Paul Phua Poker revisits the some of the best poker strategy books of yesteryear and asks, ‘how relevant are they in the modern game?’ Tune in next week for our top picks from the ‘new school’.
Super/System: A Course in Power Poker (1979)
Perhaps the most famous poker strategy books of all time, and also one of the first, Doyle Brunson wrote Super/System in 1979, at a time when poker players kept their cards close to their chests and their strategies to themselves.
Brunson has said that he regrets writing the book because its role in popularizing poker and improving the strategies of his opponents has cost him more money than he has made in book sales, although this is probably neat marketing spiel. Certainly, it didn’t prevent him from publishing Super/System II in 2007.
Nearly 40 years after its publication, the game has evolved, and some of the book has naturally dated, but much of it is still relevant. The list of contributors reads like a Who’s Who of poker past, but Brunson’s insights on aggression, tells, money management and self-discipline remain as insightful and true as ever.
The Theory of Poker (1987)
by David Sklansky
David Sklansky took poker strategy book writing to another level with this insightful 1987 treatise. As its title suggests, the book is heavy on theory, taking in many concepts that are still discussed today, such as fold equity, implied odds and reversed implied odds, and it also coins a few terms of its own, like gap theory.
The author’s Fundamental Theorum of Poker holds that:
Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose.
This simple phrase distils the mathematical principle of expected value and how it relates to the decision-making processes within the game of poker, a concept Sklansky explores in the depth.
Mike Caro’s Book of Tells (1984)
by Mike Caro
Caro’s Book of Tells did for psychological aspect of poker what Super/System did for strategy. Mike Caro, the self-proclaimed “Mad Genius of Poker” contests that “once you have the basic elements of a winning poker formula, psychology becomes the key ingredient for separating break-even players from players who win consistently.”
Accompanied by hundreds of photographs demonstrating and decoding various types of body language, the Book of Tells introduced to the wider public the revelation that “strong means weak and weak means strong,” – seven simple words that immediately elevated the games of thousands of players.
The Mathematics of Poker (2006)
by Bill Chen
Bill Chen’s Mathematics of Poker may be a grind for those of you who failed to pay attention back in double maths class, but readers with some solid maths foundation (algebra and statistics will help) will find this an extremely meaty, if at times challenging read. But no pain, no gain, as they say.
Chen, who holds a PhD in mathematics and was a quantitative analyst before he became a successful professional poker player, covers everything from probability theory, Bayes Theorem, expected value and variance, to game theory and the mechanics of both exploitative and optimal play. Along the way, he touches on finance, economics and psychology. A serious tome for the serious-minded player.
Harrington on Hold’em, Volumes I and II (2004, 2005)
by Dan Harrington
It may be 13 years old now, during which time tournament fields have become significantly tougher, but 1985 world champion Dan Harrington’s Harrington on Hold’em series still provide a real education for new players looking to build up a solid foundation of tournament play.
Harrington tackles all stages of a tournament, from early (volume I) to “endgame” – the final table and heads-up (volume II) – while his lessons are accompanied by a series of practical “problems” – instructive exercises designed to test what you’ve learnt.
Harrington introduced the incredibly useful theory of “M-factor” – a mathematical measure of the health of your chip-stack in relation to the blinds and antes – and defined a series of coloured zones, which determined how you should play with the size of your stack.
The result is a is a comprehensive and inspirational apprenticeship for tournament players, as Harrington takes you on a practical journey through the nuances and inflection points of a poker tournament.