“Inside the Poker Mind: Essays on Hold’em and General Poker Concepts”

Inside the Poker Mind

Inside the Poker Mind: Essays on Hold \'em and General Poker Concepts

As I write this review, I need to note that my perspective is that of a micro or small-stakes player of poker. As such, I’ll mention my critique of this book up front: I think it doesn’t focus enough on a specific target audience. Quite a bit of the material is aimed at teaching non-expert players the thought process of expert players. However, some of the material is aimed at people playing at the upper limits of their local cardrooms. While I suppose that there are people who fall into both catagories, I can’t imagine that there are many. That said, the lessons on thought and emotion are extremely valuable to anyone willing to listen.

The book is made up of a series of poker essays, with some broad topic divisions: Technical, General, Strategic Thinking, Emotion, and Miscellaneous. Despite the organizing themes, there was still the feel that this was a collection of essays which were missing some kind of “glue” to make it a flowing read. To be honest, I might point a finger at the editing process rather than the writing one. If “Two Plus Two” Publishing has a weakness, it’s in the editing.

The Technical Points section is incredibly precise in it’s identification of problems which beginning players face. The “Playing Too Many Hands” essays discuss the mental and emotional causes of loose play as well as possible solutions and the potential dollar cost. Another problem which Feeney identifies is the practice of calling a raise without good enough cards. If you think you’re immune to this, try taking the AQ test. I know I failed it…

Feeney hints at future topics when discussing the idea of the stop-win (stopping when you’re ahead a certain amount to guarantee a winning session). Another series of discussions focuses on lack of understanding of randomness. Feeney argues that there shouldn’t be a special significance placed on exactly when specific hours of poker are played. This hints at the 2+2 mantra that there is no such thing as separate sessions of poker, there is only one continuing session. It’s a bit less zen when Feeney discusses it, but he still emphasizes that measuring your percentage of winning sessions is crazy, as it clashes with the more important statistic of win rate in Big Bets won per hour. Again, online players need to make the translation here to something like Big Bets per 100 hands.

I really enjoyed the “How I Learned Poker” essays, though again, this section has aged in the era of online cardrooms. There are certain places in the country in which players have quick and easy access to Brick and Mortar cardrooms, and are more comfortable starting there. That was certainly the case for me as late as 2003. To a certain degree, this section was a subconcious reason for me starting Poker Musings in the first place.

Strategic Thinking was a very eye-opening section for me, especially the “Strategic Moment” essays, in which Feeney presents a series of poker situations, and narrates the thinking of a beginner and an advanced player. A couple of the plays blew my mind as I read them for the first time, though in retrospect, the JT-suited early position open-raise is a very dangerous play to suggest to a beginning player, as you really need to be in a multi-way pot for it to work. How often have you been in a game where you played well for a few hours and then were able to open-raise and get 6 callers? The essays on playing against a maniac were also very interesting, though I’ve seen this type of player a lot less often online than in a Brick and Mortar cardroom.

More gold to be had in Emotion. A very good definition of Tilt as well as attributes which make up what the author calls the Professional Attitude.

Again, some of Feeney’s opinions on tournaments comes off a little dated in Miscellaneous Topics. Well… let me rephrase that. His discussion of the state of tournaments is dated, but now that I think of it, intermediate tournament wins probably will still tend to take money out of play. But the current influx of players, though it can’t last forever, is adding unimagined amounts of money. And if it’s the spectrum of tournaments available that has done that, well, I think the game is healthier for it.

The more I’ve played this week, the more I’ve wondered about my original critique of this book. When IGM/Party skins have reload bonuses, I see extremely tight play at the lowest limits; The lessons Feeney talks about in higher-stakes games suddenly become suddenly much more relevant. Usually Feeney’s AQo hand isn’t the underdog he states it should be if you can see that your opponent has a Pre Flop Raise % over 25. But when a 4% PFR’er raises from early position, one needs to bear down and fold AQo.

I hope that this review come close to sounding balanced. The truth of the matter is that this is one of my favorite poker books. It dips a little deeper than most books to look at the problems that lead to bad play. More knowledge about these underlying problems allows us to understand and conquer our holes. I’d be curious to know whether he’s followed up this book with slightly more psych-oriented material. He advocates conquering the highs and lows of emotion we go through when playing, when it’s those highs that attract a lot of us to the game. I’d like to read something on emotional addiction to gambling as it relates to poker as well. What? No, I don’t have a problem! I can quit any time I want to!

Other Sources

  • Party Poker Blogs
    I get the sense that like me, Iggy is a big fan of the book. The link is to his blog in general, but if you want to find his references to the book, try looking here. He doesn’t have a review, exactly, but every mention is a nice little piece of strategy discussion based on something he read there. Well, except for the one about keeping a copy in the bathroom. But I’m seriously considering that strategy, though.
  • The Cards Speak
    Hdouble’s blog is itself a gem of poker writing. He mentions here a bit from Feeney’s discussion of people’s lack of understanding of randomness, then expounds on it. Interesting note on computer shuffling vs. brick & mortar shuffling. I’ll have to think about it a bit. There’s a reference here about Feeney’s Strategic Moment which I’ve gone back to read three or four times now.
  • Life is a Game of Poker
    The entry way back in March, 2004 is interesting as he talks about having read and absorbed the lessons in the book. Now read the later entries in the blog for “The Professional Attitude.”
  • Mockingbird Poker Tour
    Not a big fan.
  • One of my own examples of strategy that I love from Feeney.

As always, any feedback is welcome.

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