Review: Hold’Em Poker for Advanced Players

3 Star, Book Reviews

July 28, 2007

Authors: David Sklansky & Mason Malmuth

Publisher: 2+2

Hold’em Poker for Advanced Players has been the single most recommended book for mid-stakes limit holdem play since it came out. It has substantial strengths and weaknesses, and the prospective buyer needs to take these into account before deciding whether to purchase it.

1) This is a book on LIMIT holdem. Using it for no limit is at best a crapshoot. It’s like using a ’62 Ford manual to fix a ’57 Chevy. Most of the pieces are the same, but how they fit together is different. If you play no limit holdem, and especially tournaments, you need to look at other titles. If you want to stay within the 2+2 book family, No Limit Holdem: Theory and Practice and the Harrington on Holdem Series are intended for cash game and tournament no-limit players respectively. Supersystem 2 would also be a reasonable starting point.

2) HPFAP is poorly written and organized. The editing was clearly low-budget. If that’s going to piss you off so much you can’t get value out of the book, then don’t buy it. However, since presumably the goal is to win money at poker, not read a Pulitzer-winning book, you may want to overlook these issues.

3) This book is not appropriate for particularly loose & poorly played games. If you play in some utter fishtank somewhere, buy 2+2’s Small Stakes Holdem instead. It’s specifically tailored to that sort of game. If you ignore my advice and play the strategies from HPFAP instead, you may still win money but you will have a VERY frustrating time doing it and you’ll probably end up wondering why your opponents aren’t behaving the way the book says they will.

4) This book comes from an era in gambling literature when “systems” were in. By a “system” I mean gambling advice sufficiently rules driven that it could be followed without understanding. This philosophy pervades much of the book, starting with the opening hand charts. They present a series of rules on what hands you would open. Of course, after the rules come the exceptions. And pretty soon the list of exceptions is longer than the list of rules.

In my opinion what Sklansky & Malmuth should have done instead was explain the reasoning of WHY you want to open hands in a certain way. If he did that, and provided some basic guidelines/rules, then you would be able to figure out the exceptions on your own because you’d understand instead of memorize. I recommend, especially for preflop play, that you read Jennifer Harman’s limit holdem chapter in Supersystem 2. Her explanation of what you’re trying to accomplish, and more importantly WHY, is much more sound.

HPFAP’s later street suggestions suffer from the same problem: instead of explaining the underlying concepts involved, Sklansky & Malmuth give rules for when you want to do what. And then 5 exceptions for the rule. And then don’t bother to explain their reasoning. By the time you have sufficient poker knowledge to read between the lines and deduce their underlying reasoning, you don’t need this book any more.

5) This book is no longer sufficient for high stakes play (say, 50-100 and up). The opposition has simply gotten better. Unfortunately, no one has explained modern strategy at that level in print, so there’s no real alternative. In other words, this is NOT a book about advanced play no matter what the title may say. It covers beginning and intermediate play in extreme depth. The coverage of “advanced” topics like short handed play is mostly bungled – I would not want to play short handed against strong opponents using the strategies contained within.

Now, if you’ve gotten this far, and all the caveats haven’t completely turned you off, this actually a pretty fair book. I don’t think it’s the best on the subject (that would be Ciaffone’s Middle Limit Holdem Poker).  However, it can take you from being a gawdawful limit holdem player to pretty decent if you can stomach memorizing all the advice. I strongly recommend that if you buy it, you also buy Sklansky’s Theory of Poker, since it contains much of the background explanation – the “why” to HPFAP’s “how.”

Rating: 3/5 stars

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