Poker books suck.

The statement may be hypocritical, given I took part in writing one of the too many poker books out there. However, I choose to stand by my opening statement.

Why would I say this however? In fact, I’m partnered with Ed Miller, one of the most prolific authors in the game, for our training site RedChipPoker.com. He’s written more than a handful of best-selling books. Surely, I can’t think his works are of no use. So, what am I saying? I do think poker books have a place in this game. I just don’t know exactly where that place is yet. Sorry Ed.

2015-01-CIC-Hunters2014Review-Article1

To put it simply, poker books put players in a box. Once the player is in this box, it is really hard to break them out. Most books provide charts and golden nuggets of information, such as “don’t call with dominated hands,” which players are suggested to abide by. Both these nuggets and the charts should be vanished from existence.

Poker is a fluid game. Game flow dynamics, history, awareness, and frequency considerations are all but a handful of aspects that go into the decision matrix while playing a hand. You’ll also need heart. Unfortunately, I haven’t found one of these aspects, yet alone all of them, to be the corner stone of any published book.

When poker players approach me for help in their game, I find they have hard set poker mantras instilled in their minds. These requirements include answering, “If I raise, what worse will call?” or “Am I betting as a bluff or for value?” These black and white rules are OK, but in a game with so much grey, these rules do nothing but weigh down the player. If they want to evolve, and continue to compete, they’ll need to learn to embrace the grey.

Recently, I was asked how I would approach teaching someone who has never played poker before. Would I preach a tight solid strategy? Would I direct them to some books? Given the title of this article, it’s easy to predict that I wouldn’t direct them towards any books. However, I would not have them implement a tight strategy, including using open-raising charts per position. In fact, I would unleash the beast. I would tell my prodigy to play every hand he or she perceives as playable. Afterwards, they are free to do whatever it is they deem necessary to win the hand.

Just win the hand

This approach in learning will force the new player into tricky spots. They’ll have to learn to dig themselves out, which is an invaluable skill. The easy spots will play themselves. More importantly, they won’t be boxed into some set strategy put forth by an author. Anything goes, and that’s exactly the mindset they will need to succeed in this ruthless game. Obviously, my job will be to smooth out the rough edges. Nevertheless, this task will be a lot more productive than revamping a flawed mindset of a veteran player.

If you want to reach the pinnacle of this game, you’ll have to acknowledge that poker books won’t light the path. In fact, I suggest you remove them from your library. Burn the books and remove yourselves from the box that has held you down.

If not books, then where do we go?

I think the answer for improvement is somewhere between videos, coaching, and trial and error.

Videos

Throughout my career, I’ve watched countless hours of poker training videos, maybe more than anyone in the world. I’m serious too. This experience has given me a good base in the theory behind the plays. Whether you sign up for RedChipPoker or any other training platform, the
videos provided will be useful for your progression as a thinker in the game. I suggest, however, you take everything with a grain of salt.

Coaching

Currently, I have a coach. Is it cheap? No. However, I think I cut my learning curve substantially and can compete with anyone in live Deep Stack No Limit. When I coach players, I get similar feedback. I cut the learning curve. In fact, that’s the goal of any coach. We decrease the time it takes to learn the concepts and teach in a format that best serves the student.

poker clock

Trial and Error

There is something to be said for simply going after it. Once you get all the mechanics down, and theory is sound, you’ll need to get in there and battle. Take on the best, and figure out what works and what doesn’t. Try to set new trends, and never stop questioning your lines. This will make you tough to play against.

Let’s burn the books. Be a trailblazer, and in the meanwhile enjoy the ride.

If you have any questions you can hit me up on the RedChipPoker forum or on twitter @ChristianPoker.

Recent Posts
Showing 30 comments
  • Keone
    Reply

    I don’t believe you should burn books. You should actually read more books. Maybe not about poker but about history. Biographies. Mysteries. Police procedurals. Etc. Etc. Its what you get out of books. Its not being so dogmatic about theory. Its about practicing more. Maybe we should put books away for a while and get out there and learn about the contradictions in life and relationships. And in that way solve problems. Burning books doesn’t do anything but cause smoke.

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      Keone,

      I agree with you on certain points. The burning of the books was a figure of speech. I was not expecting anyone to literally burn any books.
      Just stating that they are better ways to go about things than books. I think we agree on that.

  • Gabriel
    Reply

    Should I still bun my books if they are all pretty much on my iPad? Good article brother it’s deff all about heart maybe I can find some more of it this year

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      Gabe,

      Thanks man! It definitely is about heart and I know you got some!

      P.S. Didn’t account for the books in the iPad lol.

  • Speros
    Reply

    I have an addiction. I buy books and then I don’t read them. I have about 6 new poker books that I’ve hardly dented. I have Janda’s book and Mooreman’s new one. The Harrington modern mtt book a few others. I even have Doug Hull’s book maybe read a few chapters. What’s werong with me, stop the madness!!!

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      Haha! I’m sure you are not alone. But yeah stop that madness.

  • Fausto
    Reply

    I def aggree with chris here, and love the “just win the hand” practice it will def make u see the game differently. For starting out books will give you some foundation and its actually easy to go back to if u highlight important parts, just dont let it box ure toughts in as mentioned above.

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      I slipped and gave away priceless strategy by saying “just win the hand”. I think they didn’t catch it though.
      My problem is that I think people take what is written in the book as truth. So if it says, “don’t call with KJ here”, then they will never call with KJ there. And obviously that can’t be correct because they will be situations where it is right. But they are in a box and don’t see it. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment Fausto! 🙂

  • Ken Baumann
    Reply

    I play in a small stakes home poker game, and therefore recognize that I’m probably not the target audience for RCP generally, or this post in particular. Nevertheless, I find this post surprising, to say the least.

    EM’s ‘Professional No Limit Hold’Em’ was a huge help in getting a solid foundation on the risk/reward arithmetic in poker. Even in my home game circuit, I recognize that blindly following the dictates of SPR, without regard to the players in the pot, will likely get me slaughtered. (I suspect the home game I play in is tougher than most.)

    DH’s ‘Poker Plays You Can Use’ was also a huge eye opener, and has made the game much more enjoyable. Having bite sized goals going into a game is a fantastic learning tool.

    I suspect that the old artist/musician adage “You’ve got to learn the rules before you can break the rules” probably applies to poker just as well.

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      I think it’s awesome that you found the game more enjoyable after reading Hull’s book.
      I think that’s perfectly fine and maybe one of the things books should set out to achieve is an added enjoyment for the game.

      However, do you think any book can put you over the top? Can you play high stakes after reading any of these books? Probably not.

      So what I am saying is that if your goal is to reach your peak in this game, there is no book that will help you. And in fact, some of the things in books with stunt your progress because these “rules” are bogus.

      The game has too much grey area. I would rather teach the person how to navigate through the Grey and just learn to win pots rather than telling him not to open KJo from UTG.

  • Simon
    Reply

    I disagree – books are good for something very important (the good ones anyways) – establishing a simple ABC strategy from which to further branch out.

    Are they good for anything more than that? Doubt it, but A has to come before B.

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      You say this because the public has already established an accepted way to play this game. Therefore, you think A has to come before B.
      However, what makes A the correct starting point in a game with so much grey area?
      I can teach someone to just win in other ways, and by year’s end they will be better on their own than someone who just read a book and knows the accepted standard things. I can’t prove this but I feel confident in that statement.
      If someone reads the same books you read, how are they suppose to win? Hope for some donation?

      My goal is to help people think outside the box from the day one. The accepted way to play in the low stakes won’t help anyone for too long.

      Good Luck

      • Simon
        Reply

        There is a correct way to play. It is as best to GTO as you can get, HU at least.

        In mway pots its pretty much impossible to play anywhere close to the GTO solution because its just too hard, so you have to go old school – which is where I suppose your “just win the hand” approach applies.

        IMO the goal is to get HU to 3-ways and go from there – as soon as there 4+ people in the pot poker is over and the game is called make a hand.

        • Christian Soto
          Reply

          Exactly, how do you play GTO in multiway pots over 250BB deep, like most live games commonly get? Impossible.
          But my strategy is far from “old school”.
          Of course, raises preflop are for isolation only how I have stated before.
          But the “go from there” is the part I think we will disagree lol.

          • Simon

            I’m yet to see anybody who does anything but nut peddle in mway pots stick around the game for more than a year. I have tried to do something else in this pots as well over the years, but at the end there is just nothing to it.

            The reason you end up in bloated mway pots is because you are playing with horrendous players to begin with. So just value bet them to death with nutted hands – every other approach simply gets best carded over any reasonable sample size.

  • Anton
    Reply

    I agree. No poker book has ever given me anything solid, some bits a pieces here and there. I’ve read good amount. No substitute for collaboration and coaching. Books like RCP “late position” can nicely be added on top of actual coaching, but books by themselves might do more harm than good. Even good poker books can be easily misunderstood.

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      Yep, I agree! It’s all about ‘hands on’ training In this game. They simply are too many moving parts, and writing “it depends” in a book just doesn’t sell lol

  • Anthony
    Reply

    It is all about learning modes. I retain a lot from reading. I have always managed to pickup a lot by reading text. Some people learn better from lectures. Many poker videos are presenting slides with voice over. Addressing both learning modes above. I think both modes probably do not become real knowledge until the new material is practiced with exercises, actual work, or for us actual poker sessions.

    I know there are other learning modes as well. I have never had one on one instruction or coaching so I can not speak to that but, I’d guess there are some folks who actually do better with books or videos.

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      I agree that it is about learning modes. Another person here in the comments put it beautifully. It’s impossible to be a mechanic with only knowing how to fix the machines in theory. The failure would be epic. I think the analogy works well with poker. They simply are just too many moving parts that can’t be accounted for in a book.
      But I agree about learning modes, as I do all my coaching based upon how the student learns best.

      Thank you for the comment! I really appreciate you reading my article and responding.

  • dpagkali
    Reply

    This was a beautiful article really.I was reading books about poker and strategy,lines i should follow but i never feel the confidence i should have in the tables.So i completely agree with you.Poker is similar of other things in life. For example if i read how to fix a machine,therotically i can do this , but if try to do so i am pretty sure that the failure will be epic. 😀

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      I genuinely appreciate your comment. Your analogy is on point. It’s nearly impossible to fix a machine if the person only knows how to do it in theory. Massive failure waiting to happen lol. That’s a really good way to look at it, and I’m glad you brought it up.
      Thank you for the comment!

  • Pierre
    Reply

    I like the work of Ed Miller especially Poker’s 1%. But trying to change my game to reflect the thoughts in the book has cost me hundreds of $$. I think I rushed to the virtual felts too quickly w/o enough study. I like how the book puts you on track to getting better through hard work on and off the felts. It flipped my world upside down and made me believe I could one day turn pro. My goals are to reach Supernova on Stars this year and be much better by year end.

    I agree many books on the market are useless but there are good ones. I can equally say there are boring and exhausting videos also out there.

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      Agreed. It is how you take the information, and they are videos out there which are useless also. Just find the ratio of useless books to be higher unfortunately.
      Good Luck on SuperNova. What’s your handle on Stars?

  • Adam
    Reply

    Trying to learn poker by playing a lot of hands and digging yourself out is a recipe for disaster. Poker has one of the worst feed back loops of any game…You can do the stupidest things in the world and get payed off over and over, and you can be brilliant and get punished over and over. Sink or swim approach may work for some things (swimming comes to mind) but not poker.

    Admittedly many poker books are not worth the digital space on my tablet. But starting with a solid fundamentals is critical to solid poker..and my guess is its much harder to unlearn a stupid play that you tried and have work a couple of times…then to unlearn some bad advise you got in a book.

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      Admittedly, unteaching bad habits are hard. However, unteaching bad habits someone got from a book from a ‘respectable’ poker person is nearly impossible.
      Sink or Swim still is applicable in poker in my opinion. Someone can read all the books they want and still sink very easily in my opinion. And there can be someone who hasn’t read a book once and swim.
      Not that it is even applicable, bit I have only fully read one book in my entire poker career: “Let There Be Range”.
      My argument is not the books itself. It’s the box they put people in.

  • Jeff
    Reply

    The paradox is, of course, that your article could also have been a book (either a small book, or an expanded version of the above.) You can communicate whatever ideas you want. I don’t think the medium is important – just the message. Videos can certainly be put into book form. In fact, a book that represents a collection of videos transcriptions sounds like a very plausible product.

    So it doesn’t seem like your advice is really “don’t listen to what people write”. I think your message is “I disagree with standard poker advice, and here’s why.”

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      That’s true. I am mostly disagreeing with that the information poker books contain, and what it does to a standard player, especially a newer one.
      If certain videos or other information was transcribed into a book, I would likely change the title of this article to “Burn SOME Books” lol.
      It is an interesting Paradox however how you stated. 🙂

  • Ed Miller
    Reply

    Christian, I don’t think books are to blame. I’ll be honest. I think it’s because poker is hard, and only a small percentage of the people interested in the game have the right set of mental attributes to really “get” it. I’ve known a lot of quite intelligent people who were far too rigid thinkers to succeed at this game… the game being deep-stacked no-limit or pot-limit cash, which is really the only poker game I honestly think your commentary applies to.

    They like the rules and their approach is that if they can make their ruleset complex enough, they will succeed. Of course, they’re basically wrong about that… but they really can’t approach the game any other way. It’s just not how their brains work. I don’t think it’s because they read a book or ten with a preflop chart in it… it’s for the same reason that I’ll never run a 4.4 40-yard dash no matter how hard I train–I’m just not built that way.

    Part of the reason I feel like “it’s not the books, it’s the person” is because I’ve met a number of people who did indeed start with books… some lots of books… who nevertheless ended up figuring it out. They understood the value of what was in the books, and they also understood easily how and why these “rules” might be broken due to different game conditions.

    The other thing is… most people aren’t going to be the best player in the world. That’s not their goal… never was and never will be. I’m taking tennis lessons right now, but not because I have any illusions that I will be the best player in the world. I’m taking them because it’s a fun game, and I’ll enjoy it better if I have some skill at it. Poker is the same way for most people… they will enjoy the game much more if they have enough skill to make some money and beat some folks.

    This is where poker books live. Some are better than others, but they are written for a mass audience (at least most of them). The bar on them isn’t, “Become a super-duper elite player,” the bar is, “improve enough to earn out the price of the book and enjoy the game more.”

    Finally, I have an observation from being around the game now for 14 years. The nittier, more rule-followy players have much more longevity on average. A few of the players who approach the game as you recommend do indeed reach the top rungs. Most of them go broke and leave the game. The ones I saw in 2003 who are still playing regularly today are the nitty ones. So it depends on what you want out of the game and where you think you fit in the grand scheme of things.

    • Christian Soto
      Reply

      You know things just got real when Ed Miller steps in and write you a 4 paragraph response! LOL.

      I agree with a lot of what you are saying in terms of acknowledging that many people are not trying to be the best. And books are for the masses who are trying to improve enough to enjoy the game similar to how you are taking tennis lessons.

      Below is the portion that no author I know of speaks about which you mentioned. Part of me feels like it’s because the author himself doesn’t know the answer. Therefore, it’s either that something is not being spoken about, or the author doesn’t know. Both of which I have a small problem with.

      “Part of the reason I feel like “it’s not the books, it’s the person” is because I’ve met a number of people who did indeed start with books… some lots of books… who nevertheless ended up figuring it out. They understood the value of what was in the books, and they also understood easily how and why these “rules” might be broken due to different game conditions.”

      Understanding why these “rules” might be broken is the most important of all the skills. Yet, that’s the one no one speaks about. In such a complex and fluid game, I find that difficult to understand that no one can write about this.

      So my question is, what happens to the new players who want to reach the top levels? I feel that at least like we agree that books are not for those people.

      Maybe, you will prove me wrong and write some masterpiece soon. I sure hope so.

  • Ed
    Reply

    well, it’s only 2 years too late, but I think the sentence that reads
    “Both these nuggets and the charts should be vanished from existence.”
    should say “banished”, not “vanished”.
    that being said, I agree with your point that no book will make a person a top rank player.
    but neither will any video, or any coach.
    all the teaching methods have value in varying degrees, depending on the quality of the teacher and the aptitude of the pupil.
    while books can go out of style and their lessons dated, that is true as well for videos (though it is much easier to put out another video than it is to write another book.
    in theory, coaching would stay closer to the current state of the game, but that depends on the coach and is not really a function of coaching itself.

Leave a Comment