About the book: The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky

David Sklansky, better known as “the mathematician” in poker circles, is an authority in the gambling world credited with numerous gaming publications. The book, The Theory of Poker, is an excellent book that guarantees its reader a well-chalked out operative in nearly every variation of poker. The book is less about providing a standard to-do method for every situation; rather it offers an approach to every situation presented on the poker table. The premise is rather simple – the author seeks to teach the reader how to fish and not serve the fish upfront.

The author puts forth concepts, approaches and strategies to be employed in five different variants of poker – Texas Hold'em, draw lowball, seven-card stud, seven-card draw, and razz or seven-card lowball. Just like the opening lines of chapter one, which describe poker as a game of utter simplicity, but beneath the surface a profound, rich game full of subtlety, The Theory of Poker too is reflective of this simplicity and profoundness.

One such wonderful insight that he offers with regard to the workings of an expert poker player is “Beginning poker players rely on big hands and lucky draws. Expert poker players use their skills to minimize their losses on their bad hands and maximize their profits on their big hands.”

Each proceedings chapter touches upon all the basic concepts of poker. The author breezes through poker logic, mathematical expectation, pot odds and bet sizes. The book provides some extremely useful insights such as how to focus on the big picture rather than individual pots, to not register a win for the sake of it or fight a bad game just to get even and how to make decisions when the information asymmetry is overwhelming.

The author then goes on to introduce the fundamental theorem of poker succinctly – “Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents' cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.” He then illustrates this central concept with umpteen number of examples that will drive home the concept. He offers a simple test to verify the correct application in the form of a single question.

The Theory of Poker then observes that all poker begins as a struggle for the ante and outlines in great detail the importance of ante. The following chapters outline the value of positions in each poker variant and the manner in which it must be leveraged, the method of calculating effective odds and the way to accurately estimate the implied odds. The author goes on to dedicate an entire chapter to the value of deception – the stage in the game it should be attempted, the situations that warrant the wanton use of these strategies and the circumstances when it should be avoided. The influencing factors such as size of the pot and bet size, strength of opponents etc. are examined and deconstructed in detail for the reader.

Merits and demerits of each position and how to adjust one’s play according to his or her position is something that the author discusses in great depth. He then goes on to clearly summarize the rules that one must keep at the back of his or her mind while betting or raising to drive opponents out, while check raising and while slow-playing. The author outlines the myth and reality of bluffing and also provides certain pointers for employing the Semi-Bluffs and Pure Bluffs effectively. Interestingly, the following chapter gives a detailed method of defending or deflecting a semi-bluff when one is at the receiving end of it.

One of the most important things that The Theory of Poker has to offer is that it frees the reader of a lot of myths and popular misconceptions. One such myth that the author destroys is – “you play tight in a loose game and loose in a tight game”. He goes one step further and provides an alternate approach to play such games based on the size of the ante, the opponent’s moves, the player’s own hand and his or her position on the table.

The Theory of Poker, while offering insight into the strategies that one must employ, also warns the readers of what he or she must not do. The author cautions all poker players to proceed with caution and not make mistakes that would cost him or her the entire pot. The Theory of Poker is directed at poker players who know the basics of the game (some may even be good players) and wish to delve deeper into the inner workings of the game. A careful read of the book would reveal some excellent tips to the reader and will generate rich rewards if applied properly. It goes without saying that the reader will not be able to play the flops, bets, raises in the same way after reading this book. The Theory of Poker is a gold mine of experience packaged and presented beautifully by one of the biggest figures that poker has ever seen, David Sklansky. A definite must read for all the poker players out there!

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