REVIEW: Phil Gordon's Little Green Book of Poker

Though he'd finished fourth in the 2001 WSOP Main Event, 3rd in the 2002 WSOP Pot-Limit Omaha Event, and won the 2004 Bay 101 Shooting Stars event,  most poker aficionados know Phil Gordon as the co-host of Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown.

Phil is the rare combination of brilliant expert and gifted teacher, and his commentary on Celebrity Poker Showdown made what could have been a laughable donkfest into a valuable learning experience for just about every person who watched it. Now that he's off the show, I'll be surprised if it will be very watchable.

During the 2005 WPT Championship at Bellagio, I had the great fortune of spending some time with Phil -- not at the same table, thank gods -- and he really helped me a lot. Before I knew the concept of M and Q, Phil helped me get a basic understanding of where I should be and how desperate (or not) I should be to accumulate chips, by talking with me during every break. I'm sure I was a stupid noob quasi-tourist with retarded questions, but Phil never once made me feel like I was some jerk bothering him while he was in an important tourney (and let's face it, of the two of us he's the guy with a real chance at winning the thing.)

We had dinner together at the end of the first day, and Phil gave me a bit of a lesson while we ate. When we were done, he told me that he was working on a little book that would compile lots of useful information from existing works by Caro and Sklansky, filtered through and expanded upon by Phil's personal experience. He was particularly excited about the tournament chapter, and all the math he'd done to figure out very reliably how often players needed to steal blinds, and make moves to survive into the deeper levels of play. He graciously offered to e-mail me a copy of the manuscript so I could read it over later that night, and it significantly helped my game.

The book, of course, became Phil Gordon's Little Green Book: Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold'em. It's not surprising that he wrote a book that was useful and helpful -- after all, he's one of the greats -- but the true hallmark of a poker book, in my opinion, is how useful it is to me as my game grows and develops. There are books like Caro's Fundamentals to Winning Poker that were great when I was learning, but aren't very useful now, and there are books like Theory of Poker that I may as well have been written in hieroglyphics when I was starting out, but are frequently reviewed these days. Phil's book is rare indeed: it remains relevant and helpful as your skill level increases. It will reinforce your good plays, and help you make fewer bad ones, and since it's literally a little book, it's easy to toss into your bag and keep close by for quick reference when you're fadin' the white line, Tex.

Phil starts out with Poker Truths, which even experienced players should know but occasionally forget, and then moves on to play pre-flop, and on the flop, turn, and river. He discusses strategies for playing when you flop certain hands and a scare card comes on the turn, and how to get maximum value from big hands on the river. He's got a chapter on tells that is admittedly cribbed from Caro, but includes personal anecdotes from Phil's playing experience that made me feel like I was sitting in the buffet at Bellagio with him when I read it.

If you've learned from Harrington, you're going to love the tournament chapter, because it's an invaluable and concise reference. If you only know Harrington as that guy who final tabled back to back at the WSOP, Phil's tourney chapter is  a fantastic introduction to vital winning strategies that even I could understand a year ago when I was just starting out in the live tourney world.

Before wrapping up with some entertaining player profiles, charts, and suggestions for further reading, Phil tackles two aspects of the game that a lot of players find very challenging: math and psychology. It's easy to understand, and makes some intimidating aspects of the game, like figuring out implied odds, courting outs, and understanding the psychology behind playing tight and weak opponents, and making the big laydown very accessible.

Phil's Little Green Book is valuable for any player, regardless of their skill level. Of course, if you're still trying to figure out if a flush beats a straight, it's not going to help you that much . . . but if you have a grasp of the fundamentals, this book will add a great deal of value to  your game now, and in the future as your game improves.

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