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Reading Poker Tells
Reading Poker Tells
by Zachary Elwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Advancing the science of poker tells, 13 July 2012
This review is from: Reading Poker Tells (Paperback)
Tells are the one part of poker theory that haven't yet seen a spectacular increase in knowledge since the poker boom. This is probably because most poker over the last decade has been played over the internet behind a computer screen.

This could well be the book we've all been waiting for.

A big problem with the early work on tells, Mike Caro's in particular, is that it really isn't a proper science at all. Caro categorises tells from "actors" -- for whom strong means weak and vice versa -- and "non-actors" who tell you about the real strength of their hand. The trouble is that such a broad theory is in effect irrefutable, since any combination of mannerisms and end-resulting hand strength can be explained. As philosopher of science Karl Popper points out, a theory that can explain any observation without potential refutation -- e.g. Marxism, Freudian psychoanalysis -- is at best pseudo-scientific nonsense.

Elwood's book is much better. For a start he stresses the overwhelming importance of the situation (an opinion much confirmed by the field of social psychology), the need for developing a statistically robust level of observational data over time, and bases his theories on the psychology of unconscious human behaviour. At all times he stresses that poker tells are just another tool in a skilled player's arsenal; not a strategy for basing your entire game around.

But at this price the book is a clear winning investment for any frequent live player or even an online specialist entering a casino environment for the very first time.


Poker Math That Matters: Simplifying the Secrets of No-Limit Hold'em
Poker Math That Matters: Simplifying the Secrets of No-Limit Hold'em
by Owen Gaines
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.06

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hold 'em Mathematics from First Principles, 30 Mar. 2011
This book lucidly explains the mathematics of hold 'em -- not just no-limit, it can equally apply to limit -- from first principles. Starting off with the fundamental building blocks of fractions, percentages, and ratios; it then moves on to expected value (EV), counting outs, pot odds and implied odds. Concepts are introduced with examples, and there's also a quiz at the end of each chapter.

This book has one big plus point going for it compared to other poker maths books. Many other books present large tables of probabilities and numbers which are impossible to memorise; whereas, Gaines gives you shortcuts to approximately work out these numbers at the table (which is much more practical).

There's also an introduction to a higher level of mathematical play: balanced play (or game theoretic play). I say it's a higher level concept, but it's really just a straight inversion of all the techniques in this book. Instead of maximising your EV against your opponent's (using all the mathematical methods in this book), you try to minimise your opponent's best potential EV against your strategy (by varying your strategy). However, like Gaines points out, balanced play isn't vital until you are at least playing in mid-stakes games.


The Mathematics of Poker
The Mathematics of Poker
by Bill Chen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.23

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Poker Geeks' Bible, 12 Mar. 2011
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I can sympathise with readers who had a hard time with this book. When this book came out I was in my first year of a maths-based undergraduate degree, but even I found the maths so hard going that I had to put the book to one side until I had started my second year. However, if you are a serious poker player you really should persevere, as this book's message has totally revolutionised poker at the highest level -- it has become, in every way, the poker geeks' bible.

The first three chapters are a statistics primer for poker. This material is all good to know, and the treatment is much easier than many statistics textbooks, but I have a feeling that these chapters put off a lot of readers. If you don't have an interest in mathematics, then you can actually get by in poker with very little knowledge of statistics, beyond knowing a few probabilities specific to your form of poker. The vast majority of the material in these chapters -- manipulating the normal distribution, Bayesian vs. classical statistics, and Bayes' theorem -- can be skipped without much loss to your poker game or your understanding of the rest of the book.

Chapters 4-9 cover exploitive play. Not only is this material essential, but it is also intuitive, non-mathematically demanding, and very similar to most readers' conception of poker. Just about every beginning- and intermediate-players' thought processes are almost entirely exploitive. They form an idea of how their opponent is playing or thinking, and then they find an exploitive counter-strategy to use. Understanding these chapters will leave you well-placed to follow the rest of the book.

Chapters 10-21 cover optimal play, and this is where the book's key strategic insights are located. Optimal play has some other names: "unexploitable play", "game theoretic strategies", "GTO poker". Whatever name used, this is the way many top players approach the game. The core idea is, that instead of attempting to exploit your opponents, you should primarily adopt a safety-first approach by preventing players from exploiting you.

Chen and Ankenman take unexploitable poker to new levels. To keep the mathematics tractable, the authors primarily study "toy games" -- simple representations of poker -- instead of analysing actual situations that might arise at the table. In one of their two main toy games the 52 card deck is replaced by a three card deck; in the other, hands are replaced by a random number between zero and one for each player. These models capture the essence of poker -- the ranking of hands -- while removing the many complicating factors of specific games and situations.

This analytical method -- creating a "model" of a situation -- is very common in science. It might seem far removed from actual poker, but applying these methods to your game can lead to bountiful improvements in your results. Probably the biggest idea you can apply is their systematic solution to river play: they show exactly how the hands you bluff with, the hands you value bet with, and the hands you bluff-catch with are related to each other. In two chapters -- "Chapter 21: A Case Study", and "Chapter 30: Putting It All Together" -- the authors become a little more accessible by showing the reader how their models can be related to real poker games.

I really can't recommend this book highly enough; I think it offers the best roadmap for the truly dedicated player. Their "top-down" approach, starting off on the level of overall strategies and games, and then finally moving down to the level of playing individual hands, is in my opinion the best way of approaching poker. This is because ideas can easily be transplanted from one game or situation to another; given the variety of situations and differing forms of poker on offer, this is probably the most efficient way to become an expert player.


Poker Strategy
Poker Strategy
by Nesmith Ankeny
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pathbreaking early poker game theory book, 12 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Poker Strategy (Paperback)
This book was originally published in 1981; far before the online poker boom. If you're looking for specific tips to tool up your multi-table no-limit hold 'em tournament game, then this isn't the book for you. If, however, you are interested in general poker theory, then this book very much is for you, as it presents an early game theoretic approach to poker.

Ankeny's game of choice is five-card draw, jacks-or-better. Obviously, this game isn't directly relevant to the vast majority of modern poker games, but the game does actually have some features which make it a great tool for theoretical analysis. There are only two betting rounds in five-card draw: an opening draw -- then the players draw -- and a final round before showdown. Unlike hold 'em there are no "middle" rounds (such as the flop and turn) where the players have already selected their starting hands, but where there are still more rounds to be played. These rounds are also the hardest to analyse, so it's a convenience that they are absent from five-card draw.

Proper opening round play consists of two elements: selecting profitable hands to continue with, and preventing your opponents from acquiring too much information about the strength of your hand. Ankeny provides many recommendations for the former element, and perhaps this material is fairly redundant for the modern reader. However, the most interesting part is his solution to the second element. In five-card draw a great deal of information is revealed at the draw: your opponent's ending hand strength will greatly depend on the number of cards drawn. Ankeny's solution is to never draw two cards, instead drawing one card with three-of-a-kind so that the hand can be played alongside a greater range of other hands. Similar principles apply in more modern forms of poker, so it's really interesting to see the same method being applied in a relatively old poker manual.

The book then moves on to final round play; a game theoretic approach to this round is very similar in all forms of poker, with the key elements being optimal bluffing and calling ratios. The main idea here is to bluff and call in such proportions that your opponent is unable to gain an edge by varying his play. This is the key to optimal end-play in any game, and it is echoed in later theory books (David Sklansky - The Theory of Poker; Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman - The Mathematics of Poker). Ankeny does a great job of explaining the concept in a non-technical and intuitive way; plus there is much material on the thorny issue of bluff selection.

I can easily recommend this obscure and oft-overlooked poker book.


Misfits - Series 1 and 2 Box Set [DVD]
Misfits - Series 1 and 2 Box Set [DVD]
Dvd ~ Robert Sheehan
Offered by Goodsdirect
Price: £13.95

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bravo, Misfits!, 15 Feb. 2011
Judging by the trailers you could easily mistake this show for a missable E4 cross between Heroes and Skins. I'm so glad I gave this programme a chance.

The show follows five ASBO teenagers on community service. However, the characters are all "Misfits" in another way: each is a uniquely social misfit, too. One boy can't help offending everybody he meets; another is a disgraced former athlete; one girl has an unhealthy obsession with sex; the other girl is a misunderstood and at times aggressive chav; the final character is an uncomfortable nerd.

Naturally, these characters don't form the most cohesive group. However, a thunderstorm in the opening episode gives four of them superpowers and inextricably binds the group together. The natural frictions between them result in great comic/dramatic effect, but it's also a joy watching this unlikely bunch slowly become friends over the two series.

Each characters' superpower reflects an aspect of their personality. The nerdish one can turn invisible, for instance. The superpowers aren't uniformly super-awesome, though: one girl's power is that anyone she touches becomes uncontrollably horny for her. This power becomes very burdensome, very quickly. This makes the show all the more "real" for me, despite the supernatural setting. Sometimes, life just sucks like that. (The other girl's power is similar: she can hear peoples' thoughts, which mostly consist of them calling her a chav.)

The former athlete can turn back time, showing his deep regret at how things have turned out for him. This power is used as a great dramatic device -- utilised to seamlessly fill out each characters' back-story in one episode -- as it's something he has less than perfect control over (otherwise, things would be too easy). This power leads to an incredibly inventive story arc over series two which had me applauding by the conclusion.

The final character (the gobby offensive one) doesn't have a power at all. This is also appropriate, as this character would be far too annoying if he had a superpower to boot. Again, this just makes the show all the more real, as each character is flawed in their own unique way (the sex-girl is incredibly annoying to begin with, a stereotypical "pretty girl", but somehow you manage to sympathise with her by the end of series two).

Each series is a narrative masterpiece -- unfurling over six episodes like a novel. The writing is at times clever, funny, and serious too. It's all thanks to the show's writer, Howard Overman. This show gains a lot from being one writer's work; it's a great pity when other drama/comedies farm each individual episode out to a separate writer, sacrificing quality for quantity (such as how Shameless now does). I'd much rather have six brilliant episodes a year than 16 mediocre ones.

If you needed yet another indication that this show is more than the standard E4 fare, all you need do is look to the fantastic soundtrack, covering genres from the blues, to dubstep, and everything in-between. Some great artists are there: The Velvet Underground, UNKLE, Joy Division, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kraftwerk, and Aphex Twin to name just a few of my favourites. The music is used to brilliant effect, with the two versions of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" touching me every time I watch S1E2.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 19, 2011 3:19 PM GMT


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