Review: Read ‘Em And Reap

4 Star, Book Reviews

January 14, 2009

Author: Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins

“Presented by”: Phil Hellmuth

Publisher: (Harper) Collins

I will admit I was somewhat apprehensive about buying this book, and if Amazon hasn’t offered it to me dirt cheap I probably would have passed.  The reason for the apprehension is that Phil Hellmuth’s last effort, Play Poker Like the Pros, is somewhat of a running joke.  It’s just plain horrible and goes a long ways towards explaining why Phil can’t win at cash games.  Given all this I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see that Phil had taken another plunge into the world of instructional poker books.

The good news is that this book isn’t written by Hellmuth.  It’s written by a career FBI agent turned poker consultant.  And this is a pretty solid book. It’s very different from Mike Caro’s Book Of Tells (which was the only book of note on the subject up until now) in a number of ways.  Perhaps the most important difference is that the two focus on very different types of tells.  Caro focuses primarily on what I would call “acting” tells which he splits up into two groups: “strong means weak” and  “weak means strong”.  As you might imagine, these two types of tells arise when an opponent intentionally tries to deceive you about the strength of his hand, and as a result they always have the opposite of the apparent meaning. A guy who slams his chips “confidently” into the pot is anything but confident – he’s trying to scare you off with a bit of bad acting.

Navarro is targeting a different type of tell.  His tells are almost all more subtle, unconscious things that people do.  As such, they’re not reversed like Caro’s tells.  When a person does one of Navarro’s “low confidence” gestures, they really are worried and probably hold a weak hand.  Since they don’t know they’re doing the tell, they make no effort to deceive you.

One of the things I never liked about Caro’s book was that the players in his pictures never looked like any poker players I had ever seen – in addition to the absurd 70’s clothes they were stiff, wooden, and lacking in “natural” expressions and gestures.  One of the best things about Navarro’s book is that his pictures look real.  They actually aren’t – in each cause it’s the author “faking” a specific tell.  But he’s doing an incredible job of acting – they look exactly like the people I see at the table with the exception of the suit he’s wearing.  I’ve never seen anyone under the age of 65 or 70 play in a suit.  But otherwise his expressions and mannerisms are a spot-on replication of the ones I see at the table every time I play.  Furthermore, his observations closely match mine as to which behaviors indicate strength and which indicate weakness.

This book is quite good, and I recommend it not so much in place of Caro, but as a compliment.  They really cover different material.  The only bad thing about this book I should mention is that it contains what amounts to three different intros, one by each author and one by Hellmuth.  One would have suficed.  However it’s worth it to slog through them until you get to the poker material because that is worth your time.

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