In 1979 Doyle Brunson released the bible of all poker books: Super System. It is a 624-page compendium of useful information, notably instructional on hold-em poker. It also has chapters devoted to different poker games such as 7-card stud, lowball, hi-low, and draw poker. Contributing authors include Bobby Baldwin, Chip Reese, Dave Sklansky, and Mike Caro. Caro also devotes a chapter and he has very interesting insights.

Since the recent atomic explosion of no-limit hold-em, many how-to books on poker have surfaced. Books that I would recommend are Harrington on Hold-em , Volumes 1 and 2, and Play Poker Like the Pros, by Phil Hellmuth. Both are instructional and will do much to advance the knowledge of the game. Zen and the Art of Poker, by Larry Phillips, deals with the psychological side of poker and is critical to have in the poker players arsenal of book weaponry.

These are five books that if studied, read, and re-read will go far in the development of a sound poker acumen.

I do caution the student that this will only serve as a foundation for a sound poker mind. The next step is to log in very important hours at the poker table. Live poker is preferred as poor habits can be developed by playing online. And live poker is the only way to learn how to read opponents and develop a "feel for the game." The great T.J. Cloutier said that every time he sits down at a table he tries to learn something about the game or the people he is playing.

It is interesting to note that after releasing Super System, Doyle Brunson had to alter his game strategy as many who read his book began to use Doyle's own methods against him. Just as with all other games, the pursuit of poker is a never ending one. Mike Sexton who has played professional poker for more than 25 years commented that he became a much better tournament player after watching the top players and commenting for the World Poker Tour.

Poker can be a great game, a rewarding game financially and emotionally and it also can become a nightmare. It offers many paths and a student will be well served to be a lifetime practitioner of the game if they expect to extract the maximum positive aspects of poker.

Alex Forshaw writes:

What gets me about all those poker players is how much better they could do trading on a bigger market than nine people's buy-in at a table at the Bellagio.

I agree that "Super System" is a true poker bible. Can't say the same for Hellmuth's book, though. It’s kind of like how he was on TV, pretty high ratio of drama/braggadocio to substance, but that's just my two cents.

One sort-of poker book I'd recommend is The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time. It's about a Texas banker who took up no-limit hold'em at around 40, became utterly devoted to it, and challenged individual poker stars to multimillion-dollar heads up games and started blowing them up, because the stakes were so unbalancing to the hold'em stars (who were not nearly as rich as he was). That's how it starts, anyway. 

Nick Marino replies:

Readers should realize that at best these books will only help you lose money at a slower rate when playing against professionals. The game is constantly changing because the players and their strategies are constantly changing. Sound familiar?

Gabe Ivan writes:

I read both Brunson's and Helmuth's books recently and I agree that Helmuth's writing is very shallow. His only theme is to play tourneys super-tight at the beginning and change gears as you go. Nothing about the game philosophy. Brunson is a delight and the Caro, Baldwin, and Sklansky chapters provide you with nuggets of knowledge about poker and betting in general. I also recommend Sklansky's "The Theory of Poker," which explains very clearly the nuts and bolts for beginners such as I.

The meal of a lifetime is the opening paragraph where Brunson says, "I made millions playing poker and I lost them at sport betting." This speaks volumes about staying within one's circle of competence when dealing in probabilistic fields, where every niche is so competitive that a legend like him gets wiped out when he steps outside. 


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