February 27, 2006

Little Green Book

Guess I should do some more book reviews. It has been a while. Today, I'll review a book that I've read twice in the last few months before loaning it to my brother so he can use it to take my money at the next poker game I attend: Phil Gordon's Little Green Book.

This short book is highly distilled and very readable. What few stories are in here are direct and to the point. Most of the book is advice presented in a form that makes it easy to retain. Just the general ground rules for how to win in no-limit hold 'em. I've read quite a few books about poker and poker strategy, and the hardest thing is trying to retain that knowledge during a game. There is so MUCH going on during a typical poker game, I barely have time to pause and reflect on what various books tell me I should be doing. I'm too busy panicking because I have pocket kings and an ace just flopped and now I can't remember who opened the betting in the first round, who raised and how much, and what various player patterns are and who is trying to represent a bogus hand and who is playing tight and oh crap it's my turn, uh, I fold.

This book probably won't be appreciated if it is the only poker book you ever read, but it probably is the only poker book you need to read. That's simply because it is hard to imagine you can process and keep handy all of the very good information in this book and still have room to take in more. Sure, other books may recommend variants on some of Gordon's advice in various situations, but Gordon's book is more about a basic approach than specific hand strategies. He explains his rules and also talks about when it makes sense to break them and why he uses them, so you can take what you want from the book.

Another strength of this book is that he distills a lot of good advice from other poker books, like Mike Caro's book of poker tells. Rather than a chapter on each tell, Gordon has a little summary paragraph, so the whole thing is a little easier to quickly digest. He also distills advice from other players, among my favorite is: re-raise to isolate. If you've got the nuts before the flop, you need to raise big to chase people away except for maybe 1-2 people, because even aces are going to get cracked if enough people are drawing against you. Reading about all those tells really for the first time, I was pretty shocked at how many tells I have that I didn't know about.

For example, I made a big mistake last time I played poker because the one killer hand I had with a big pot, I had the shakes something awful when I placed my bet. That's a huge tell, and it is telling people they better not call. Fortunately, someone was dumb and called me anyway. Another is the way I stack my chips. I was stacking my net profit differently from my starting stake, which tells people I'm tight and also predicts I probably won't bet big and dip into my starting stake unless I have the nuts. I also began the night openly declaring (the first time anyway) that I would have to quit after I lost my starting stake of $60, and sure enough, the prophecy fulfilled itself. In my second game, I declared no real limit, and I did fine, end up $80.

Posted by Observer at February 27, 2006 01:48 PM
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Library hold placed. I've got Caro's book of tells, good book.

It helps to play a lot of poker for this stuff to sink in. It also helps to have a poker buddy to talk things through with.

Posted by: Humbaba on February 27, 2006 03:41 PM

I can say with some confidence you will find it valuable. I wasn't quite done with my post when you commented, but I just finished a final update of it. You're right that the more you play, the better you get and the finer you hone your instincts. You can only get so much out of playing the kids. On the other hand, I'm not comfortable throwing a lot of money around at a poker game.

I wish I could find a no-limit game with about a $10-$20 buy-in and an expected outcome of between +/-$100 99% of the time. My brother's game operates at about 5x this level. Oh, and I wish I could find time to play in such a game regularly without losing so much family time.

Posted by: Observer on February 27, 2006 04:51 PM

Try to fake that shake when you're bluffing. ;)

Posted by: Humbaba on February 28, 2006 08:42 AM