I also recently reviewed Angelo’s book here on Hard-Boiled Poker, despite the book being published over a year ago. I only just got to it last December, and found it highly enjoyable and instructive. Call me a bandwagon guy, but I think it’s one of the best poker books I’ve read in a long while. Here’s my review, if you are interested.
Malmuth’s review of Elements of Poker is much less favorable than mine. He does credit Angelo for being “witty” (and, backhandedly, “cute”), and even calls “worthwhile” some of the strategy advice. Ultimately, though, Malmuth doesn’t see the book as having much value for beginning or intermediate players, and in the end concludes “this text is certainly not recommended, even as supplemental reading.”
The post sharing Malmuth’s review engendered a provocative discussion (I thought), with posters taking sides over the relative value of Elements of Poker, as well as (somewhat tentatively) debating the criteria by which Malmuth based his review. There also emerges what might be called a theoretical divide among the posters that roughly corresponds to the wildly differing positions represented by Malmuth and Angelo -- specifically with regard to each author’s approach to writing/publishing poker books.
Some posters were “disappointed” with Angelo’s book, finding it “overhyped and overrated,” ultimately echoing Malmuth in expressing their belief that reading the book yielded no practical benefits for most poker players. Others defended the book as being of immense help to poker players, especially those with some experience with the game and the many emotional/psychological ups & downs it produces.
One such poster, explaining why he liked Elements of Poker, says that in his view the book is not “a beginner’s guide to playing better poker,” as some appeared to have wanted to read. Rather, said the poster, he believes the book to be “a better player’s guide to being a better person, which will make you a better player as well.” Another poster less specifically praised Angelo’s book as being “much more real than anything published before” -- ostensibly pointing out how the author’s voice manages to connect with the reader more effectively than generally happens with most poker writing.
Still another poster made what I thought was an especially interesting distinction by saying “Tommy Angelo writes poker LITERATURE. Mason writes stiff, clumsily worded cookie-cutter advice.” I’m actually one of those who doesn’t necessarily think Malmuth’s style is “clumsily worded” -- in fact, while it isn’t always flawless, it is for the most part quite clear and precise.
But I think I get what the poster is saying. There is most certainly a more obvious “literary” sensibility present in Elements of Poker than one finds in most poker books (including those Malmuth has written or co-written). And some of us happen to think literary writing and/or modes of expression have something to offer us, too.
Eventually, both Angelo and Malmuth join in the discussion, with the author of Elements of Poker demonstrating humility and graciousness in response to the praises and criticisms directed toward his book, and the owner of Two Plus Two continuing to press his case to devalue the book. (There’s also a brief detour in there where Malmuth appears to be explaining how comedy works -- and, not surprisingly, implying that Angelo fails to be humorous, too.)
The conversation turned toward the subject of editing, and couple of days ago Angelo supplied a bit of background info regarding the editing process for Elements of Poker, prompting Malmuth to fire a tangential (and personal) shot at one of the book’s editors. What had been a provocative, enlightening discussion that pointed up a number of key theoretical issues regarding poker writing and its purposes rapidly derailed.
Finally a poster of the Malmuth camp summed up the thread to that point by saying “Mason did not like the EOP. Most of the posters liked the book. I am not sure that there is more to discuss.” Malmuth agreed, and locked the thread.
Actually, the thread itself, both in the course it took & the way it prematurely ended, well exemplifies what for me is the fundamental distinction between Malmuth and Angelo’s outlooks -- on poker, books, life, what have you.
The former seeks concrete, tangible, readily quantifiable answers to all of life’s problems, and, importantly, believes such answers can be found to all questions worth asking. As a result, the idea of “dialogue” or any sort of inquiry without a specific goal -- the achievement of which unmistakably signals its conclusion -- is to be roundly dismissed as an utter waste of time.
The latter also seeks answers, but additionally values that which is abstract, intangible, and not-so-readily quantifiable. The latter outlook also understands that there are, in fact, some questions worth asking for which there are no single, unambiguous answers. Thus, a premium is placed on the idea of “dialogue” or keeping the conversation going, since value is to be had in the exchange of ideas (even if such value is hard to compute). In fact, rather than wasting one’s time (or other resources), such inquiry is the best possible use of it.
As the poster “jlocdog” (one of those who likes Elements of Poker) put it, Angelo “has a knack for not putting closure on any concepts or ideas he talks about so as to keep you thinking about them and trying to expound on them within your own game/life.” Meanwhile, Malmuth most decidedly has a knack for closing off discussions whenever possible. This had been an interesting thread with a number of intelligent, serious posters contributing (not always so easy to find on 2+2). But as soon as an apparent impasse had been identified, Malmuth decided there was nothing more to discuss.
I guess another, more cynical way of describing the difference between the two thinkers would be to say that while Angelo teaches, Malmuth preaches. The teacher expects you to ask questions, to challenge assumptions, to think. The preacher expects you to sit quietly in the pew. And believe.
Not saying the preacher doesn’t have something to offer us. But you better understand that with this one you’re not expected to raise your hand and ask questions or talk back.
When he’s finished, however, you may shake his hand. On the way out.