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Review of Gus Hansen Book Every Hand Revealed

His New Book is Now Available Through Card Player's Online Poker Store

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The CardPlayer.com poker store is pleased to offer Card Player columnist and blogger Gus Hansen’s new book, Every Hand Revealed. Hansen reveals the true method to the madness that has won him more than $5.6 million from taking down four World Poker Tour titles and the Aussie Millions main event.

Here is a sneak-peak of the review by Tim Peters that’s set to run in the next issue of Card Player magazine:

When Gus Hansen sits down at the poker table, we've learned to expect the unexpected: the monster call, the any-two-cards bluff, the (seemingly) outrageous value bet. But "unexpected" should not be synonymous with "crazy." In fact, after reading Hansen's fine new book, you may be reminded of Hamlet in Shakespeare's great tragedy. As Polonius says of the prince's erratic behavior, "Though this be madness, yet there is method in't."

There is a great deal of method in the Great Dane's apparent madness, and Every Hand Revealed, his wire-to-wire chronicle of his $1.2 million score at the main event of the 2007 Aussie Millions, should convince the poker world that Hansen is entirely sane — and a truly brilliant poker player.

The book articulates no overarching theory and very few generalizations. Instead, it takes an entirely different tack to explaining poker strategy: "All the hands that I played are turned face up and every decision I made is explained in my pursuit of the title," Hansen writes. There's a little prose to introduce and recap each day, but most of these 384 pages are devoted to specific hands and situations: the cards he was dealt, his actions and those of his opponents, and the reasoning behind his decisions.

What emerges is a powerful portrait of what successful poker is really about: a series of decisions based on (inevitably) incomplete information. Hansen used a recorder to take notes (see interview below for more details) after each hand, and they go far beyond the mechanics of the action. We learn about opponents and their capabilities, about recent actions and how they might affect the current hand, about the potential of the bubble (particularly profitable for an aggressive player like Hansen), and about opportunities, like the last few hands of the day or just after the blinds and antes increase.

Over and over, we get to experience Hansen's decision-making process: the good, the bad, and the ugly (like when he turned over what he thought was ace high which turned out to be the nut flush). It may be easy to be honest after taking down a huge title, but Hansen seems very up front about his mistakes. As he readily acknowledges, sometimes you make a wrong decision and get a good result, sometimes you get make the right decision and get burned, and sometimes you make the right decision and win the pot.

It's a cliché to say that poker is a game of situations, but few books have demonstrated the truth of that adage more powerfully than Every Hand Revealed. That said, Hansen does articulate his core poker philosophy: "My kind of poker requires constantly attacking your opponents, constantly accumulating chips, constantly keeping track of pot odds and winning percentages, and constantly gearing up as blinds and antes increase." That's easy to say and easy to understand, but it's still hard to execute. This book shows you how one pro executes, hand by hand, moment by moment. (Aggression certainly paid off in Melbourne: Hansen won 70 pots (from a total of 329 hands he played) uncontested.)

The prose is competent without being brilliant, but that's quite an accomplishment for a native Danish speaker. And I wished for a little more color about the event, a bit more sense of the drama involved in going from $20,000 chips to nearly $15 million to capture the title. But that's just my greed as a reader talking. This is a unique glimpse into the thought processes of a unique player; Gus Hansen has made a rich contribution to the literature of poker with Every Hand Revealed.

A Q & A Session With Gus Hansen

Just a few days after his oh-so-close second-place finish in the World Poker Tour Championship at Bellagio, Gus Hansen took some time to speak with Card Player about his new book.

Card Player: What prompted you to write a poker book and how did you arrive at this hand-by-hand approach?

Gus Hansen: I’ve been thinking about doing a book for quite a while, maybe the last four or five years. I worked a little bit on a “normal” approach, a strategic book like Dan Harrington might write, but then I thought about recording my sessions. I thought it might help me in the “big game,” and then I thought that recording an entire tournament could make a good book. Of course, it took some luck; no one’s going to want to read a book about a tournament in which you finish in 59th place.

CP: Did you have a specific reader in mind as you wrote?

GH: Every Hand Revealed is really for everybody who wants to learn about tournament poker. You can read it if you’re a beginner and get an idea of what it takes to win a tournament, but there are also aspects of my game that will be valuable for more experienced players.

CP: You write in your book about the problems with some of today’s strategy books: too theoretical and too cautious for beginning players. Can you talk about the proper role for poker books for aspiring players?

GH: I’m not a big reader myself. Of course, I’ve gotten some input from books, but I wouldn’t say any of the books I read had the same impact as actually discussing poker with friends. That’s probably had the biggest impact on me.
In poker, nothing is written in stone; there’s no one way to play that's always correct. Books are really good for giving you some new input, some new ideas, but then you have to work those ideas over in your own head and ask yourself, “Can I use this? Is this going to fit into my style of play?”

Actually, the reason I have my own unique style is because I don't take anything for granted. Just because 10 poker players tell me that you are supposed to check-raise if you have a specific hand, I'm saying, “Why do you have to check-raise? Why not just bet out or do something different?”

CP: The portrait that emerges of you in Every Hand Revealed is aggressive but certainly not crazy, despite your image from television. How true is the “crazy Gus Hansen” image?

GH: As far as I'm concerned, it's a label that’s been exaggerated, promoted by TV. People see me play 4-2 offsuit, then bet on the turn and river with 4 high, and they say, “He must be totally crazy.” Usually, there's a reason behind my play. I might be thinking I can get away with stealing the blinds and the antes, and I might be thinking I can get away with a crazy bluff.

CP: But that kind of play could also be described as aggressive, not crazy.

GH: To have success in poker tournaments, you have to be aggressive, you have to take charge, and I make this point several times in the book. Sometimes you take charge with the best hand, which is obviously preferable, but you can't always have it. Basically, to keep your opponents off guard, you have to throw in a little decoy once in a while. When TV prefers to show that decoy, that's the label that gets put on you. In my world, it's “crazy madman,” but as I said, usually there's a reason behind it — or at least somewhat of a reason behind it. Of course, sometimes I step over the line and it becomes utterly absurd and way too crazy, but then again, if you have to make an error in tournament poker, make the error on the aggressive side.

CP: Is the book going to change the way people view you?

GH: I would think the book would favor the less crazy version of me. But the mark of a truly good player is the ability to adapt to the environment surrounding him. If people are going to view me as more of a normal player, maybe I will go back into an utterly crazy mode again, because they'll be expecting a more conservative, more calm Gus Hansen. It actually pays off to go out on a limb and do some crazy stuff, which I was more prone to do in the beginning of my career. I was definitely more crazy back then than I am now.

CP: Obviously, Every Hand Revealed is about a major live event. What are some of the differences between live and online tournaments?

GH: People are more cautious in live tournaments, especially bigger buy-in events. They’re thinking, “I don't want to make a silly mistake, calling off all my chips.” In Internet tournaments, it’s aggression, aggression, aggression, and you don’t have to hold back, because people don’t remember you; you’re just a screen name.

I believe that’s why a lot of the young Internet players don’t have their foot on the brake. If no one remembers who you are, you can afford to keep up the aggression. But when people know your face, and know that you’re playing full speed ahead, they’ll find a way to call you down.

CP: The late Chip Reese wrote an introduction to your book. Tell me a little about your relationship with Chip.

GH: I knew Chip Reese since I first got to Vegas about 15 years ago. He was a very good friend of mine, and I’ve known his family and his kids since they were very small. Chip’s family was his life, and even while he was creating his life in Vegas, while he was becoming a poker legend, he was always a family man. … He was very important to me as a friend, but also as a mentor. As I mentioned earlier, discussing poker with friends is an important part of improving your game. I think I learned a lot from him, and I think I probably taught him a little about this new, modern version of poker.

CP: You are very busy these days with your responsibilities as a Full Tilt pro, your website www.theplayr.com/en/, and promoting your book. What’s next for you as a poker player?

GH: I’m very focused on tournaments at the moment, especially with the World Series coming up and a changed schedule with more high buy-in tournaments.