I’ve just finished Dan Harrington’s book on Texas Hold ’em, called “Harrington on Hold ’em”. It’s actually the first poker book I’ve read, although I’ve been playing almost entirely online for a few months now. For anyone who doesn’t know, Dan Harrington is a very succesful poker player with a reputation for very tight, solid play. Although not being one of the games agressors, he has had a lot of success having reach a number of World Series of Poker final tables. I’ve seen him play on television a few times now and, although we only get the highlights televised, he’s also quite capable of making a move if he senses weakness in an opponent. You don’t get to be that succesful in poker just by playing the cards you’re dealt and there’s obviously a reason why some players make it to final tables more than others.
Harrington’s book focuses on no-limit tournament Hold ’em play, which is my favoured game (as opposed to cash games, limit or pot-limit), and certainly appears biased to a level just above beginner (i.e. someone who knows how to rank hands and has some idea of what makes a good starting hand), and the fact he talks about online play quite often makes this quite a targetted book. It makes sense to market a book like this at the sector that so many amateur players are joining. The format of the book is to take different stages of the game and different betting concepts (good hand/early position, late position facing an early raiser etc) and to examine the possible pitfalls, upsides and pot odds. (Pot odds are a key factor in most of the decisions made.) Following each chapter there are many good examples that give real world examples plus an explanation of what the ‘best’ play would be (where there is an obvious best play).
Although I haven’t been playing very long, I’ve found it fairly easy to make money at low entry fee tournament games. Reading the book, I found that a lot of the points Dan makes are quite familiar from experience. The game Dan plays (more often than not) is quite tight, meaning he will bet only on good hands, and that is the style of play he recommends throughout this book. Honestly, I think that by adopting everything he says (and understanding the meaning since, after all, poker can’t be played easily by rules) anyone could easily become a better than average online player. This is merely because the quality of online players is often poor. Since it seems to be at this market that the book is aimed (the hobbiest who would like to make a bit of cash on the side) the conservative style is perfect, especially for playing against weaker players who will not understand many of the game’s subtleties.
I already had quite a tight style, especially compared to many of the players I meet online. Knowing not to call a big raise on a full table with Ace 5 seems obvious to me, but apparently not to many other people. I was hoping to get something more out of this book, some more insights into some of the ‘moves’ a professional might make. Although there weren’t a huge number of these here, there was more than enough to make me feel that I got more than enough value out of this book. For most of us online players, the only experience we get of ‘real’ play is through televised tournaments. It’s easy to assume from these that check-raising with top pair is normal, and then to mis-play it early in a tournament, as is going all-in with an 8 5 off suit bluff. Dan makes the point that much of a poker tournament is grind, and it’s good to have some of the television myths dispelled by someone who’s been there.
Especially useful for me was a chapter on table image. A key point here being that other players judge you on the cards they see, not necessarily just the cards you play. I hadn’t really thought about this (although, now, it seems obvious) but, as someone with a tight game, I would often play cards like Ace Q and, if top pair hit, bet it heavily enough for the other players to fold and take the pot there and then. If it happens that you get a hand like this two or three times in half a dozen rounds, it doesn’t matter how good your hand is if no-one sees it then they start to assume you’re bluffing. I’ve found keeping a track of how I think other players perceive me as a way of stopping from losing money and also for winning a few hands: fold on the flop a few times, and the next time you bet everyone’s more likely to believe you have something when you steal with a check raise. Exactly the way Dan would play… (okay, I’m flattering myself now).
All-in-all, this is a useful book for anyone who believes they’ve stepped up from the beginning levels of poker. If you’re playing in a tournament with a few quid at stake each day then it won’t be long before this book pays for itself; it’s certainly done it for me many times over. The lessons in it suit anything above absolute rock-bottom (5 dollar) tournament play. (At that level decisions are too random, and bad beats too common to realistically apply some of the more advanced concepts of table image, gap theory etc.) I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Volume 2 where the latter stages of tournament play are covered.
This is a book with a lot of information that’s also very easy to read. It’ll take time to absorb all the lessons in there but I know my copy has already paid for itself and you can’t ask for more than that.