December 27, 2010
The Theory of Poker
As previously noted, I
don’t have a good track record with online poker. I resolved that before
playing again (since I still have a little money online) I would read
David Sklansky’s The
Theory of Poker
(published by 2+2) through twice, take
notes and write a review. Hopefully somewhere in that process some poker
knowledge has seeped into my cerebrum.
The Theory of Poker was first published in 1987, long before the
domination of No
Limit Texas Hold’em in televised poker and the subsequent poker
boom. Thus it doesn’t focus on any particular form of poker, instead
providing examples from various types of the game. Having said that, in
my reading I concentrated on advice applicable to online Hold’em, as
that is what I play.
This book tackles poker from a very logical point of view informed by
maths (basic arithmetic - nothing too hard). There is reams of good
advice (I ended up with 8 pages of notes), all explained simply but
precisely. Much of the advice has caveats or exceptions, but this is
because poker is a complex and highly situational game. I felt I learnt
a lot reading this book, but the test will be if I play better now.
Below are my condensed notes - little reminders I will look over before
playing my next few games.
- Poker is about winning money, not pots. Try to maximise your winning
pots and minimise the losing ones. If you are playing with positive
Expected Value and
lose, don’t be concerned - it should even out over time.
- Know the Pot odds you are
betting as this often determines whether a call is worthwhile.
Knowing what odds your opponent is getting affects what your bet
size should be. Remember that pot odds can be decreased by more bets
to come (effective odds) and by larger winnings if your bet pays off
- You normally want to win the big pots straight away.
- You must have a strong hand to slowplay.
- If you have a hand worth calling, then it is probably worth a bet
(if you think you have the best hand then it is often best to bet).
Remember it is better to make a mistake on a bet than lose a pot.
- When deciding whether to bet, what are the odds you have the best
hand if called. Some hands will be folded.
is a useful technique - the best defence against it is often to
raise or fold.
- Drawing hands are better in loose games or those where the pot
increases greatly between rounds (implied odds) - as they are more
likely to pay off.
- Most people bluff too much. Normally best to bluff only after all
cards dealt. Try to bluff in a game
theory correct manner.
- Adjust your game to fit your opponents and the structure of the
- Consider the range of hands your opponent may have and eliminate
based on events. Use general categories (bad, mediocre, good or
great) rather than actual hands. Choose action that wins most and
- Against weaker players just play solid and straightforward.