Sunday, August 31, 2014

Two (in my humble opinion, not so great) Books

As we're often wont to do, my wife and I went out for a Saturday lunch yesterday, and then dropped by our favorite used bookstore in town on the way home. Then, as I'm often wont to do once inside said used bookstore, I made a path to the cards and gambling section. Usually, it's the same old tired stock on the shelves awaiting me there. Lots of copies of Poker for Dummies and Rules According to Hoyle and of course Hellmuth's "Play Poker Like the Pros" book (there, because most people evidently realize what crap the book is, and then try to recoup their investment by selling it back to the bookstore, in my humble opinion, that is... but I digress). More often than not, there's nothing new or that I don't already have on my own bookshelf...

..but yesterday was different. Two books not on my list* were sitting right there at eye-level, calling to me with glossy covers and slick titles:

A quick skim in the aisle of the store through both books looked promising, so I added them to my stack and headed to find my wife and the cash register. Hey, how wrong can you go for a couple bucks a book? Answer: somewhat wrong. Let me explain.

I brought the books home and then went through both with a somewhat more critical eye. Vorhaus' book, while seemingly chock-full of good material, is, well, kinda hard to read. In fact, it's really hard to read. He tries way to hard to be cute. I hate cute. Especially forced, look!-ain't-I-cute writing in what would otherwise be a good book. Vorhaus seems to be the master of this style of too-cute writing. Looking at the About the Author blurb at the back of the book, I now see that he's also written "The Comic Toolbox" and "Creativity Rules!" which might just explain the overabundance of cute in this book. Now, don't get me wrong; the book seems to have useful information in it, and I will read it, eventually, probably cover-to-cover, but I'll have to be in just the right frame of mind to do so. A little cute goes a long way with this bug.

But I'll take cute over inaccurate any day....

...which brings me to the second book I brought home. Matt Lessinger is a well-known player and online poker writer. I've enjoyed his blog postings in Cardplayer for years, so I was looking forward to reading this book about a somewhat unusual poker book topic (In my experience, there really aren't any other poker books purely on the topic bluffing on the marketplace. Weird.)

Anyway, I got home and anxiously opened the book and began skimming it-- and came to a screeching halt on the very first page of Chapter One, in which Lessinger writes that the Number #1 "Bluffing Proverb" to remember is:

"There are only two ways to win a pot: You can show down the best hand, or bluff with the worst one."

While the first part of this sentence is correct (i.e., there are indeed only two ways to win, one of which is you can show down the best hand), the second half of the sentence is wrong. You can indeed bluff with a worst hand and win a pot, but you can also win a pot by betting with the best hand and having your opponent fold. In fact, I've written about this any number of times before herein this blog (e.g., here, here, and here). The actual truism is there are two ways to win a pot: a) showdown the best hand; and b) have the other hands fold. That's it. Bluffing might be a way to achieve the second method, but it's not exclusively the second way to win a poker hand.

Now you might think I'm being overly hard on Lessinger. If the reader squints a little, then the Proverb is kind of close to truth, right? Well, maybe, but this kind of thing really bugs me. If you purport to be an expert on a subject matter, and people pay good money to you to have access to your expertise, and then on the very first page of the first chapter of your book you state something factually inaccurate and misleading (and actually do so in an emphatic, this-is-gospel fashion (he literally states that the reader needs to "understand," "remember", and "appreciate" this Bluffing Proverb)), there's a problem. A serious problem. Not only is the material factually incorrect, but it instantly casts a pall over anything else the author states in subsequent pages. Words matter. And if you're writing expert non-fiction how-to books like Lessinger's, you better damn well fact check and get someone to proofread the book before publishing it. This is sloppy writing, folks, and there's no excuse for it.

Thankfully, this Book of Bluffs only cost me a couple of bucks. New, it retails for $14, and if page one is any indication, it's not worth anywhere near that amount money. In my humble opinion, that is.

All-in for now...
*I keep a list of all the poker books I own on SimpleNote, where it's easily accessible to me via my smartphone when I'm wonting away in used bookstores. Simplenote is exactly what it sounds like: simple text notes, and it's perfect for lists and other info you need access to quickly, such as "Do I already own this book?" or "What's that damn combination to the locker at the fitness club."  As I've mentioned before, I use Evernote for the vast majority of my note taking and information gathering, but I also use SimpleNote for, uh, simple notes.


  1. lol I do the same. 63 titles now, mostly second hand. A handful have been read from cover to cover but the majority are either unread or partially read.

    Which books would you recommend as mandatory reading for learning players?

  2. Hi Rob. It's kind of hard to answer that question in just a comment. I'll take a stab at putting a list together in a proper blog post this week on my top 25 or so books.