Monday, August 10, 2009

On Poker Books

Eighty-two poker books (click to enlarge)On Friday I was writing about a recent poker strategy book I had read, Jeff Hwang’s Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha, Volume I. (Lot of great comments, by the way, regarding the hand example from Hwang’s book I brought up -- check ’em out.) As I mentioned then, I think both of Hwang’s Omaha books are particularly good examples of the genre, and thus recommend them to anyone interested in learning more about PLO.

That post -- in which I talk about and endorse a poker book I had recently read -- got me thinking a bit over the weekend about the current status of poker books. What is the place of the poker strategy book in today’s world?

You might recall I was also last week lamenting here a bit about how reading, generally speaking, is not really a favored activity among the great majority of us. The fact is, only a small percentage of us actually read books anymore, those works printed on sheets of paper and bound together between covers. Most of us do read, though mostly what we read appears on computer screens, on our iPhones (or similar devices), or in the scrawl passing along the bottom of the television screen.

There’s a big difference, though, between that kind of reading -- hurried, distracted, transitory -- and the lengthy mental commitment required of us by a book. I refer back to that “time is money” ideer that possesses most of us so completely (especially poker players). Indeed, when recommending Hwang’s new book to you I should probably have told you that it is kind of a monster -- more than 500 pages! Lots of hand examples in there, too, which considerably slow down the pace at which one can turn the pages.

So, never mind the price of the book. Can you afford to give up the several hours it’s gonna take to read it?

When it comes to learning about poker strategy, we may well have moved beyond the moment when the book was considered the primary avenue by which most players seek such instruction. In fact, that “moment” might have only lasted six months or so -- probably, say, somewhere around the first half of 2005 when the first two volumes of Harrington on Hold’em originally appeared.

You might recall that period, just after the “boom” but still before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was signed into law by Bush in October 2006. Remember all of the new books appearing on the shelves then? And new editions of the old ones, too? Many, many new players, having signed up for their first online accounts during that stretch, soon afterwards made that visit to Borders or Barnes & Noble or wherever to find a book or two with which to get started. Were you one of them?

New players still make that trip to the bookstore, I think, but with less regularity. And very few do more than buy one or two or five books before they are done with them, with the more studious typically moving on to the forums, podcasts, and online video instruction, from which one can learn as much or more -- often more quickly.

Although I’m certainly a fan of books -- and up to now can say unequivocally that I’ve gotten much, much more out of poker books than from other learning methods -- I’m not going to make some argument here promoting books as better than all other ways one might improve one’s game. I know better than that. And, the fact is, few poker books are as consistently good as Hwang’s. Really, among the eighty-plus I have on my shelves, there are probably fewer than ten I can recommend without some sort of qualification.

One reason why I have so many poker books is that for a good while I’ve had the opportunity to write reviews, meaning publishers have been sending me review copies on a regular basis. It has been a good gig, though the run has ended now as poker book reviews have become less of a priority. Sign of the times.

I thought it’d be interesting to mark the occasion of the apparent end of my career as a poker book reviewer with a picture of the poker books I currently own. (Oh, and if anyone reading this is looking to hire a poker book reviewer, I might be yr guy. Let me know.)

I pulled ’em all down off the shelves and stacked ’em up for the photo (larger version below). I was thinking perhaps of eventually writing up short synopses of each and posting them somewhere around the site here, if folks would be interested. (Would you?) Not full-fledged reviews, but just indications of what each book contained and perhaps general recommendations of whether or not I thought the books were worth yr time.

Anyhow, here they are. Look fast -- before they topple over:

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3 Comments:

Blogger Lord Bodak said...

I greatly enjoy your book reviews, so more would be welcome, long or short form.

8/10/2009 6:06 PM  
Blogger Greylocks said...

I enjoy reading everything Shamus writes because he can, you know, write.

I think there will always be a market for genuinely well-written poker strategy books. The problem is not the lack of demand, but the shortage of supply. The great majority of poker books coming out continue to be plagued by weak writing and bad advice. Unfortunately, the overall mediocrity tends to poison the well for the occasional well-crafted work - too many buyers have decided they're wasting their money buying poker books and/or their time reading them. But there will always be people like me who gladly by any book genuinely worth the investment of time and money.

8/10/2009 11:17 PM  
Anonymous Cadmunkey said...

Do you think the longevity of some of the books are reduced simply because the game is evolving so quickly? I have a feeling that apart from one or two books, you are better off spending your hard earned on a training site. Depends how much you'd normally set aside for Reading material I suppose.
That's a heck of a lot of money in that photo! :)
Personally I've always been a sucker for poker books.

8/13/2009 11:02 AM  

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