Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Most"? Seriously?

Roy Cooke begins his latest column for Card Player magazine (January 26, 2011, vol. 24 #2) with this assertion:

"Most poker books encourage a rigid strategy. Few discuss constantly adapting your play to your opponents' tendencies."

Huh? I've read a good number of poker books, and I can't remember even one of them encouraging use of a rigid strategy. If I had, I think it would have stood out in my mind as so obviously, ridiculously wrong-headed that I would have (1) stopped reading it, and (2) blogged derisively about it right away.

The only possible exception that comes to mind is Kill Phil, but that is explicitly a book for beginners, outlining a strategy (actually, several strategies of varying complexity) by which an amateur can minimize the skill advantage that more experienced players have over him in a no-limit hold'em tournament. Its authors acknowledge that it is not a long-term winning approach to the game, and that readers will need to learn more finesse as they progress.

Even Phil Hellmuth's dated and basic Play Poker Like the Pros describes a few different broad categories of opponents' styles one is likely to encounter, and how one might adjust to play against each.

As a test, I just now pulled out my old (copyright 2000) copy of Poker for Dummies by Richard Harroch and Lou Krieger. In Chapter 2, "Essential Strategic Considerations," I find this on page 34, after description of a semi-bluff that went bad:

"What went wrong?" you ask yourself. "I had the perfect opportunity to
semi-bluff." Perfect, that is, only from the perspective of the cards on the
table and those in your hand. But it was far from perfect if you stopped to
consider your opponents. Your mistake involved considering only the cards while
choosing a strategy. Semi-bluffing doesn't work with players who always call.
You have to show them the best hand to take the money. While there was nothing
you could have done to win that pot, you certainly could have saved a bet on the

Nothing was wrong with the strategy itself. It might have worked if the
cards were the same but your opponents were different. Knowing your opponents is
as important to winning at poker as understanding strategic concepts.

So the most simplified poker strategy book I own or know about, a mere 34 pages in, in the second chapter, is already emphasizing the point that Cooke says "most" poker books do not discuss.

Let's try another sample. This is the 2004 answer to the above publication, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Poker, by the late, great Andy Glazer. He actually gets to it even earlier than Harroch and Krieger did. In Chapter 1, page 7, under the heading, "Poker Is a Card Game and a People Game," Glazer writes:
It is difficult to imagine a game in which context is more important than
it is in poker--where the right decision against Jeff may be the wrong decision
against Phil, or where the right decision against a player who has been winning
for the last 20 minutes would be the wrong decision against someone who has been
losing heavily during that time.

Although many decisions are clear-cut--for example, you would not want to
fold the strongest possible hand in poker, a royal flush--just how you should
bet with your royal flush to maximize the amount you will win isn't at all

Some players will be intimidatd by an early bet and may drop out; if you're
up against such a player, you're much better off checking and hoping that he
catches some good cards and becomes the aggressor himself. The amount you will
win with this hand can vary dramatically depending on how well you understand
your opponents' tendencies and personalities.

So, again, a book aimed at completely green beginners addresses this point at the earliest opportunity.

I'm completely unable to understand how Cooke could hold this opinion. How many poker books has he read, and how many of them recommended an inflexible strategy, rather than adapting one's play to the table?

Readers, I'm calling on you. If you can recall any poker strategy book that conforms to the description that Cooke says is true of "most" of them, please leave a comment here with the book's title and author, with a page number (and exact quotation, if you feel up to it) where such a recommendation is to be found. My guess is that even with the number of books we have collectively read, we won't come up with any.

A challenge to Mr. Cooke: Can you quote me even one poker strategy book that fits the description you gave for "most" of them? It should be easy, if what you say is true.

I suppose I should add that I happen to enjoy reading Cooke's columns and thinking through the situations he describes. I also adore his rulebook, Rules of Real Poker--it's the best one in print. He is no fool, and it is not my purpose to denounce him as one. This strange assertion is, I think, a rare glitch, but it sure is a whopper.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Roy plays limit at the Bellagio most weekend nights. Stop by and perhaps he will answer you himself.