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16/06/2006 No. 52
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday June 16, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

When it comes to poker literature, there are three basic types. The first type (which is what people usually want when they ask me for reading tips) is the strategy book. The problem is, most of the volumes that flooded on to the market during "the poker revolution" are cheap fillers which might actually make your game worse; conversely, as soon as a book is known to be any good, everybody reads it and you lose the benefit of secret advice.

With that in mind, my best tip is to read Doyle Brunson's Super System (which describes a very aggressive strategy for various games), followed by Dan Harrington's Harrington on Hold 'Em, an impressive guide to more conservative hold 'em technique. Then remember that everybody has read Super System and knows about making a flair raise with a gut-shot straight draw; everybody has read Harrington on Hold 'Em, and can recognize "the orange zone". So don't make notes to follow these authors' exact moves. Just read the books, and let them inspire you to have a good hard think about your own game.

The second type of poker book is the novel. Here, I would recommend Richard Jessup's The Cincinatti Kid for its unique status, and Jesse May's Shut Up and Deal for its grumpy authenticity.

The third and most interesting category of poker book is the documentary: biographies and stories about great games and great players. My favourite is Jon Bradshaw's Fast Company, a series of inspired interviews with the world's six most significant gamblers, as they were when Bradshaw wrote the book in 1975. Other modern yet pre-revolution classics are Anthony Holden's Big Deal (1990) and The Biggest Game in Town by Al Alvarez (1983), both of which recount the writers' amateur poker journeys and bear a lot of re-reading.

But a promising new contender is joining the market: Swimming with the Devilfish, by Des Wilson, published today. Having begun a project to write a biography of the notorious Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott, Wilson found so many other intriguing characters on the British poker scene that he ended up writing about all of them. The result is a comprehensive yet pacy romp through a previously uncharted corner of poker geography, which Anthony Holden himself describes as "compelling".

Now, please don't go rushing off to some soulless internet corporation just because I've mentioned a lot of great titles. If you want these books and your local independent retailer can't get them, visit Gamblingbooks.

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