Thursday, September 16, 2010

Have Books Lost Their Hook?

The EndHad exchanges with a couple of friends this week, both of whom happen to review poker books now and then. As I have done, on occasion, both here and elsewhere.

One was asking me if I could recommend any recent books of poker strategy. I had to admit I wasn’t aware of too many. Most of the poker books I’ve read and reviewed of late have been autobiographical narratives, books like Vicky Coren’s For Richer, For Poorer, Doyle Brunson’s The Godfather of Poker, or Dr. Pauly’s Lost Vegas.

I do know of a few strategy titles either in the works or currently being distributed as “e-books,” but when responding to the question, I couldn’t really put my finger on any recently published, “must-read” (print) books of poker strategy. No obvious ones, anyway. (I did receive a print copy of Small Stakes No-Limit Hold’em by Ed Miller, Sunny Mehta, and Matt Flynn this week, but that’s not really a new title as the electronic version of that one was published last summer.)

In the other conversation, my other poker-book-reviewing friend was sharing with me something a friend of his -- a poker author, in fact -- had mentioned to him a week or so ago.

This fairly well-regarded author was saying that most of the poker strategy books that have been published over the last few years were essentially already out of date. I’m imagining he was probably referring especially to those many books put out during that brief explosion of titles that followed the Moneymaker “boom” in 2003.

Remember all of those books? Shelves and shelves of them at the bookstore. Seemed like for a while there we kept hearing about title after title of books we just had to read if we were at all serious about improving our games. There were those players, of course, who proudly noted they had never read a poker strategy text, but there were just as many others who said they did read them -- or who were writing books themselves.

Have Books Lost Their Hook?His reason for saying that the books had gone out of date was the game is changing so rapidly -- both online and live -- any print book of poker strategy is likely to contain advice that no longer applies. The process of book publishing has sped up immensely over the last few years, but it still takes time to get a book out there on the shelves and/or available for purchase online. And such a delay is necessarily harmful when the advice contained in those books is about something as ephemeral as poker and how it is currently being played.

I’m not remembering every detail of what the author was saying here in my second-hand report. But the gist seemed to be that perhaps now it can finally be said that we’ve moved beyond the era of “book learning” in poker, a proclamation my earlier struggle to recommend any new strategy titles seemed to confirm, in a way.

It has been the case for some time now that serious students of the game often seek instruction via coaching, online videos, participation in forums, or other means, with books appearing well down the list of sources for such guidance, if at all.

As someone who has always been a reader -- not to mention an inveterate collector of books -- I’m surprised to report that I do not especially lament the end of the era of poker strategy books (if it is even accurate to suggest that is where we are at present).

Although I’ve read and appreciated dozens of poker strategy books, I have to admit I’ve always been a tad uncertain about whether or not books are really the best delivery method when it comes to poker instruction.

I know for certain that books are an especially good way to tell a story -- such as those authors of the memoirs I mention above do -- and can do so in ways that are not only different from, but arguably better than other modes of storytelling (movies, plays, etc.).

But poker strategy books generally aren’t trying to tell stories. They are trying to teach us how to play a game successfully. We don’t read poker strategy books for the experience of reading them. (Not usually, anyway.) We read poker strategy books to affect our experience when we are not reading but elsewhere, playing. The fact is, there will always be a bit of a disconnect between sitting at the table playing and sitting in your favorite chair reading.

Some authors of poker strategy books are particularly good at helping readers bridge that divide. And some readers are especially talented, too, at applying at the tables what they’ve learned about from reading a book. But I do think it is the case that we’re seeing fewer and fewer of both -- authors and readers -- bothering to try.

But does that really mean we have reached the end of the story of poker strategy books?

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Blogger 2weiX said...

I had this realization when I read Snyder's comments on "Harrington-Bots" as he calls them - their outdated style and view of how poker had to be played.

Books are the cheapest way to "learn" poker (i.e. get some of the mechanics down) for novices. Once you move past the basics, however, they're of little additional help.

9/17/2010 3:34 AM  

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