A Poker Player's Education Part 1
Sept 14, 2005  
by Jason Kirk  

A solid poker player facing you across the table is not just an opponent, he's the end result of a lot of different processes meshing together. The most obvious of these is gaining experience at the tables. You have to put in thousands of hands if you want to be able to make good decisions in difficult situations when the money is on the line, and there's no substitute for experience in the toughest situations. Money management is another contributing factor. The best play within their bankrolls and if they go broke it's because they hit extreme variance at the wrong time - not because they played over their heads. The final process, one too many players ignore, is education. There's no formal training program for poker, but most solid players have taken the time to study up to give themselves every possible advantage. Here are some starting points for improving your game in general, and some specifically for hold'em players.

General Poker

Most of the basic tools a serious poker player needs come from a working knowledge of the concepts presented in David Sklansky's Theory of Poker. Pot odds, effective odds, implied odds, free card plays, and semi-bluffs are among the topics covered in what's probably the best textbook on poker that doesn't cover a specific game. Even if you're one of those people who doesn't think Sklansky is the world's greatest poker mind, you ought to know Theory of Poker inside out for one reason: the best of your opponents do.

Bob Ciaffone's Improve Your Poker is a great work for anyone looking to adjust their mindset toward the game. This collection of short essays is aimed at players who are already familiar with poker but wants to improve. It focuses on how top players think while at the poker table and on the techniques they use.

If you play live poker at all, you need Mike Caro's Book of Poker Tells. Any discussion of tells you've ever seen probably has its roots in this classic work from the "Mad Genius of Poker" - it's the definitive guide to picking up information from your opponent's body language.

Limit Hold'em

The start of any good hold'em players game is a good pre-flop strategy. The best one around is the work of Abdul Jalib, and it can be found here.

Two books from 2+2 Publishing cover the limit game about as thoroughly as any other work available. Small Stakes Hold'em, by Ed Miller, is the best book around for strategies that can crush the loose, low-limit hold'em games you'll find at any casino or online poker room. Once you've mastered that material, David Sklansky's Hold'em for Advanced Players is the definitive, detailed work on how to play winning hold'em at any level.

No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold'em

The starting point for anyone who wants to be a no-limit hold'em champion is Super System. It's easy to see why Brunson is one of the all-time poker greats when you read his matter-of-fact descriptions of the virtues of aggression. This is the book that taught anyone who began playing poker after 1980 - and everyone who came after ought to be aware of the strategies it describes.

Tom McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier's Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold'em has long been the reliable standby for high-stakes no-limit tournament players. There are very few descriptions of the classic tight aggressive style as good as this, and even fewer books that address pot-limit hold'em in any respect at all.

Harrington on Hold'em, Vols. I and II, are two books that have become the new standard textbook for no-limit players. While specifically geared toward tournament players, most of the concepts in these two volumes apply to cash game play as well. Harrington's advice is easy to read, thorough, and even describes how to use styles other than those usually employed by the author. This is another work that every hold'em player should own, if for no other reason than that his opposition does.

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