Review: Harrington on Cash Games Volume 1

5 Star, Book Reviews

April 5, 2008

Subtitle: How to Win at No-Limit Hold’em Money Games

Author: Dan Harrington & Bill Robertie

Publisher: 2+2

Finally. Two plus two has put out two books on NL holdem cash games in the last few years. Sklansky & Miller’s No Limit Holdem – Theory and Practice was marginal. Profesional No Limit Holdem Volume 1 was a complete turd. Both were far inferior to what Doyle wrote in Supersystem. This created the absurd situation where the most popular poker game today had only one chapter in one book addressing it in a decent manner. Enter Dan Harrington to rectify the problem. As anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows, Harrington was responsible for a wildly (and deservedly) popular series of book on NL tournament play. He’s the only author reviewed on CardSharp who has consistently achieved a 5-star rating for his books – not an easy feat since I tend to be stingy with top ratings. Needless to say I was thrilled to hear he was tackling cash game NL.

The HoCG series assumes readers have at least an intermediate level of poker skill. The first section is devoted to a refresher on poker math and basic play, but it’s clear that Harrington expects some reasonable level of sophistication from the reader. Furthermore, Harrington more or less assumes that you’ve already read the tournament books, and doesn’t put a lot of effort into concepts that were presented there. In my opinion, this is good – the tournament books were huge sellers, and everyone already has their copy. Since NL cash game play is a very complicated topic, far more so than tournament play, it makes sense to keep as much repetitive material as possible out the book and send the readers off to find it elsewhere. The point is that this should not be your first poker book.

The HoCG series is roughly divided up by streets of play, with preflop and flop play in volume 1, and turn and river play in volume 2. This is only a loose division, however, as most of the examples in the book span entire hands. I’m glad that Harrington didn’t attempt to segment the material more as I think the effects of previous street play on future street play are under-analyzed in the poker literature.

Volume 1 puts a lot of emphasis on bet sizing, and the effects of various sequences of bets on how you do (or don’t) become pot committed with various hands. This is in many ways the same topics that appeared in Profesional No Limit Holdem, but there’s a key difference: Harrington doesn’t screw it up like the authors of the previous 2+2 tome did. He understands the importance of a fixed size preflop raise, and he understand that there is no magic bullet to avoid difficult postflop decisions. This is a breath of fresh air and clearly demonstrates the real advantage of this book: it’s written by someone who actually has played cash game holdem successfully. Harrington’s experience is in essence what you’re buying here. Too many other books, both from 2+2 and other publishers, seem to be written by folks with a very limited grasp of the game. Much of their advice is horribly dangerous against competent opponents. Not so here – you can be fairly confident that this advice is safe up to and including high limits.

As with the previous Harrington books, the real strength of HoCGs is the examples and problems. They’re well thought out, real hands with excellent discussions of decisions being made, alternatives, and underlying reasoning. Much of the teaching that goes on in the book is in the context of these examples/problems, and it’s an effective teaching method. Like all the 2+2 books since the original Harrington on Holdem, the examples and problems are presented in a format that’s easy to read with helpful positional graphics.

One thing many readers will find odd is that in the postflop play chapter Harrington puts a huge amount of emphisis on randomness and deceptive play. I think this is fine, but I do have one quibble: if you’re going to fold in a given situation half the time, and raise on the bluff half the time, it seems to me that your decision should largely be guided by who your opponent is and game conditions, not mechanical randomization. No point in bluffing a calling station just because the second hand of your watch says to do so. While Harrington makes this point himself in a place or two, I wish randomization was presented as subordinate to situational play rather than dominant to it.

There is one obvious problem with this book: typos. There are at least a couple of places where rather serious errors, like making cards the wrong suit, screw up an example or discussion. It’s usually possible to figure out what it was supposed to say, but for the price and likely number of these books sold, 2+2 could have hired a competent and poker savvy editor. Bad form. I’m sure someone will give me shit for being hypocritical because of typos on CardSharp, but face it – I give you info for free and 2+2 wants a steep $35 for their book.

That said, this is hands down the best book on cash game NL holdem ever written. Bravo, Dan.

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