|Author: Barry Greenstein
Publisher: Last Knight Publishing
Pub. Date: 2005
Book Review: Part 1
There’s more to poker than winning a few pots, as Barry Greenstein surely knows. In Ace on the River, Greenstein offers life and game strategy for the poker player. It’s for all players, beginner through expert, and should be read and absorbed by anyone serious about the game.
Greenstein certainly has the authority to write such a book. Highly regarded among his peers and within the poker world for both his skill and his ethics, Greenstein has been a veteran of the highest cash games for decades while also taking down several important tournament wins. He was one of the leading candidates for induction into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2010, narrowly missing election, and he’s a strong favorite for induction in 2011. He’s thus one of the few people really qualified to write a field guide for living the poker life, which is what Ace on the River surely is. There’s more to poker strategy than playing the hands themselves, and on its release, Ace on the River filled a gap in the poker-strategy field.
The book’s format is simple enough. Following a foreward (by Doyle Brunson) and an introduction, Part 1 of Ace on the River looks at the poker world, as seen through Greenstein’s eyes. A good chunk of the book’s first part is actually a brief Greenstein autobiography, detailing his poker beginnings in the Chicago suburbs, his early successes (and failures), and his eventual migration west to the high-stakes Los Angeles and Las Vegas scenes. This section also details the categories of people you’ll find in the poker world, and delves into the unwritten rules of the game – how to act, in other words. As Greenstein notes in one chapter’s header, “The poker society has its own rules and customs.”
The second part of Ace on the River is its meatiest section, and it’s titled quite simply: “Philosophy”. It’s here where Greenstein begins dissecting the components of the poker lifestyle, both on and off the table. Starting with attitude, Greenstein notes that most people who play poker probably don’t have the personality needed to really succeed at it, and he even includes a brief personality profile test to make the point. From there it’s on to an examination of the 25 traits Greenstein cites as being most important to long-term success, with nothing higher on his list than being psychologically tough and resilient and being honest with oneself and others. Greenstein even lists five traits he think might hinder a poker player, sure to be discussion-worthy should the topic ever arise. Those five include being athletic (this despite poker’s competitive nature), being born to wealth, being highly educated, being compassionate, and being overly confident. Greenstein explains why each of these traits, carried to an extreme, might hinder rather than help the growing poker player.
Is playing poker obsessive or compulsive? Greenstein doesn’t answer the question directly, but notes that many players are borderline compulsive and it’s a trait that needs to be constantly self-monitored. It’s part of his brief delving into brain chemistry, drug and alcohol usage, and related matters. It’s an example of how deep Ace on the Riveroften delves in its effort to make poker players think about more than just the cards. From there the book segues into a discussion on integrity – and often, the lack thereof shown by many players – and Greenstein succinctly notes: “Dishonesty gets in the way of a winning player.”