and I couldn't agree more. He has made an enormous amount of money with his fearless and aggressive style at the poker table. Doyle often plays mediocre hands in unconventional ways, baffling his opponents when he hits while extracting himself from unprofitable situations. He advocates how to master this style of play yourself in his Super System books. However, he also tells you, in other words, that you can't use this strategy for loose online games.

You have to keep in mind that when someone like Doyle Brunson or Dan Harrington writes a book on poker strategy, they're naturally writing from their own experiences. Brunson plays in some of the biggest cash games in the world at levels that most can only dream of. You see Dan Harrington playing at tournaments with buy-ins of $2,500 and up or at the final table of the WSOP main event with a buy-in of $10,000 and some of the stiffest opponents you can name.

Play at these games is different than your $1/2 ring game on Party Poker or your $10 multi-table tournament at Poker Stars. Play is loose, wild, and unpredictable. Brunson runs over tight competition because they don't often fight back. Harrington plays a more conservative game, but not in the environment that most of us are used to. One of the most important pieces of advice that you can take home from either of these author's books is that you should be playing the opposite style of most of the table. If you're playing at a weak-tight table, then by all means play like Doyle Brunson and put the hammer down! However, the majority of tables and tournaments are not weak-tight and you should tighten up against loose tables. In other words, Doyle Brunson is telling you not to play like Doyle Brunson at these tables. Are you following me, here? If you're not, just look for the flat-headed shark holding a 7 and a deuce in his fins and I'm sure you'll catch up.

If you take a look at Dan Harrington's Harrington on Hold 'em series, half of the example problems are given with the backdrop of a major tournament. Hopefully, you'll reach that point someday, but the truth is that most of us will play the cheap stuff. The fact is that small stakes internet tournaments play a lot differently than tourneys in a real cardroom. From reading my tournament advice, you might think that I play much too tight, but I've developed my strategy from the reality of online poker. I struggled with the wild play of online poker initially (not to mention trying to hold a mouse with a fin, dang!), but with enough experience I've managed to develop a strategy that works. When you're reading advice from big pros, I suggest trying to put it into the context of the game that you usually play. The starting hand guidelines and advice on playing position is usually excellent in these poker books, so take their suggestions and adapt them to fit your own playing style.

New Books for Online Poker

One positive about newer poker books or updated editions is that they are starting to take low-limit online poker into context. For example, Matthew Hilger's Internet Texas Hold 'em and Lee Jones' Winning Low-Limit Hold 'em are excellent resources that are all about playing wild games. While Jones' book doesn't focus on internet play, you will see a lot of parallels in the games he is describing. The only downside is that these books are all about limit ring games, which aren't my first choice. Both Harrington and Brunson write about no-limit and do provide an excellent foundation, but I suggest coming back to these books when you're a little further on your poker progress. You'll understand some of the key concepts better, and you won't try some of the plays that will crush you as a beginner at online poker.

Another reason not to rely solely on a pro's word is that you should work on developing your own poker playing style. While I advocate a tight-aggressive style most of the time, perhaps you're willing to take some more chances in some questionable situations. That's fine - you can still incorporate some of the concepts I discuss and morph it into one facet of your playing style. It's the same thing with studying poker books. While you can pick up some excellent information, you should learn to adapt them into your playing style, rather then try to emulate them completely. Nothing makes up for experience, and it's very difficult to instantly recall everything you've read in a poker book when you have 15 seconds left to act for all your chips. You'll need to see what works best for you, and take advice not only from different poker experts, but also from the intuition that comes with experience. You might try this approach to poker literature: take one concept each day from your favorite poker book and apply it to your game.

While reading poker books can really jumpstart your game, I want you to keep in mind the context of the author's experience while you're reading it. Try to imagine the same situation in your online or home game, and it will probably prove more effective. Adapt their strategies into your own through real game experience, and try to take things slowly while you're learning. The internet is also a great resource for poker information from real players, so you better come back and read more of my columns. I hear that Poker Turtle is pretty good, too, if you like slow-moving herbivores who hide in their shells. Not that there's anything wrong with that…

Look for my new books out this winter at Ocean Bookstores everywhere: Kelp Keep 'em: Straight from the Shark's Mouth as well as Beating the Octopi, a Hammerhead's Tale.

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