The Theory of Poker

The Poker BookstoreThe Theory of Poker

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Author: David Sklunsky
Publisher: Two Plus Two
Pages: 300
Pub. Date: 1994 (3rd Edition)
Price: $19.77

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Book Review Part 1

David Sklansky’s The Theory of Poker is among the “must read” books on the game. This is a book for beginning to intermediate players looking to understand poker’s hidden mathematical structures and optimize their own betting and playing strategies. It’s for serious players only, however.

What makes The Theory of Poker so vital? It’s certainly not the writing style, which borders on the pedantic and suggests nothing so much as that high-school civics tome that you tried but really couldn’t stand to read. Yet The Theory of Poker (originally titled Winning Poker) has held an important slot among poker books for the roughly quarter century since its initial publication, being on the short list of books worth reading to begin improving one’s poker game. If you’re not serious about playing poker to make money, then there’s no need to bother reading Sklansky… or other poker books, for that matter. But if you are serious, then this is as good a stepping stone to better play as any.

Much of the book – and indeed, much of Sklansky’s poker writing career – is built around what he’s coined herein as his Fundamental Theorem of Poker, which simply states that we’d all play different (and much better) poker if we were able to see our opponents’ cards. The fact that we can’t see our opponents’ holdings means that poker is a game of imperfect information, and making sense out of nuggets of partial, often-misleading information is part of the essence of the game itself. The rest of the book expands on Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem and applies it to a large handful of the game’s core strategies, showing how a player with a true understanding of the game’s hidden mechanisms can then begin to take advantage of those who are lesser skilled.

One of the important concepts brought up in the discussion of Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem is that its insight cuts both ways: that is, it’s as important for you to be able to make your opponent bet incorrectly, against the odds, as it is for you to make correct choices yourself. This dynamism in turn cuts to the heart of what makes poker click as a battle of complex strategies and tactics.

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