Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Book Learning

There was a time years ago when I’d read any poker strategy book I could find. I scribbled about many of them here, and ended up writing reviews of dozens for various outlets over the years, too.

My consumption of such titles has slowed down considerably of late, as I imagine it has for most of us here in the distant wake of the poker “boom.” But I’ll read one every now and then, and will review them occasionally, too.

A couple of days ago Daniel Negreanu wrote a blog post offering to answer the question “Which Poker Books Should You Buy?” in which he makes a few different points about how to judge strategy texts, most of which make sense to me.

Negreanu spends some time in the post distinguishing between “mental game” books or those that might be filed with other sports psychology texts, and nuts-and-bolts poker strategy texts. He notes how when it comes to the former category, the author’s own record as a player isn’t necessarily a crucial issue. After all, people can help you become mentally stronger without necessarily even being poker players themselves.

However, when it comes to strategy texts or “books that teach you how to play the game better,” Negreanu maintains that “it is essential that the author is a successful, winning player over an extended period of time.” Thus does he strongly advise readers to check the credentials of the strategy authors -- i.e., their results -- before considering reading their books.

It’s reasonable advice, and I tend to agree with the distinction Negreanu makes between poker and other sports in which successful coaches need not have been players themselves.

Negreanu doesn’t really focus on the fact that there are plenty of very good players who aren’t so great at writing strategy books. (I’m remembering a few of examples of such books, some of which still gather dust on my shelf today.)

Thinking back, I’m remembering I actually reviewed a couple of Negreanu’s books back in the day -- his Power Hold’em Strategy (compiling chapters from many contributors) and More Hold’em Wisdom for All Players (which collected syndicated columns he’d written). I liked both books, although I’m remembering there were some sections of Power Hold’em Strategy I liked more than others, including Negreanu’s own good explanation of his “small ball” strategy.

Poker is also unlike other sports in another important way, one not irrelevant to this topic.

Most of us know instinctively whether or not we are expert enough at basketball, baseball, football, tennis, golf, or other sports to advise others. In poker, though, where accurate self-assessment can be more elusive, it can be a lot harder to arrive at such certainty.

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