Review: Ace On The River

4 Star, Book Reviews

August 20, 2007

Author: Barry Greenstein

Publisher: Last Knight

There’s a lot of debate on the internet as to the value of this book. The Amazon reviews, for example, are less positive than for most poker books. However, I feel this book is more valuable than it initially appears for the audience that it targets, as I’ll explain shortly. Ace On The River contains an odd mix of material – a short memoir of Barry Greenstein’s playing career, discussion of a large number of poker topics outside the play of actual hands, and some example hands from a variety of games with commentary from Barry about why he played them the way he did. There is also substantial filler material – full color glossy pictures of various Vegas landmarks (without captions) and some tables in the back that appear correct, but not necessarily that useful. The book, if published in a more conventional format and with only the main text, would be about 150 pages long instead of 300+. The price of the book is also somewhat inflated by the expensive printing.

I said I would discuss the audience of this book. It’s advertised as an advanced guide to poker, but you have to understand what Barry means by that. He’s stated previously that he’s not a reader of the poker literature. He says he surveyed some of it before writing Ace on the River but claims to have read only a few poker books prior to that and to have developed his game by other means. While I don’t advocate his approach to learning the game, it’s pretty clear that Ace on the River is targeted at people who learn like him or at the very least have already learned how to play a fairly decent game of poker. He is NOT making an attempt to teach you how to play poker. What he’s teaching is how to get the most out of your poker playing – how to translate skill into dollars. He also provides some thought provoking example hands to think about, but they’re not the meat of the text.

One of the ideas that Barry focuses on is what he calls “management” – not in the business sense of the word or the “money management” sense, but in the baseball field manager sense. Analogies between poker and sports always worry me because I find the parallels often don’t run particularly deep, but I think this one is highly accurate. A baseball field manager’s job is to create a situation where his players’ ability produces the best possible results by manipulating roster, strategy, batting order, pitch selection etc. The same kind of situation exists in poker when played for big money – aspects such as game selection, sleep schedule, money management, travel, home life etc. have to be coordinated correctly in order to translate raw poker ability into cash. Of course the parallel to baseball is not perfect – in poker a player is his own manager and doesn’t (usually) have anyone else looking out for his best interests in this regard.

Ace on the River is one of only two books I’m aware of that tackle this managment problem as the main focus of the book. The other is Mark Blade’s Professional Poker. The two, however, approach the topic very differently. Barry is speaking to the aspiring poker star who wants to land in the big games and make millions. Mark is writing to the aspiring 15/30 grinder. Realistically Mark’s audience should be far larger as his is the more attainable goal. However, a lot of players have big dreams and Barry’s there to help them.

For his target audience, Barry provides an awful lot of useful information. While I can’t vouch for the accuracy of everything he says, I do believe he’s basically correct across the board. Assuming he’s not lying to the reader (and I highly doubt he is) then this is a picture of his thoughts on management. Even the memoir is really a series of management lessons in disguise. And his skills in that area are undeniable – he’s made the pinnacle of both the cashgame and tournament poker worlds in the modern era, something no other player has achieved. That suggests to me that his advice needs to be taken very seriously. I can find minor fault with this books’ organization, marketing, and cost, but not with the content. If you’re a winning player planning on following in Barry’s footsteps to the big game, this is essential reading. For everyone else, it’s interesting but not required.

Rating: 4 stars

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