on February 15, 2005
No limit hold'em, obviously, is a complex game. So complex that there has never been a good comprehensive treatment in a book form; I had thought that this was because it involves more "table feel", experience and intuition that can't be easily taught or expressed in a useful format.
Harrington and Robertie have done just that. Harrington is the 1995 world champion, and the only player to make the final table in both 2003 and 2004, overcoming the two biggest fields in World Series history (839 and 2,576 players, respectively). Robertie is a top backgammon player and author of several excellent books on that game.
Among the top players, there are drastically different styles of play, from conservative to super-aggressive. One problem I expected was that given Harrington's solid, fairly conservative style, he wouldn't be able to give much useful information on playing at the other end of the end of the spectrum, styles such as those employed by Daniel Negreanu and Gus Hansen.
I was wrong. The book does a fine job addressing the relative merits of various styles, playing against each type of opponent, and even choosing one for yourself. This makes sense; no matter his own style, to be successful he has to have spent a lot of time thinking about, observing, and combatting all different types of players. Further, a playing style isn't cast in stone; even the most conservative players have to switch gears and become much more aggressive at times, and vice versa.
A few more notes on this idea: first, Harrington's own play as described isn't as conservative and cautious as many think. Second, a fairly conservative approach is demonstrably the more sound one for the student, and anyone without many years of experience. Hyper-aggressive play would be much harder to teach well, and also much harder to pull off successfully. The players who thrive playing these aggressive, gambling styles have exceptional talent as well as lots of experience and a great feel for the game and their opponents, and are faced with difficult decisions under lots of pressure much more often. For those who insist on trying, it probably still makes more sense to learn a fundamentally sounder style first and then proceed from there.
The book is laid out well for learning. Each chapter starts with a discussion of the topic, touching on the theory. There are several example situations with the authors' answers and detailed reasoning, as well as the merits of alternative plays. Following each chapter there are problems, mostly from real hands. It provides a diagram of the table, the chip counts for each player, your knowledge of the opponents, etc... all the relevant information. The problems usually provide all this information even when some of it is irrelevant to the problem, which is a strength. A big part of the decision-making process in poker (as well as lots of other things) is recognizing and eliminating extraneous details to make analysis more managable.
This is the first in a two volume set. I thought this was odd, as this is first for 2+2 poker books, but the first volume is bigger than most of their others already. The book is self-contained; there are no partial answers or information that tell you to buy the second volume for the details. I don't think there has been an official announcement on when Volume 2 will be released, but I've heard sometime this spring.
The book is geared specifically toward tournaments, and especially toward those with well-defined formats, such as major casino/cardroom events and those on the Internet. For cash game players, a solid understanding of tournament and poker theory would be necessary to make the appropriate adjustments to cash play. Most of the book would still apply, but some situations would change drastically in a side game, where simply getting your money in with an advantage, rather than survival, is the main goal.
For those newer to poker, to get the most out of this book, I would recommend a few others be read either first or at the same time: "The Theory of Poker" by David Sklansky, "Small Stakes Hold'em" by Miller, Sklansky and Malmuth, and "Winning Low Limit Hold'em" by Lee Jones, especially for the newest players.
UPDATE FOR VOLUME II:
Many of the same comments apply to Volume II, which is more of a continuation of the first than a separate book (even the chapter numbering picks up where the first left off). It focuses on the endgame; the late stages where everyone left is in the money and the blinds are relatively very large. They use the ideas of zones and inflection points to give effective generalized advice about different situations, evaluating your chip position relative to both the size of the blinds and the other remaining players.
The last few sections cover short-handed and heads-up play, where strategy often changes radically. In most tournaments the table only gets heads-up at the very end and doesn't last very long, but the difference between first, second and third place is huge, even millions in the biggest events. Given that one position makes such a big difference, strategies changes dramatically, and most players have little experience heads-up, this material is extremely valuable.
A third volume is in the works, in workbook style with problems and examples, which should nicely complement and review the material in the first two.
on July 3, 2005
Every time I read a 'poker book', my play seems to suffer until I can figure out how to incporate the new thoughts I have with my style of play. Not true with this book - in some instances my style of play felt 'validated', and in others, I learned where my style of thinking was differing from a 'professional'.
This book has a different 'style' from other books - it doesn't start with lame advice like 'hand rankings'... it runs down the difference between amateur and professional thinking - things like position, bets a multiples of the blinds, etc. it then talks you through scenario after scenario from real poker situations, asks you what you would do, then explains how he would have thought about it. These scenarios are grouped into sections with 3-5 hands designed to 'teach a lesson'.
This is truly a magnificent book - the first of its kind that I have found that teaches the person who already knows how to 'play', really how to PLAY.
on June 22, 2005
Harrington and Robertie have surely done it again -- even more powerfully than in their first volume. They have presented the authoritative text about how to think about and how to play a final table in a no limit hold em tournament. And in so doing they have redefined the game.
Harrington and Robertie introduce a whole new lexicon (at least it was new to me) about no limit poker: inflection points, red zones, dead zones, green zones, probe bets, continuation bets. Some of these phrases I had heard -- maybe even dropped to impress people from time to time. But they explain them clearly and tie them all together in a vivid strategic picture of the game.
But even if you were familiar with all of these terms and phrases that help clarify the many otherwise intuitive concepts of no limit tournament play, you've never read a simpler, clearer or more powerful explanation of them -- and all of the different stages players enter as their stack size grows and diminishes at the final table in a tournament. Similarly so with other vital concepts to no limit play like continuation and probe bets and final table play. Harrington and Robertie take the ideas that excellent players have intuitively known but until now have not fully expressed and put them into clear, simple language that any moderately experienced player can readily grasp and absorb. The hand examples, which the authors think us through further drive home the key points of this masterwork.
To say that this is a must read for every serious hold em player doesn't do it justice. It is a book that has set a new standard for poker literature. Even if you are a very experienced winning no limit tournament player, this book will help you think and play. And I don't think that it is overstating it to say that it will significantly change the way players talk and write about the game in the future.
Bravo Harrington and Robertie. Your two volumes are by far the best I have ever read -- and I've read just about everything that's out there.
on July 19, 2005
I bought this book the other day and was rather skeptical about how good it would be, but, now that I finished it, I can honestly say that Harrington on Hold `em is the best book on poker that I have ever read. Am I over-exaggerating? No. The secret of this manual is that, while he expresses many of the same thoughts and ideas as other poker players/writers, he is far superior to them in the teaching of technique and strategy.
As a teacher, Harrington is a master. Every page is crystal clear and comprehensible which is considerably more than I can say about the works of his publisher, David Sklansky. The lingo was in keeping with our common poker tongue, and I never had difficulty imaging the situations he described; whereas, with Super System I, while I totally recommend it, there were times when I could not apply Doyle's counsel to my own game due to a lack of skill. Such a situation never arose with Harrington on Hold `em. Many of my faulty and defeatist habits at the table were identified, and, more importantly, the manual helped me understand just how much careful attention needs to be paid to the betting patterns of my opponents.
The strongest segments in the book are "The Problems" sections. They are found at the end of each chapter or part. Harrington uses them to "show" us information after he has already taught the concepts. These scenarios grab us by the wallet and place us atop the championship felt. The funniest, and most unique, thing about his examples is that Harrington observes the hands from a vantage point high above the players. He tells us what should be done and then often has to shake his head when the player analyzed does the complete opposite. Regardless of the quality of the amateurs, Harrington follows along and makes the best of their bad situations while being careful to point out how much trouble would have been avoided had the right play been initiated in the first place.
Early on, "Action" Dan makes clear that he will be using examples from online play (and then does so extensively) which is extremely helpful for the majority of us who do not reside near one of the gambling Meccas. Most of the scenarios come from the commonly-played online single table satellites. Harrington, rather surprisingly, knows all about the pitfalls and characteristics of internet poker, and, time after time, illustrates how a particular play succeeds in a brick and motor card room but not on the web-and vice versa.
Dan Harrington was the perfect person to write a book like this. Other than Texas Dolly, he has the most gravitas out of any of the poker luminaries. He won two bracelets in 1995, and finished at the final table two years running (2003 and 2004). Practically nobody else has the combination of experience and contemporary success as he, and his intelligence stands out like a flush in this initial volume.
on December 26, 2005
Seems like everyone loves this book!
I bought it because I had just started playing a weekly tournament where I live and wanted to improve my game. Why do something if you can't be good at it, and why learn from your own mistakes (at cost) when you can learn from someone else's (free)?
This book paid for itself immediately. Some of the fundamental concepts in this book seem extremely obvious once they've been pointed out to you, but cost real money until you grasp them. Others I already been using somewhat intuitively, but by examining them I apply them better.
His tight pre-flop play, for example, was a sea change. Throwing away cards that I don't even want to get hit on the river instead of limping in to see the flop not only save me the blind when I miss the flop, but also the subsequent bets trying to defend the second-best hand when my 9 pairs up. Basic stuff, but how many hands/rounds/sessions of losing would it have taken me to figure out that mediocre hands cost more than trash hands? At $20, Harrington's book was the cheaper choice. How much money would it have cost me to discover the connection between an opponents stack size relative to the blinds and his playable hands? A lot more than $20, that's for sure!
Furthermore, the book deals very well with the concept of pot odds -- something I as a beginner had a hard time grasping and calculating under pressure, but which is helping transform my game from purely intuitive towards odds-based -- a good thing when one's lack of experience makes one's intuition suspect.
Obviously, there are tricks and stratagems in the book for the advanced player (which I'm studying furiously as well), but it's the solid presentation of the fundamentals that make this book and it's follow-up volume.
The problems at the end of the chapters are also extremely valuable, if for no other reason than because they keep you from just skimming through the chapters and recognizing concepts instead of actually learning them. Many times I found myself challenged by the problems and having to go back and review -- again, a lesson that would have cost me cash only cost me time.
I've already transformed my game and am a noticeably stronger player than before. While it's been hard to make the style adjustment, the returns are making up for it: I'm no shark yet, but I'm making money in the cash games as well as the tournaments, and against people who have been playing much, much longer than I.
If you play hold-em for any kind of money at all, invest a few dollars and by this and the second book in the series.
on June 14, 2006
This book and its companion Volume II are like my bibles. I have only being playing online poker tournaments and sit-and-go games
for three months and am already consistently winning money and getting to the final table in tournaments of 150 players or so, and have won a couple too.
When I started I bought a number of books that were well reviewed on Amazon, but frankly the rest of them are not worth a hill of beans, whereas this one is worth its weight in gold. I will not go into a description of the contents, because so many reviews have already done so, but if you want to master tournament poker, or you want a great gift for your family poker player, then look no further.
I should also say that the book is extemely well written, which is not always the case with poker books. The authorial voice is sometimes witty, and always a great friend and companion.
This book is the definitive work on the subject of no limit hold'em tournament play. I just hope my opponents don't read it.
on February 10, 2005
This book wildly surpassed my expectations. I have read several poker books and I am a big fan of Sklansky and Malmuth's books in particular. Having read so many books on poker already it is rare that I find one that contains much new information. Mr. Harrington's book was a delightful exception. It seems as though he truly held nothing back and revealed the full spectrum of his tournament strategy for the early rounds (at least as much as possible for such a situation-dependent game).
I highly recommend this book for beginners and experienced players alike (although I recommend the beginners "fill out" their poker knowledge with other books as well). I definitely recommend it over _Pot Limit and No-Limit Poker_ by Ciaffone and Reuben, and _Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold 'em_ by Cloutier and McEvoy. An aspiring expert should read all of these books eventually, but Mr. Harrington's is definitely the superior treatise on the subject of No-Limit Hold 'em--buy his book first.
I hope this review was helpful to you.
No-limit play is different from limit play; tournament play is different from ring-game play. In tournaments the blinds come marching irrepressibly around, and they get bigger and bigger. In a ring game, they march around but they stay the same size. What this means is that there is a certain urgency in tournament no-limit that doesn't exist in a ring game.
Harrington, one of the top players in the world, and a dead-on scientific and shrewdly psychological player, who is also a master chess player and a world class backgammon player, emphasizes this difference by making this book just volume one of a two-volume set. The second volume is sub-subtitled, "The Endgame" and focuses on the later stages of tournaments.
How valuable is this book? For the tournament player I would say that there is only one other book that is even in the same league; that's David Sklansky's Tournament Poker for Advanced Players. But this book is better. Harrington's nearly exhaustive approach out-Sklanskys Sklansky. Scores of hands are analyzed in minute detail, the analysis typically covering several pages of text. Harrington begins with a diagram of the table, showing "your" position and that of the other players seated. He gives the amounts in each player's stack, the size of the blinds, the stage in the tournament (just starting, early, middle) and what kind of tournament it is, major, online, etc. And he identifies conservative and aggressive players.
Next he gives "your" hand and the action to you. For example, you have TdTh on the button and Player A passes, Player B raises x number of dollars....and now it's up to you. What I love about these illustrative hands is that Harrington gives first an analysis of the factors that a professional player would consider at that point, and then he gives his recommendation: fold, call, raise x number of dollars, etc.; and then he tells what "you" actually did--which is sometimes or even often, the wrong thing. And then he continues the hand to the flop and often all the way to the river, commending on every action.
How much to bet, Harrington says, can be calculated almost exactly in some cases. If you have top pair and you believe your only opponent is on a draw, you need to bet enough to make it unprofitable for him to call. If it is a turn bet and the pot is $900 and he has a flush draw he has a 9/46 = 19.57% chance of hitting his hand, or about one in five. So you need to bet more than one third of the pot to make it a mistake for him to call. But, as Harrington cautions several times in the book, you do not want to foolishly bet more than is necessary. Going all-in--an irresistible thrill for some tournament players--is silly when you can get the same result by betting a smaller amount.
Another nice point that Harrington makes is that whenever there is a bet and you are trying to figure out what the bettor has and whether you should call or not--always more of an art than a science, which is one of the great things about poker--you should put the probability of a bluff at at least ten percent.
What the reader realizes is that no-limit tournament hold'em poker is a very complex game and that there are almost always many things to consider before making any decision. Sometimes of course the decision is easy. You have the nut flush on an unpaired board at the river and it's bet to you. You raise, of course. But wait a minute! Is there somebody behind you yet to act? Maybe you should just call and try to get an overcall. And, by the way, just how much should you raise? Even if there is nobody else in the pot but you and the bettor, you need to consider just how big a raise he is likely to call. If you bet too much he may not call. If you bet too little you may not get as much out of the hand as you might.
You might say, Whoa, not everybody at the top plays this way. Surely Johnny Chan, for example, in his prime did not stop and figure out every angle before proceeding. He acted and reacted with lightning speed. Yes, but that is only because he had already figured out all the angles, had added them up and totaled them, so to speak as he went along; and when his opponent acted or he saw the next card, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. Instantly, and perhaps somewhat unconsciously.
The "natural" player as opposed to the "scientific" player considers the same factors before acting, but he or she may put a different emphasis on certain values. The natural player may value position more than the scientific player (or it could be vice-versa), but regardless both players take into account the very factors that Harrington delineates before acting.
One thing that really made me sit up and notice is that Harrington's theory about profitable player styles includes not only his fairly conservative style, but the "aggressive" style and the "super-aggressive" style. His main point is that the more aggressive your style, the more alert, intense and sharp-witted you have to be. Wild players CAN win, but they have got to be able to read both the action and the other players extremely well since they are often walking the razor's edge.
Bottom line: Harrington's mastery of the game and his clear instruction make this a mandatory read for the aspiring tournament hold'em player.
There is an old adage that says sequels are never as good as the original. For the most part this saying holds true but then there is the exception. Back in 1974 a sequel came out that broke the mold of how a second movie was expected to turn out. There will be endless discussions regarding which of the 2 films was superior, but there was no denying that when the second film was made, it not only was a success, but one of the greatest movies ever made.
That film was The Godfather, Part II
With 'Harrington on Hold'em Volume II: Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments: Endgame', Action Dan has managed to make the impossible possible. He (along with Bill Roberte) have written a sequel so good that it is hard to distinguish the two books and easily point to a reason why the first book is better than the sequel.
With the focus being how to play the middle to end stages of a tournament, Harrington has written a book that even the most experienced of players will be able to profit from. My favorite 2 points made in this book are as follows:
1. The concept of M and why it is so important to always know where your stack is in relation to the antes and blinds.
2. When heads up, nearly any 2 cards are worth playing and you are never that far behind.
I really hope that Dan Harrington doesn't sell a lot of these books, because anyone that reads, learns, and follows the advice within is going to become a much better poker player. Employing a writing style that makes even the most difficult concepts easy to understand and follow, the end result is incredible.
I said it when I reviewed the first book, these are the most important poker books written since Doyle Brunson's Super/System which came out in the 1970s, and it is REQUIRED reading for ALL Hold 'Em players.
Wonderful, wonderful poker book by one of the best players in the world.
***** HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION
on June 8, 2005
I would just like to say that I have read over 14 books on poker, won tournaments, and I was fortunate to be in the 2003 WSOP.
That said, I read this book and realized that I still have a LOT of holes in my game REGARDLESS of my playing style.
I learned that I haven't been tracking my opponent's betting patterns as much as I should be. I learned that I have been giving my opponent's proper odds to make calls in certain situations because I didn't pay enough attention to the money in the pot. I learned how to apply some of the lessons in Theory of Poker to NLHE Tournaments (i.e. make your opponents make mistakes) thanks to the examples/problems/exercises in this book. I wasn't making enough calls pre-flop because I was too focused on staying alive in the tournament (because of Cloutier/McEvoy books which I will discuss next) instead of looking at pre-flop pot odds. I wasn't paying enough attention to what players thought of me to use that at different stages of the tournament.
I have a lot of the Cloutier/McEvoy books and one of their main points in surviving a tournament is to throw pot odds out the window because you can get busted out of a tournament on any given hand. Basically: Don't play hands like J-10 suited or 9-8 suited in the blinds or late position in a tournament even if it's only $20 more to call an early position raiser with $10-$20 blinds because those are chip-burners you'll need later to double up when you have AA or KK.
Harrington claims that Pot Odds are Paramount. Page 375. And I believe him now. While I have had success playing big hands and big pairs, I have always realized that I need to loosen up my starting requirements, but now I realize HOW to loosen up my starting requirements IF Pot Odds are favorable to me and I won't be making a "mistake". (As always, "it depends" on a lot of factors before you play these hands) It's not that I didn't play the occasional K-J suited or Q-10 suited for another bet, it's that I wasn't even THINKING about how I was getting great odds pre-flop. Poker is a thinking game, and I see that I need to do a lot more thinking when I'm playing.
When I have won tournaments or done well, the stars and planets were pretty much in alignment. The AK beats the pair, the pair beats the AK. But that doesn't happen often enough to justify entering the number of tournaments I entered in 2003. I had holes in my NLHE Tournament game that I can take care of now thanks to this book.
I've read SuperSystem, Theory Of Poker, Championship Series, Tournament Hold 'Em by Sklansky, and a whole bunch of other books and they all had a lot of great information. I honestly thought this book would be more of the same, but it wasn't.
I learned in Harrington's book how to use what I've learned in those other books (particularly Theory Of Poker) and how to open up my starting hands quite a bit.
No Limit Tournaments will always be big money tournaments, at least for the next 100 years. If you're going to play in those tournaments, I recommend that you get this book and hold it in the same esteem as the other poker "classics" because this one holds it own with SuperSystem, Theory Of Poker, and the Championship Series.