If you choose to play winning poker, you’ll have to rededicate yourself to that goal throughout your life.
You can’t ever let your game become stale.
The minute you think you know it all is the minute you will switch to a losing player’s mindset. Poker is a game that takes a lifetime to master; there is always more information out there that can make you a better player.
Books are a great resource to help you strengthen your skills. There are thousands of books written on the subject of poker and almost all of them will be able to teach you something.
Here are my picks for the best poker books – and not just books dedicated to strategy.
Top 13 Poker Books
1) Theory of Poker
This is the book that started it all, in a way. Two Plus Two Publishing is the biggest and best publishing company when it comes to poker- and gambling-related literature.
This book showcases many strategies and theories that had never been put to paper before. A must-read for any novice to intermediate poker player.
2) Harrington on Hold ’em: Expert Strategy for No-Limit Tournaments volumes I-II
The two best books ever written on tournament poker, by “Action Dan” himself. Learn how to play all the different stages of the tournament and how to adjust your play for each blind level.
Dan goes into incredible detail with strategies that made him the successful tournament player that he is.
3) Small Stakes Hold’em
Authors: Edward Miller, Mason Malmuth and David Sklansky
This is a book about Limit Hold’em that even a No-Limit player can benefit from. One of the most complete texts ever written for crushing low-stakes Hold’em this book will teach you the fundamentals to play any game and give you the tools to win.
4) Getting Started in Hold’em
Author: Edward Miller
This beginner book will teach you the fundamental building blocks that any solid game is built on. It is not advanced but should be the starting point for any new player wanting to learn Texas Hold’em.
5) Sit-and-Go Strategy: Expert Advice for Beating One-Table Poker Tournaments
Author: Collin Moshman
This is the best book on sit-and-go play ever written. If you play single-table tournaments, run (or navigate) to the bookstore now and pick this book up. It’s guaranteed to increase your ROI and make you a better player not only in sit-and-gos but in multi-table tournaments as well.
6) Every Hand Revealed
Author: Gus Hansen
In 2007 Gus Hansen outlasted 747 players for a $1.2 million win at the Aussie Millions to add to his four WPT titles and countless massive tournament scores.
In Every Hand Revealed Gus goes into amazing detail about over 300 hands that he played en route to victory. During the tournament Hansen could be seen whispering into his voice recorder after every hand. Here’s your chance to hear what he was saying.
7) Check-Raising the Devil
Author: Mike Matusow
Mike Matusow’s road to the top of the poker world was not a smooth one. From humble beginnings as a video poker degenerate to low limit poker player/ dealer to the Main Event final table to jail and back again.
In Check-Raising the Devil Matusow waives the fifth and tells all, whether it’s flattering or not.
8) Elements of Poker
Author: Tommy Angelo
This is a poker strategy book with no real poker strategy. Tommy Angelo doesn’t want to teach you to play poker, he knows you know how to play poker. He wants to teach you how to play your best poker. You can be the best player in the world when you’re on your A-game, but if you only play you’re A-game 20 per cent of the time you’re not going to be very profitable.
Conversely, a player that’s nowhere near the best in the world but consistently plays his A-game is always going to be profitable. Elements of Poker teaches you how to stay at the top of your game and ultimately become a better poker player.
9) Positively Fifth Street
Author: James McManus
In 2000 James McManus was sent to Vegas by Harper’s Magazine to write stories on women in the WSOP and Ted Binion’s murder. When he got there, however, he took his front money and entered a satellite to the Main Event.
He improbably went on to final table it and wrote a book detailing all three story lines. Positively Fifth Street is an improbable “only in Vegas” story that can’t be missed.
10) Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People
Author: Amarillo Slim
In a World Full of Fat People tells the tale of one of the greatest gamblers of all time. He beats a Chinese Ping Pong champion using Coke bottles for paddles. He beats Minnesota fats at pool with a broomstick.
He gets robbed at gun point more often than I can count. He wins the WSOP Main Event and he does it all and for higher stakes than you or I could even imagine. A book could be written about just one of these stories but Slim’s got a hundred.
11) Small Stakes Hold’em
Author: Ed Miller
Unless you’re playing Limit Hold’em you probably missed this book. However, Limit player or not, that would be a huge mistake. Small Stakes Hold’em is probably the best book for novice poker players.
It goes through everything you need to be a winning poker player: expected value, pre-flop hand ranking guides, adjusting for tight and loose games, odds, implied odds, everything. Even for players wanting to play No-Limit Hold’em this should be the foundation you build your game on.
12) One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall Of Stu Ungar
Authors: Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson
Stu Ungar was a lot of things. He was a father, a drug addict, a poker player, the best gin rummy player to have ever lived, a degenerate, and one of only two players to win the WSOP Main Event 3 times.
That alone would make for an interesting enough book but One of A Kind goes above and beyond and brings you the stories behind the stories. It’s gripping and heart-wrenching and you won’t be able to put it down.
Watch our short documentary on Stu Ungar right here:
13) The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King
Author: Michael Craig
In 2001 a billionaire banker by the name Andy Beal strolled into the Bellagio Poker Room. It didn’t take long before he was playing for the highest stakes in history. The games took place over a number of years, and each year Beal came back better and better.
But that didn’t stop a “corporation” of poker players from pooling their money and taking turns playing the Dallas billionaire heads-up with at mind boggling high-stakes ranging from $500/$1,000 to $50,000/$100,000 limit hold’em.
Michael Craig tells the story of an amateur who takes on the best in the world for the highest stakes ever. If that doesn’t make you read it nothing will.
How to Put the Advice in Poker Books to Use
Some of history’s greatest players and strategists have put their thoughts and poker secrets inside a dust cover. Any kid with a library card can grab these books and absorb the little intricacies and high-level thinking that go on in a pro’s head.
They can benefit from years of experience in just a few hours of reading. But it’s one thing to read a strategy book; it’s another to understand it. And it’s another thing altogether to truly accept and integrate the knowledge into your own game.
What’s Your Poker Skill Level?
Your skill level and general poker comprehension have to be taken into account when reading poker books. You have to remember that the players writing these books are typically very advanced ones and play with some of the world’s best players.
The strategies used to beat players like Daniel Negreanu aren’t directly transferable to the players in your weekly 25¢/50¢ game.
It’s not possible to make a read-based play on reverse implied odds if you don’t understand the concept of implied odds to start with.
Solving even the most simple calculus problems is impossible until you first understand algebra. Poker is no different: until you understand and truly master the very basic building blocks of the game, the advanced stuff is useless to you.
You can look at a calculus question and its answer, memorize it and never get that question wrong. But without knowing how to get from the question to the answer, if a single variable is changed you have no idea where to start.
You want to understand the reason for making a play rather than memorizing a specific situation to make it. Players who progress too quickly, skipping the basics, often know when to raise or just call. But they can’t tell you why they should raise; they just know they should.
If you don’t understand that that one specific raise you’re making is exclusively for value, you’ll never understand how to size that raise properly, depending on the player you’re extracting the value from. Or, even worse, you may not know when the raise would lose you money.
What Poker Game Are You Playing?
One of the best cash-game books available these days is Harrington on Cash Games, Volumes I and II. These books explain every aspect of cash-game play in a well-laid-out format with plenty of example hands to help drive home the concepts.
But unless you’re playing at the same tables as Dan the information isn’t directly transferable.
His books talk about raise sizing, explaining how you should be raising pre-flop typically from 3-5x the big blind. There are many games in the world where this simply doesn’t work.
Plenty of $2/$5 games out there have a standard opening raise of around $35 or 7x the big blind.
This is a standard raise, meaning it can vary. If you make a larger-than-average raise you’ll have to raise to $50 in this game as anything less is almost irrelevant. An opening raise of 10x the big blind completely changes the dynamic of the game.
If you’re playing $2/$5 with a $35 standard bring you’re actually playing a $5/$10 game with a short buy-in. The concepts that apply to a $2/$5 game don’t qualify since it’s playing one full limit higher, but the concepts for a $5/$10 game also don’t apply, because the whole table has bought in short.
Poker is never constant – the texture of the game will change from city to city, even from room to room. The ideas in books are absolutely worthwhile and greatly beneficial but they have to be taken as theory.
Use them to understand the reasoning and the route to the solution; don’t just follow the example plays mindlessly. Only once you understand why the author is telling you to do something, try to break it down and reapply it to the game you’re at.
Poker Theory Versus Poker Practice
You could sit down, read and reread every poker book ever written and understand the concepts of how poker works and the theories behind playing it. But this doesn’t mean that you will be successful your first time at the table.
Poker is a skill game based as much on practice as on knowledge.
If you take two similar players with the same amount of poker experience and have one of them read a stack of poker books, that player will come back to the table stronger than the other.
When the first great poker books hit the masses many pros were worried that the average skill level of players in the game would immediately catch up to theirs.
It didn’t happen exactly as they feared it might. Even though many players read the books almost no players had nearly as much experience as the pros.
In the end those with experience got the better of the new poker students. When the Internet came along you had kids seeing more hands in one month than the old pros had seen in their first few years at the tables.
With the Internet expediting the experience the new students of the game were able to put their book-learnin’ to use. As a result the combined influence of online play and access to poker books has substantially raised the average skill level of the common poker player. The more poker you play, the more books you should read, but without one the other is of little use.
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