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HARRINGTON ON HOLD'EM: STRATEGIC PLAY



Harrington on Hold'em Volume I: Strategic Play
Reviewed by Jason Kirk  

No-limit Texas Hold'em is easily the most popular poker variant being played today. Almost all the major tournaments around the world are now decided over the game Doyle Brunson famously described as the "Cadillac of Poker," and tens of millions of dollars have been handed out this decade to those who have proven their skill at this difficult game. Considering its popularity, one would expect it to be fully covered by literature covering its strategy in full detail, but in reality the catalog of books on no-limit is slimmer than a gutshot straight draw heading to the river. The old favorites are Brunson's Super System and Tom McEvoy and T.J. Cloutier's Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold'em. Both are solid books by anyone's standards, but they tend to deal in generalities and can be a bit dated considering the way no-limit has changed over the last few years. Outside of these venerable classics, not much effort had been made to educate the newest generation of poker players on today's game of choice. Enter "Action" Dan Harrington, the 1995 WSOP Main Event Champion who made the final table in that tournament in both 2003 and 2004, outlasting the two largest fields the Series had ever seen. There is probably no better authority on solid no-limit tournament strategy in the world today.

Not surprisingly, Harrington's book, Harrington on Hold'em Volume I: Strategic Play, breaks new ground in teaching the strategic nuts and bolts of no-limit. The book assumes that the reader already knows how the game is played, and it is aimed at those who want to sharpen their skills enough to compete in the large fields of today's tournaments. Unlike some other poker strategy books, the writing style employed by Harrington and his co-author, two-time World Backgammon Champion Bill Robertie, is direct and easy to read - nobody is going to get lost trying to follow a train of thought in HOH Volume I. And while the book does discuss the statistical underpinnings of no-limit while covering the important concepts of the game, it simplifies the math whenever possible and encourages the reader to do the same while at the table. The psychology of the game is given as much credence as the math, if not more, making HOH Volume I a relative rarity among strategy titles. Best of all, though, Harrington doesn't expect to teach the world to play like he does. He makes it clear that the concepts laid out in the book are merely a foundation for whatever style a player chooses to employ. This flexibility makes HOH Volume I valuable to all no-limit players.

The layout of the book is straightforward and designed to ease readers into expert no-limit strategy. The game as a whole is discussed first, followed by an examination of the various styles employed by successful tournament players today - conservative, aggressive, and hyper-aggressive. Then the importance of table dynamics is given a thorough discussion, with a particular focus on how a player must take into account the way his opponents see his actions. Only after covering these important concepts does Harrington venture into mathematical territory by explaining pot odds, expressed and implied odds, and hand analysis. Betting before the flop and after the flop are each given separate chapters, as is play after the flop. The most useful portion of Harrington on Hold'em Volume I, though - and the part of the book that undoubtedly will keep readers coming back - is the hand exercises included after each chapter. Some of the hands are taken from actual tournaments, while others have been created specifically to illuminate concepts discussed earlier in the chapter. These examples present common table situations, and progress through the hands one step at a time, discussing in detail all the factors that must be considered to make the best possible decision on every street. The brilliance of this approach lies in the flexibility it offers the reader - it is entirely possible to move through all of a chapter's exercises back to back, but the problems are also perfect for individual study as time permits.

Whether you have hours to devote to studying strategy or minutes to revisit important concepts before your game begins, you can get something out of HOH Volume I every time you pick it up. Anyone who routinely plays in no-limit hold'em tournaments will find HOH Volume I a valuable tool for improving their game while away from the table, and cash game players looking to make the transition to tournaments won't find a better textbook for their new pursuit. No other book does as good a job of making such a complex game so easy to understand. It's no understatement that Harrington on Hold'em Volume I: Strategic Play is the single most indispensable textbook for no-limit hold'em tournaments available today.
 


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