Saturday, August 18, 2007

Stephan M. Kalhamer and Chad Brown’s Act to Win in Texas Hold ’em Poker

'Act to Win in Texas Hold 'em Poker' by Stephan M. Kalhamer and Chad BrownEarlier this week I happened to obtain a copy of Chad Brown’s new book (co-authored with Stephan M. Kalhamer), Act to Win in Texas Hold ’em Poker, and spent the last couple of days reading it through. I don’t believe the book has been officially released as yet (it doesn’t currently show up on Amazon), but it looks like one can order it through the Bluff website, if one so desires.

I know a lot of folks are curious about the book, given Brown’s recent string of tournament successes. Besides winning Bluff’s player of the year in 2006, Brown finished second in the NBC Heads-Up Challenge this spring, then cashed in no less than eight events at this summer’s WSOP, tying the all-time record for most cashes at a single series. Two more WSOP final tables for Brown in there, too. Pretty remarkable stuff.

Time seems right, then, for Brown’s big debut as a poker author. Unfortunately, Act to Win in Texas Hold ’em Poker ain’t gonna do much to enhance Brown’s status. Remember the sighs of disappointment over Negreanu’s book? Ain’t nothin’ compared to what you’re gonna hear about this one. This slapdash introduction to no-limit Hold ’em poker strategy will likely strike most as an attempt to take advantage of Brown’s currently-enhanced table image.

First off: Act to Win is not a new text. An earlier version, simply titled Texas Hold ’em, was published in Germany in early 2006, with Kalhamer, a German mathematician and poker enthusiast, listed as the book’s sole author. As Brown explained last week when he appeared as a guest on Ante Up!, he had collaborated with Kalhamer on Texas Hold ’em, which Brown says sold well in Europe. This new English version now lists the pair as co-authors, with poker pros Vanessa Rousso (Brown’s girlfriend) and Sven Lucha also listed as contributors.

The book’s title -- and Brown’s experience as an actor -- might lead some to expect a book focusing on table behavior and deception. The reference to “acting” is mostly meaningless, however. The book is arranged in five sections, each presented as “acts” (as in a play), then further divided into “scenes.” The arrangement is more confusing than helpful, with the second “act” -- on no-limit Hold ’em -- divided into over 40 scenes and sub-scenes, while most of the other “acts” have less than five subsections.

“Act 1: The Rules of the Game” is self-explanatory, doing nothing more than describe hand rankings and rules for different varieties of poker. Anyone with the slightest acquaintance with poker can safely arrive late and begin with the second act.

“Act 2: No-Limit Hold ’em Strategy” occupies about three-fourths of the book, with a lot of space again merely devoted to describing the rules and order of play. The text features a Super/System-like array of font faces and sizes, with shadowed “Did You Know” boxes providing random bits of trivia, jokes, and quotations along the way.

By the way, “Did You Know That . . . Texas Hold ’em is the type of poker played in the World Series of Poker Main Event? The buy-in to this prestigious event is $10,000!” Gives you an idea what sort of audience the authors might have in mind -- i.e., not you. Nor anyone, really, for whom the overuse of exclamation points can grow tiresome.

Early on, readers are presented with a “no fold ’em” ranking of the 169 starting hands indicating each hand’s relative strength as determined by a computer simulation in which a ten-handed table plays every hand to the river. I’m fairly certain the authors did not run the simulations from which the chart comes (they don’t claim they did). In fact, I wrote a post about this exact chart over a year ago. Thing has been floating around the web for a good while, I believe. The rankings are playfully reproduced along the bottom of each of the first 169 pages of the book, then once more in a later section.

The discussion of pre-flop strategy is presented in the familiar style of identifying hand groupings. The authors then further rank hands within their ten starting groups according to their made character and potential to draw to bigger hands. Like most every other poker strategy book aimed at beginners, the authors recommend a mostly-tight strategy pre-flop.

A hasty overview of the later streets is then followed by a section entitled “Perception of our Opponents” in which the authors categorize player types as -- get this -- trees. You know, the supple willow, the steadfast oak, etc. I am not making this up.

Unlike Hellmuth’s animal types (from Play Poker Like the Pros), Kalhamer and Brown’s tree types are hardly memorable. And while Hellmuth does at least incorporate his categories into subsequent strategy discussions, no reference to the different kinds of “trees” one encounters is made following their introduction halfway through Act to Win.

Brief sections about bluffing, check-raising, slow playing, and other moves follow, some further illustrated by descriptions of famous hands from professional circuit events. (Nothing new here.) A three-page section on tells provides the only real discussion of acting at the table. Then comes advice about money management, online vs. live play, and tournaments. As is the case with Hellmuth’s book, Brown and Kalhamer offer very little discussion here of tournament strategy -- surely disappointing to those encouraged to pick up Act to Win because of Brown’s tournament successes.

“Act 3: Calculations and Tables” lists probabilities for various head-to-head situations (along with the no fold ’em chart). “Act 4: Hall of Fame” presents pithy, fanzine-like bios of fifteen poker pros, some adorned with incredibly amateurish pencil drawings. The stuff of nightmares, these. The book then concludes anti-climactically with “Act 5: Glossary.”

Adding to the fun . . . the copy I read was riddled with numerous distracting typos and what appear to be awkwardly-translated passages. One most unfortunate typo involves the omission of a letter from the word “shift.” (I shift you not.) If Brown continues to go around saying Rousso edited the book -- as he did on Ante Up! -- the celebrity couple might be headed for trouble . . . .

I certainly respect Brown's poker playing, and he is a very likable, interesting guy (to me, anyway). The Ante Up! interview was terrific, by the way. I even think it is cool Brown was in Basket Case 2.

Which is why Act to Win in Texas Hold ’em Poker was such a big letdown, of very little use to experienced players, and of frankly dubious value to the novices for whom it is primarily intended.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kalhamer plays in red on full tilt. Played in a $6 6seat with him and he is pretty horrible. All in with any ace rag.

10/07/2008 4:35 PM  

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