Monday, February 23, 2015

The Thinking Poker Diaries, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 - A Review

The market for poker books is drying up. After "Positively Fifth Street" and the Chris Moneymaker generated poker frenzy of the early 2000s the general public's interest in reading about and learning about poker has waned considerably.

If you got on the bandwagon early or were there already and had your work resuscitated (a la Doyle Brunson's "Super System") you had a good run. Your books pushed the other ones out of the "games and puzzles" section of Barnes and Noble and had multiple shelves to themselves. 

 I bought into the hype hoping to lose myself in the world of poker and maybe even win a few bucks. My home bookcase still has a shelf or two filled with the worn, dog-eared copies of a few of my favorites:

* "Tournament Poker for Advanced Player," by David Sklansky
* "Killer Poker Online," by John Vorhaus
* "Hold'em Excellence," by Lou Krieger
* "Play Poker Like the Pros," by Phil Hellmuth, Jr,
* Winning Low Limit Hold'em," by Lee Jones (still my absolute favorite)

Along with the "how to" books came a few books that were more about the poker scene or the poker "life" than about the game itself. A few of these, too, had been around before the bonanza and were very worth reading:

* "Big Deal," by Anthony Holden
* "Poker Nation," by Andy Bellin
* "The Biggest Game in Town," by A. Alvarez, along with Jim McManus' "Fifth Street" my favorites of this genre.

Andrew Brokos' series "The Thinking Poker Diaries: Stories and Strategic Thoughts from Poker's Premier Event" is a combination of both these types - how to books and poker life books. I've read Volumes 1 and 2 and the 3rd has just come out and I am sure I will read that one too. 

What I like about these books (I read both of them on Kindle) is more the feeling you get while reading them than what is being said. For sure Mr. Brokos knows what he's talking about. Anyone who finishes in the money multiple times at the WSOP is worthy of a listen. If you are looking for strategies for playing various levels of tournament action you will find it here. He offers advice on bluffing, playing short stacks, playing on the bubble, and learning how to dominate at the table. He also gives play by play, blow by blow accounts of pivotal hands he has played - a gold mine for some readers, not so much fun for others. Good poker players have remarkable memories and who am I to criticize them for recounting hands that are meant to teach valuable lessons to novice players.

There is value in these books just for those things - instruction, strategy, nuance. But for me, the aura of these short reports is what I like best. I am sure they are called "diaries" for that reason. Mr. Brokos does not shy away from sharing his emotional attachment to the game, the pull it exerts on one's "normal" life, his failings and bad decisions which he readily admits and owns. The latter trait, a gift in my estimation, is far from the haughty, invulnerable tone of most other poker players and poker writers.

If you seek an easy read that will not leave you feeling like a dunce you should try these. They are available on Amazon in hold-in-your-hand versions or digitally for Kindle. (You can download a Kindle reader to your mobile phone, tablet or computer for FREE.)

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