Review: Play Poker Like A Pigeon (And Take The Money Home)

1 Star, Book Reviews

October 18, 2007

Author: Anonymous

Publisher: Lyle Stuart/Kensington

Given the hordes of formulaic books published on poker in the last decade, it’s nice to see the occasional book that breaks out of the mold and goes a different directions. Such books have a tendency to be either very insightful or steaming piles of crap. This one happens to be both at once.

Written by an anonymous mid-limit pro, PPLaP is based on the following premise: the best way to make a lot of money at poker is to avoid big time poker altogether. Instead:

  • play in backwater casino games with weak opposition
  • pretend to be a total sucker, while actually playing pretty decent most of the time
  • stick to limit holdem

Mr. Anonymous claims that all the players who give off the image of taking the game seriously are doing themselves a horrible disservice by announcing to the world that they know how to play. This is not precisely an innovative concept – pool and golf hustlers have long gone to great lengths to convince anyone and everyone they’re a total sucker as a means of scaring up favorable action. So why is no one doing this in poker? Good question. Actually, if Mr. Anonymous is to be believed, this is exactly his modus operandi. Playing and acting so as to convince your opponents you’re incompetent is the central point of the book.

I found Mr. Anonymous’ take on the psychology of appearing to be a pigeon quite insightful. For example, he pegged Steve Dannenman (the 2005 WSOP ME runner up) as the perfect example of someone who just radiates ‘sucker’ and suggest players who would disguise their skills should duplicate some of his mannerisms. In my opinion, that’s just brilliant. Who could look at Dannenman and decide he was a shark? No one obviously. Mr. Anonymous has some great tips on dressing & and acting the part of a none-too-bright tourist.

Sadly, Mr. Anonymous didn’t stop with the psychology and fashion advice. If he did, I could happily give the resulting pamphlet-sized book 4 stars and move on. Instead he goes on to give playing advice for limit holdem. Some of this advice is pretty solid (for example his admonition not to play dominated hands behind a raise is gold) but some of it is incomprehensibly bad. Quite literally every time he states or computes the odds for something he makes a mistake. Sometimes the mistakes are small and the results are usable (and maybe even a legitimate estimate), but most of the time the mistakes are bafflingly weird and the resulting numbers are massively off the true values – often by a factor of two or more – not the kind of <5% error that’s a mark of good approximation.

After giving advice on how to play “correctly” Mr. Anonymous goes on to suggest plays that you can use occasionally to convince your opponents you’re a sucker, and do so at a reasonable cost. Some of these are brilliant – play the worst imaginable trash in EP for a single bet looking for two pair or better, and if you miss, fold and “accidentally” flip the cards face up as you fold. He even discusses the correct technique for getting the cards to flip over in a natural way. For somewhat less than one small bet in expected cost you manage to convince the entire table you’ve never read a poker book in your life. This has to be the perfect holdem analog to the raise with air, rap pat, and call/check after the draw play that Mike Caro advocated for the same purposes in draw poker.

Other plays he advocates are not nearly so clever. His claim that you can use 4th street check-raises to convince others you’re an idiot is questionable at best. Some recognized experts even claim the line he suggests is correct play. Suffice to say a play that might even be correct isn’t going to go very far in convincing your opponents you’re a pigeon.

At the end of the book Mr. A throws in four topics that aren’t really related to playing the fool, but that apparently he find interesting. First, he’s opposed to making plays based on physical tells. I don’t think his advice on this front is particularly correct or valuable. Second, he’s of the opinion that internet poker is corrupt. While I think he exaggerates here, he’s basically right that online poker sites are effectively unregulated and likely run by crooks. Hopefully recent events have convinced everyone that poker site management cannot be trusted. Third he provides some practical bankroll advice that’s both amusing and probably as good as anything else you’re going to get. Last he goes on to provide some questionable NL & tournament advice (even though he claims not to play them) and the advice is predictably questionable. For example, he doesn’t seem to understand that variance in NL can be radically reduced by buying in for less than your whole bankroll.

All in all this books has a killer concept and a lousy execution. I can’t in good conscience give anything with this many mistakes and so much bad advice more than one star. But the core idea has me thinking he’s on to something.

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