Review: Tournament Poker – 101 Winning Moves

3 Star

November 21, 2008

subtitle: expert play for no-limit tournaments

Author: Mitchell Cogert – website for the book

Publisher:  Self Published/CreateSpace

Since I took forever to review Cogert’s previous book, Play Razz Poker To Win, and he was still kind enough to send me an evaluation copy of his latest I figured I’d try to be a bit more timely.

Compared to the previous book, this one is on a topic a lot of people actually care about.  There’s no question that NL holdem tournament poker was responsible for the poker boom and it is the fomat the probably draws the most interest from new players.  Hell, my parents who do not know the first thing about holdem just got invited to someone’s little home tournament.  As such, beginner’s books targeted at this audience make a lot of sense.

Cogert structures this book much as you might expect given the title – it’s one hundred and one plays that one could make during a NL tournament.  Each play is given a simple title followed by usually about a page of discussion and examples.  Here are some sample moves:

  • The Isolation Play
  • Take Advantage of the Bubble
  • The Continuation Bet
  • The Delayed Bluff

and so forth.

Before I go on, I should provide a little background about my tournament experience.  Frankly, I HATE tournaments.  Well, OK, that’s not totally fair.  I just much much prefer cash game play.  When I do however occasionally get talked into playing a tournament, I tend to do quite well – I’ve won roughly 1/4 of the <$500 tournaments I bought into.  Maybe I’m some sort of tournament savant, maybe it’s positive variance, but it’s probably a combination of transplanted cash game skills and a disregard for money that sees me through.  In any case I should be upfront that I am not some sort of tournament expert.  Just successful. That said, I really struggled about how to rate this book, and in the end my 3 star rating was a compromise.

First, the positive. In my experience there’s a large class of players who play small buyin tournaments who just plain seem lost.  They have no clue what they’re doing, why they’re doing or why they’re doing it, and surprisingly don’t have any aspirations to win the tournament.  I’m not sure I fully understand why one enters a tournament without planning to win it, but that’s a separate issue.  The fact is, these people exist, and in small to medium tournaments they’re probably the majority.  I think for that group this book is perfect.  These players need two things: first, to grow a pair, and second to learn some of the basic moves of aggressive poker play.  This book can help with both.

I still remember the shock that was caused to the tournament scene when Harrington on Holdem came out, and everyone suddenly realized you could continuation bet.  The idea seemed obvious to me that it was often desirable to lean on people who probably also missed the flop, but the concept was clearly lost on lots of people up to that point because after those books came out I saw a lot more c-bets.  Cogert’s book has the potential to do the same things for a lot of other poker plays that may seem obvious to experienced players but are probably lost on a lot of beginners.  The book could perhaps be more accurately titled “101 Things That Your Opponents Do” – and in that sense, as a tour of the tournament poker scene it’s quite valuable in my opinion.

I should also mention that while self published this book is fairly well put together and very readable – an improvement over his previous book.

Now, the negative.  Frankly, I think some of the plays in here are really lousy.  I would single out the two variations on the “naked ace bluff” as an example.  For those not familiar, a naked ace bluff is when one bluffs on a 3-flush board while holding the ace of that suit but not another suited card. The idea is that since you hold a card needed to make the top flush, no one else can have it and thus your chances of bluffing will be increased.  It’s a concept stolen from PLO, and to a certain extent deepstack cash game NL holdem.  But I think it’s a mistake to put it here – your opponents will frequently, and correctly, call your bets in tournament situations without the nuts.That’s just a function of the stack depths – they’re too short to make a bet that represents the nuts, so your opponents rarely need the nuts to call.  This means that in effect holding the naked ace makes your bluff little if any more effective than it would be without the ace.  I don’t want to belabor the point and pick too much on two out of the 101 “moves”.  Rather I just wanted to point out that this is an example where I feel the reader is being given bad advice.  There are a few more – I didn’t like Cogert’s advice about showing up late at all, for example. A lot of true fish go bust in the first orbits, and I think you owe it to yourself to be in your seat trying to get your fair share.

I have a more general concern as well – even for the tips that are a good idea, I don’t feel Cogert did a sufficient job of explaining when to try the move, and when to lay off.  Most of these moves work well in moderation and in the right spot, but fail if used too frequently or in other spots.  My point is simply that some advice about when not to be aggressive is also in order.  That’s missing from this book.  In some ways this is another face of the previous complaint – Cogert seems to be showing you a whole much of “moves” without tempering the advice with much judgement either about the quality of the moves or when to apply them.

In summary, there wasn’t anything in here that I didn’t know about, but there was a lot of stuff that I don’t think a lot of my opponents in small, especially live, tournaments know about.  So just for exposure purposes, this book is very good.  But I think it needs to be read with a critical eye as I consider some of the ideas incorrect.

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