Friday, September 09, 2011

On Reviewing Poker Books

A buncha poker booksOver the last few years I’ve reviewed a number of poker books, both here on Hard-Boiled Poker and elsewhere. I’ve also had many opportunities over the years to write reviews of non-poker books and films.

It’s more challenging that it looks, I think, to write a decent review. One has to be able both to summarize well and to provide some sort of useful evaluation.

Neither is simple.

Summaries of novels or films can be particularly challenging, in my opinion, as one generally wants to give a complete overview of the premise, plot, and primary characters without going so far as to include any “spoilers.” After all, a review is really a kind of advertisement for the experience of reading the book or watching the film, albeit an advertisement that needn’t necessarily be positive or an unambiguous endorsement. The review should stand to the side and helpfully point, not get in front and block the view.

Of course, when it comes to reviews of poker books, especially those focused on strategy or theory, there isn’t such a need to worry much about “spoilers.” In fact, when I review a poker book, I take it as an obligation to be somewhat thorough with the summary. Anyone reading the review is going to want to know what exactly the book covers, and hopefully my review adds something more to what might be discovered by simply glancing at the table of contents.

When it comes to evaluating the book, there’s a real challenge there, too. I try to be balanced and point out what seems most useful or effective as well as whatever deficits a book might have. More often than not, I tend to be more positive than negative in reviews, but that isn’t always the case. There are bad books out there, but oftentimes if a book seems especially poor -- that is, if I don’t think I can avoid writing an overly critical review of it -- I’ll choose not to review it.

That’s not to say there isn’t value in negative reviews. Can be very helpful, actually, to read a persuasive, informative review that is negative and thereby save oneself the time, money, and mental energy that might have been wasted on a bad book. I’m just saying that when given a choice, I’d rather write about good books than not so good ones.

On Reviewing Poker BooksFinally, when it comes to reviewing books of poker strategy, I am always mindful of one crucial principle, something that perhaps makes reviewing poker books different from writing other kinds of reviews. Namely, that every reader/player is different, coming to a given book with a wholly unique set of experiences, knowledge, and understanding of the game.

That necessarily means that the usefulness or applicability of the instruction present in a given book is very likely going to be different depending on the reader. It would be silly, therefore, for me to read a poker strategy book and then tell you without qualification how it will make you a better poker player. Wouldn’t it? Or even worse, that by reading the book you will absolutely make more money at the tables. How can I possibly know that to be true?

If I think a given book contains something of value -- say, what appear to be genuinely innovative ideas about how to approach certain situations, or even a better way of explaining less original ideas -- I can certainly suggest as much. If you were to ask me which books I thought might prove most useful to you as a beginner, or as a player with some experience, or as a long-time successful pro, I can offer suggestions along those lines, too.

But really, I can’t even begin to predict how effectively a given reader/player is going to apply what he or she reads in a book of poker strategy. Not without undermining my own credibility as a critic, anyway.

No, I should be telling you in some detail what to expect, offering opinions about how well the material is presented and the quality and depth of the ideas, then letting you judge for yourself what the book might be worth to you.

With poker books there sometimes exists a mistaken idea of 'value' that encourages some to want to identify an objective-seeming 'bottom line' about what a book might be worth.I think with poker books there sometimes exists a mistaken idea of “value” that encourages some to want to identify an objective-seeming “bottom line” about what a book might be worth. That notion then leads to weirdly definitive claims about what the book will do for you.

To me, though, such bold claims usually say more about the value of the review than about the book.

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Blogger undecidedtm said...

Nice post. In my opinion not enough credit is given to books published by the new online players. All of the stuff I've read is in depth, invigorating and help you to better approach the game of poker

9/20/2011 8:25 AM  

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