Hold’em Poker for Advanced Players has certainly been one of the most influential poker books ever written, it has literally changed how people have played this game. Moreover, this book has, in large part, set the standard by which other poker books have been judged. Now, a much expanded new edition for the 21st century has been released.
The book starts with several short preliminary sections, including the Forward by expert player Ray Zee, the Introduction, and a section called “Using This Book”. The reader is warned immediately that this book should not be read casually. It is intended as a text book on Texas Hold’em and will need to be studied as a text, not read as one would a novel, if the reader is to maximize the benefit of the material within.
Then, the first of eight sections begins, covering the play of the first two cards. This includes the now famous hand ranking table. The authors recommend which sorts of hands to play in various positions but emphasize that it is not sufficient to just play well before the flop to be a winning player. The second section covers various important concepts about which the Hold’em player must be aware, including Semi-Bluffing, Slow Playing, the Check Raise, Inducing Bluffs, and many more. The third section covers a wide variety of topics, including playing when a flush draw flops, playing trash hands, playing against a maniac, etc.. Most of these sections were classics when they were written. They’re even better now that they’ve been updated to more closely reflect the sorts of games that are commonly found in card rooms today.
Sections four through six cover playing in all sorts of non-standard games, and this is the area where the book has been most greatly expanded since its original printing. We learn about playing in loose games, including so-called “No Fold’em” Slot games, playing short handed, and playing in other unusual circumstances. All of this information is very interesting and has been updated to be much more closely aligned to the sorts of games commonly found today. Of course, there is much more that could be said on some of these topics, such as playing in spread limit games, but the authors cover a lot of territory already. I especially like the new sections that cover considerations in playing some especially tricky starting hands, like AQoff.
Part seven includes commentary on other skills the successful Hold’em player will want to possess, such as reading hands and applying psychology. Finally, the last section, Questions and Answers, provides a quiz covering much of the material presented in earlier chapters so the reader can test themselves to see whether they’ve understood what the authors were trying to communicate. I’ve always felt that this was one of the strongest sections of this book and other publications by Two Plus Two, and I’m glad to see that it has been greatly expanded in the most recent edition. The book ends with some concluding remarks, an appendix on calculating probabilities, and a glossary.
Of course, Sklansky and Malmuth have never shied away from controversy. There was plenty for Hold’em players to debate in the first edition of this book, and there is certainly much one could fairly argue about in this edition. Although I wouldn’t compare my strategic understanding of the game to the authors, there are strategies suggested in this book that I’m not certain are optimal, and I’m sure many people will argue the minutia of these many times over. However, I’m less interested in the specific merit of the play of a single controversial hand than I am in the strategic concepts the authors are trying to teach. While I might quibble about whether that strategic concept is applicable in an example that they provide, I never get the feeling that the strategic concept itself is questionable. One of the great things about Texas Hold’em is that there are so many possible ways to play a given hand, and that great players can disagree on these points. The way one can tell a great player from a mediocre one is whether they can accurately read the situation and take into account the strategic concepts that need to be applied at the moment, much more so than whether they bet, raise, check or fold. One would be well advised, in my opinion, to keep this in mind while reading this book.
Clearly, this book is a classic, and I doubt there are very many successful limit Texas Hold’em players playing today who do not own a copy of one of the earlier editions. Certainly, those that plan to play Hold’em well should own a copy of this work and read it several times. The big question is whether owners of previous revisions of this book should upgrade to the 21st Century Edition. Note that this is the third update of this work, the original was published in 1988, it was updated in 1994, and the current version was released in the summer of 1999. I have only the 1988 and 1999 editions, so I can only speak to those.
By my count, 150 pages have been added to the 182 page 1988 edition. In addition to new sections, there are minor changes to reflect how the game has evolved over the years and to emphasize concepts that caused some conclusion in earlier editions. Overall, given the changes that have been made to the 21st Century Edition from the first edition, I would recommend that those people who are serious about their Hold’em game and have read the 1988 edition upgrade their copies of this book. Although I do not have enough information to make the same claim for the 1994 edition, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was worth upgrading from the second edition as well.
Hold’em Poker for Advanced Players is one of the classics of the poker literature. This book is extremely well written, and it’s hard for me to believe that many players are likely to master today’s games without having read and studied this text. Further, the 21st Century Edition is, in my opinion, enough of an improvement over the first edition that those who have already read the 1988 version should buy and read the new edition as well.