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Poker Authors Analyzed

Part III: Dan Harrington

by Rolf Slotboom |  Published: Jun 01, 2007

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 site,

About three years ago, a new Two Plus Two book came on the market: Harrington on Hold'em. Most Two Plus Two books up to that point had been written or co-written by David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth, and almost without exception, these books ranged from more than decent to very good. When Harrington on Hold'em was released, it was clear that this new book (by a person who is accomplished as a player, yet relatively new as a writer) quite clearly belonged in the "very good" category. While up to that point not many great or even good tournament books had been released by any publisher, Harrington's book was exactly that: well-written, accurate, and in-depth. Right away, the book was the new standard when it came to strategic aspects of successful tournament play.

Quite frankly, this surprised me, as previously, I had never seen any articles or columns by this author. Also, I was aware that Harrington had a bit of a reputation of being a nit, and in the eyes of some, he perhaps played a bit "too tight," "too scared," or "too predictably." (I had no firsthand knowledge of that - as I had never played with him before, or even met him.) For these reasons, I didn't expect a book that would be much different from the advice in, say, Tom McEvoy's Tournament Poker.

But how wrong I was! In this first book, Harrington showed a very high level of thinking, a good awareness of the image that he projected and how he could take advantage of it, and a good knowledge of the strategies that some of the other, perhaps slightly more "crazy," tournament stars are using. And in his second book, he even took this one step further. He enriched the poker world with terms like M and Q, made everyone aware of the strength of continuation bets and how to counter them, and came up with some excellent examples of squeeze plays. In short, his book was the definitive work on poker tournament theory. He went against the common wisdom that prevailed at that time that stated you should usually fold hands like 7-7 or 8-8 against big reraises, out of fear of being "just about even money or a 4-to-1 dog," by showing that in some situations, you should make these calls. I also thought it was excellent that he almost always took into consideration in his decision-making process about a 10 percent chance that his opponent was bluffing or did not have the hand he was representing - an assumption that before Harrington was not automatically made.

All three Harrington on Hold'em books are well over 400 pages, and at just $29.95 each, they are a true bargain. I believe Harrington on Hold'em III: The Workbook is easily the best quiz book available at the time of this writing. Just as the Sklansky/Malmuth books in the "For Advanced Players" series had been gospel for many years and for so many players, so have Harrington's works changed tournament poker like no others before them.

Of course, not everything about Harrington's books is great. For one, I believe that there is more value in trying to win tournaments than reach final tables, and the books don't really cover that well enough, in my opinion. Also, I think that the books may be a bit too tight, with too little emphasis on circumstantial factors. And finally, rarely if ever does Harrington recommend any kind of big move without the backup of at least a decent hand - while the absolute top players do sometimes risk their tournament lives even if they don't have anything, simply because they smell weakness and know that the opponent almost certainly cannot call.

Notwithstanding these slight points of criticism, all three Harrington on Hold'em books deserve to be in every poker player's library. And Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie should get full credit for all of the time and effort they put into not just writing some decent books that they knew would sell well, but producing works that would truly help readers become much better players.

Next issue: Phil Hellmuth.