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David Sklansky's Theory of Poker Review

David Sklansky's Theory of Poker Review

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Overall Rating: 5

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David Sklansky is generally considered the number one authority on gambling in the world today. Besides his ten books on the subject, David also has produced two videos and numerous writings for various gaming publications. His occasional poker seminars always receive an enthusiastic reception, including those given at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. More recently, David has been doing consulting work for casinos, Internet gaming sites, and gaming device companies. He has recently invented several games, soon to appear in casinos.

David attributes his standing in the gambling community to three things:

1. The fact that he presents his ideas as simply as possible (sometimes with Mason Malmuth) even though these ideas frequently involve concepts that are deep, subtle, and not to be found elsewhere.
2. The fact that the things he says and writes can be counted on to be accurate.
3. The fact that to this day a large portion of his income is still derived from gambling (usually poker, but occasionally blackjack, sports betting, horses, video games, casino promotions, or casino tournaments).

Thus, those who depend on David’s advice know that he still depends on it himself.

The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky discusses theories and concepts applicable to nearly every variation of the game, including five-card draw (high), seven-card stud, hold ’em, lowball draw, and razz (seven-card lowball stud). This book introduces you to the Fundamental Theorem of Poker, its implications, and how it should affect your play. Other chapters discuss the value of deception, bluffing, raising, the slow-play, the value of position, psychology, heads-up play, game theory, implied odds, the free card, and semibluffing.

Many of today’s top poker players will tell you that this is the book that really made a difference in their play. That is, these are the ideas that separate the experts from the typical players. Those who read and study this book will literally leave behind those who don’t, and most serious players wear the covers off their copies. This is the best book ever written on poker.

In The Theory of Poker, Sklansky explains early that poker is a game of skill. He talks about good players suffering bad beats because they put lesser skilled players at the mercy of luck.

"However, it is more likely for a good player like Baldwin to suffer these bad beats, as they are called, than for an average player or a weak player to suffer them. 'I've heard good players complain to me about how they get drawn out on all the time,' Baldwin said after the 1981 tournament. 'But if they want to better their game and better their emotional state while playing, they should realize it's a mirage. If you are an excellent player, people are going to draw out on you a lot more than you're going to draw out on them because they're simply going to have the worst hand against you a lot more times than you have the worst hand against them. There's no way you're going to draw out on anybody if you don't get all your money in there on the worst hand.' As Baldwin implies, expert players do not rely on luck." [1-2]

Sklansky points out a common mistakes among poker players. Assuming that winning a lot of pots at all costs equates to winning a lot of money can be dangerous.

"You may occasionally be in a game where the best strategy is to win as many pots as possible, but such games are exceptions. In most games the bets you save are as important as the bets you win, because your real goal is to maximize your wins and minimize your losses. Ideally you want the pots you win to be as big as possible and the pots you lose to contain nothing more than your ante. You must remember that reducing losses - by not making the calls, for example, that a weaker player would make - adds that much more to your win when the game is over." [6]
The author takes this concept even further later on in the book. "You should even derive satisfaction from a losing session when you know that other players would have lost much more with your cards." [13]

The fundamental theory of poker is outlined early in the book.

"Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents' cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose." [17-18]

Calculating pot odds is an important part of poker. Sklanksy explains that it does not matter who put in what percentage of the pot.

"The fact that $1 or one-eigth of the ante money was originally yours is of no consequence. In truth, it is no longer yours. The moment you place your $1 ante in the pot, it belongs to the pot, not to you ... However, it is absolutely irrelevent whether you put the money in there or someone else did. It is the total amount, no part of which belongs to you any longer, that should determine how you play your hand." [28-29]

An important adjustment is being able to change the style of play based on the size of the ante.

"The general rule is that as the ante decreases, you must tighten up." [33]

Implies odds are another important part of poker. Implied odds are based on the possibility of winning money in later betting rounds over and above what is in the pot already, and calculating these implied odds can be difficult.

"In adding the possibility of future bets to the present pot to get your implied odds, you should take into account whether the strength of your hand is hidden." [58]

Like most things with poker, the timing and importance of deception are constantly changing.

"The general rule is: the better the players and the smaller the pot, the more you disguise your hand when there are more cards to come. The worse the players and the larger the pot, the more you play your hand normally, without regard to giving anything away." [68]

FTR recommends David Sklansky's Theory of Poker as a must-have for your poker library.

Overall Rating: 5

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