Raise or Fold:  Learning (From) Poker

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Why Do People Write Poker Strategy Books?

I admit at first I found it baffling. Why would you give away the gold? Why did Doyle Brunson write the first Super System, for example?

Well, he did sell each copy for upwards of $100 a pop, if I recall correctly. My guess is that he ended up making a decent amount of money from the books, although probably not much in comparison to his direct poker earnings.

These days there are a lot of other poker strategy books out there, of varying degrees of accuracy, usefulness, and depth. I suppose their authors make enough money from them for their publication to be worth the effort.

Still, presuming that the authors are also players: why educate your opponents? Wouldn't it make more sense to write a bad poker strategy book and lead people astray?

The consensus seems to be, however, that there are some genuinely good strategy books available. Presumably the folks who wrote them know they are good.

There really is only one possible explanation: even if you read and understand an excellent book, it is still extremely difficult to actually put into practice the advice it offers. So, in order to benefit from a strategy book, the following pieces must be in place: 1) the strategy it proposes must be good; 2) you must acquire and read it; 3) you must both be able to and actually do the work required to understand it; and, finally ~ and by far the most challenging item ~ 4) you must be able to execute the strategy consistently.

My guess is that a lot of people start failing around step 3, and that the vast majority of readers who master step 3 never actually succeed at step 4. Playing winning poker is hard, because although intelligence and knowledge are required, they are far from sufficient. There is a large array of other attributes and behaviors, experiences, habits, and attitudes that make a sound strategy effective ~ and that constellation is fairly rare even in the community of poker enthusiasts.

So go ahead: read the good poker strategy books. Unless you misunderstand or misapply their advice, it certainly won't do you any harm. But don't expect them to provide you with The Keys to the Poker Kingdom. It's just not that simple ~ as their authors surely know.

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Blogger Forrest Gump said...

1) Most of our opponent don't read poker books. They're lucky to know pot odds let alone know Sklansky bucks.
2) There's a great quote from TJ Cloutier about his books - 'I teach people to play right. I don't teach them to play like me'.
3) Poker is so situational the theory is only a very basic foundation. I think poker books are akin to reading how to play golf.

10/4/09 7:47 AM  
Blogger Jim Cheseborough said...

Yup, you nailed it. I heard some GREAT players giving this reasoning as for why the online training sites (Card Runners, etc..) are not killing poker as we know it.

Poker is an emotional game.
Your #4 and (and #3 to some degree) sum it all up.

#4: Execute the strategy consistently.
This is very hard to do.
Also it's scary to think you HAVE to do #4 for the rest of your working life (if you're a pro player). The authors want some other way to make money. They are qualified to write a poker book, so it makes sense even though they are giving precious (and rare) information away.

10/4/09 10:00 AM  
Blogger Dr. Pauly said...

Agreed. I have never read a poker strategy book that blew me away. However, the majority of the time, I walked away a bit smarter -- after a reiteration of concepts that I already knew or after devouring certain books particularly on a game (other than hold'em) that I don't usually play.

I always suggest that beginners read as many poker books as possible because it allows you to glance into the mind of the enemy. Some people are Sklansky disciples, Harringtonheads, and other swear that Super System is the bible. By reading those books and using your keen observational skills at the table, you can almost peg how a certain player might play if they "play by the book". There's your edge -- knowing what's written in your opponent's playbook.

10/4/09 11:08 AM  
Anonymous Erik said...

How about the simple answer? Revenue from books or promotions is easy money compared to the narrow profit margins of high stakes poker.

10/4/09 7:42 PM  
Blogger Mad William Flint said...

Another thing occurs to me: I could hand a novice bread baker the (bloody hard won) secrets to baking great bagels and still know that I'm completely safe.

Without the background to understand the tools, you're really not giving away the keys to the kingdom.

10/5/09 12:42 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

No one has even suggested that some people might actually enjoy the notion of sharing ideas about a game with others as a worthy end unto itself, without considering the potential profit or loss in one's own poker game that would result from it?

Though clearly the fact that royalties from book sales are about 1000x easier money than any poker winnings imaginable looms large in anyone's decision to write or post about winning poker strategies, I suspect that my suggestion is another big reason behind many of the really great poker books out there today. It's just a shame that nobody even conceives of this as an option.

10/5/09 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Erik said...

@ Hammer "nobody even conceives of this"

Clearly, your brain is operating on a much higher plane than ours. Now, can you explain to me in simple terms... What is this "joy from sharing ideas" you speak of? I am having trouble grasping the concept.

10/6/09 1:10 PM  
Blogger FkCoolers said...

For the same reason that people run online poker training sites - most of these people barely play the game anymore against the type of people who need to read these books so none of it matters. It's free money.

10/13/09 3:14 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

In hindsight, Doyle is a *genius* for writing Super-System. The more exposed poker becomes, the more that new fish will enter the pond. This is a game where experience and skill will win out in the end, but you have to have amateurs to feast on. By writing these books and publicizing the general strategies, Doyle and company have assured a long line of fish to feed off of for many years to come.

TV coverage and hole card cameras have the same effect, btw.

10/22/09 5:58 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Frankly, this is why I only write bad strategy posts. That, and the mathematically provable fact that I am a donkey.

10/24/09 1:33 AM  
Anonymous V said...

How many copies did Supersystem/2 sell? 1 million at least. It was - at least initially - self published. Even at $30, that's 30 million.

From tournaments, Doyle's lifetime earnings are 5.8 million - about 1/2 of which came from one big WSOP score.

Books educate, they may have cost him some money at the table. But ultimately he made a lot more from the book in immediate monetary compensation.

... and he made a TON more from the recognition he recieves because of the book. He is seen as the forefather of Holdem, invited and staked for everything under the sun, with lots of marketing opportunites thrown at him. I'm sure he wasn't the only good player playing in the olden' days - the diffrence is taht those other players made a little money and are now forgotten.

I don't think poker takes that much inteligence - that's something poker players tell themselves - but it does take a specialized skills that some people will never acquire or always have problems implementing.

10/28/09 6:06 PM  

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