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Poker Authors Analyzed

Part II: David Sklansky

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: May 01, 2007

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Editor's note: Card Player Europe Bureau Chief Rolf Slotboom has read just about every poker book available, and in this series of columns, he analyzes the work of several poker authors, one at a time. He analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of both the person and his products - whether it's books, DVDs, or just articles. Extensive reviews and ratings of individual books and DVDs can be found on Rolf's web site, www.rolfslotboom.com.

The "Foremost Poker Theorist" happens to be my favorite author. And it's not because he is always so nice and friendly - because, quite the contrary, he strikes me as being a bit unfriendly at times. But the advice that he provides is usually top-notch. For instance, his book The Theory of Poker is simply monumental. Even with all of the excellent books that have been published after this book (by the likes of Ed Miller, Dan Harrington, and Bob Ciaffone, to name but a few), The Theory of Poker is still without a doubt the book in the industry that explains and analyzes all modern poker concepts in depth.

But not just The Theory of Poker is monumental. Also, Hold'em for Advanced Players (co-written by Mason Malmuth) and Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players (co-written by Mason Malmuth and Ray Zee) have for many years been the leading books about both of those games. Despite the fact that both books are very good, a lot of the information in them has become more or less "common knowledge." Because so many players used to play exactly according to the recommendations in these two books, and because many players still do, reading them will not automatically give you an edge anymore; however, not reading them or not knowing the important concepts in them will definitely leave you behind.

Sklansky also used to be the author of my favorite column of all time, "Fighting Fuzzy Thinking." Some of his columns have been collected in books like Fighting Fuzzy Thinking in Poker, Gaming and Life, while the very analytical book Getting the Best of It - which is not just about poker, but also blackjack, sports betting, and gambling concepts in general - has his classic essay "The Eight Mistakes in Poker."

So, don't I have any points of criticism, then? Well, yes, certainly. For instance, almost all of Sklansky's books discuss limit poker, while no-limit seems to have taken over as the dominant betting form nowadays. Also, in his books, Sklansky often provides examples from games like razz, which are hardly ever played anymore. And a point of criticism regarding Sklansky, the Video is that it is both expensive and a bit dated.

In recent years, it seems that Sklansky has decided to adjust somewhat to the changes in preference when it comes to the most popular poker games. While he used to discuss almost strictly limit cash games, he has now also written books on big-bet play and even tournament poker. And while Sklansky will probably never write a truly bad book, I still don't like these attempts as much as his older works. Tournament Poker for Advanced Players, especially, seems to be somewhat thin when it comes to truly expert advice. Also, No Limit Hold'em - Theory and Practice (co-written by Ed Miller), while very good and rated 8 points out of 10 by me, seems to suffer from the problem that Sklansky's expertise is founded in limit play rather than no-limit. (Ed Miller and David Sklansky also produced the top-notch Small Stakes Hold'em - Winning Big With Expert Play, which focuses mainly on how to play in extremely loose games. I'll have more on this book later in this series, when Ed Miller is discussed.) Despite this drawback, this is yet another must-read book. So, as a serious student of the game, there can be no question that David Sklansky is the proper person to focus on when it comes to improving your game - if only because of this beautiful "Fundamental Theorem of Poker" that he wrote: 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.

While in the beginning this theorem truly boggled my mind, in time I truly knew the words by heart. In fact, I could quote entire pages of The Theory of Poker, simply because I had read the book so often. I suggest that if you are a serious student of the game, you will do exactly the same. Don't go for the easy way out by reading books on the same subject that are a bit "simpler" or "less analytical." If you are truly interested in improving your game, Sklansky is your man - despite some of the drawbacks and weaknesses that even he has.

Next issue: Dan Harrington. spade

Rolf Slotboom is a longtime professional, specializing in limit hold'em, pot-limit Omaha, and, more recently, no-limit hold'em ring games. He is the co-author of Hold'em on the Come, the author of the upcoming book Pot-Limit Omaha My Way, the commentator for the Eurosport EPT broadcasts, and the Card Player Europe bureau chief. He is the semiofficial 2005 Dutch Champion, and maintains his own site at www.rolfslotboom.com.