Grochowski Reviews Texas Hold'em Books - Tuesday 7th of February 2006

The boom in poker isn't just a matter of people playing Texas Hold'em, or even people watching it on television. Given the state of my bookshelf, it appears people are reading about it, too. At least an ever-growing number of folks are writing about it. There are so many that when it comes to reviewing them - late, usually - I focus only on the keepers.

In my increasingly futile quest to clear my shelf of worthy titles waiting to be read and reviewed, let's take a look at some recent books on the hottest game around:

Kill Phil, by Blair Rodman and Lee Nelson, $24.95, Huntington Press, 268 pages, softcover: Given that the cover touts a foreword by poker pro Phil Hellmuth Jr., you might assume that "Kill Phil" means the authors have Hellmuth himself in their sights. And they do - sort of. "Phil" is their code name for any accomplished tournament player, the kind of player newcomers have to beat if they're going to be successful at high-level tournament poker. Why "Phil"? "We had to call them something," Rodman and Nelson write. "Plus, we thought it made for a damn funny title."

The contents, though, are no laughing matter. This is the book every Party Poker novice has been waiting for, one with a step-by-step plan for raising your game to one that at least can give the experts some trouble. At Kill Phil Rookie level, the first-time tournament player with a limited time to prepare, learns to scale back the number of hands he plays and not waste money on bad cards. At Kill Phil Basic, position at the table comes into play, with more and more skills added through Kill Phil Basic Plus and Kill Phil Expert.

If you're already an experienced, successful tournament player, there are other, more technical books aimed at you. But for the newer player, the one who's been playing in home games and inexpensive online games and wants to step up in class, this is a strong place to start.

The Best Hand I Ever Played, by Steve Rosenbloom, $15.95, ESPN Books, 183 pages, softcover: Rosenbloom, who writes a weekly poker column for the Chicago Tribune, lets the pros tell their stories in a collection that's both entertaining and instructive. Subtitled "52 Winning Poker Lessons from the World's Greatest Players," the book has a full deck of lessons from the likes of Chris Moneymaker, Tom McEvoy, Annie Duke, Phil Gordon - 52 players in all.

Upon receiving my copy, I immediately turned to Joe Awada, who I've gotten to know over the years as a developer of table games such as 3-5-7 Poker. Awada is also a past champion at the World Series of Poker, in the 2004 $5,000 buy-in seven-card stud event. His greatest hand was a loser, a Texas Hold'em hand when he made the right call despite reading confidence in his opponent, only to lose on the river when only a 7 could beat him.

The stories are as varied as poker itself, from big wins to bad beats, from good reads to to big bluffs. After each story, Rosenbloom follows with "The Rake," a lesson to take away from the hand.

With good stories, well told, The Best Hand I Ever Played is fun to read, and players will learn from it, too.

Making the Final Table, by Eric Lindgren, $15.95, Collins, 208 pages, softcover: A World Poker Tour "Champions of Poker" book, Making the Final Table is for more advanced players than is Kill Phil, for tournament players looking to move up rather than for new players looking to move into tournament play. Lindgren, a World Poker Tour champion, headlines a section, "Poker Is Not About Survival." The rookie level of Kill Phil is largely about survival.

This is not a book about how to play specific hands, although some advice naturally creeps in. It's about tournament strategies, being aggressive and understanding situations, taking the sizes of opponents' chip stacks into consideration, about how approach changes from a tournament's early stages, to the middle, to the final table. Lindgren weighs in on topics from raising to steal blinds, to what to do with middle-strength hands, to whether to wait for a bad player to bust.

One section that will entertain any reader, from novice to advanced player, is called "Living the Life of a Pro." When you've won your tour event, what do you do with a million dollars? What are your tax responsibilities? Do you keep your non-poker job, or go pro? What do you do next - and what do you do if you blow it all?

The appendix includes lists of World Poker Tour millionaires, players of the year and money leaders, and that makes the book feel somewhat lighter than its listed 208 pages. Nonetheless, it's easy to read, light and conversational while maintaining its instructional mission. Making the Final Table is a keeper, and so are Kill Phil and The Best Hand I Ever Played.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com

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