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Hold'em Excellence
Lou Krieger
B&F Enterprises, Inc. (1996)
ISBN: 1-887816-01-1
Pages: 171
Reviewed: 3/97

Lou Krieger's contribution to the hold'em literature takes on the task of bringing the recreational player into the cardroom and trying to get them started at this complex game. In line with this educational theme, the book is divided into three sections: Basic Education, Earning Your Degree, and Post-Graduate Work, which respectively cover basics of cardroom poker, hold'em play, and more complex topics such as jackpot games and record keeping.

While Krieger doesn't always detail exactly what sort of game he's writing for, we can tell that he's preparing the reader for a relatively unskilled but not quite no fold'em game (at one point he suggests that your opponents are unlikely to play Q6 or 62, which pretty much rules out low-limit California no fold'em games).

The first section sounds like it would be dull for the more experienced player, but I found it the most considered and thought-provoking of the three. Throughout the book, but most noticeably in the first section, Krieger makes an effort to bring in sources from beyond the poker world, citing not only Malmuth, Reese, and Caro, but also Japanese management philosophy, Andres Segovia, and Yeats. And you get the idea he means it - he's not just spicing up the book with some gratuitous detail (well, Yeats didn't really contribute much more than atmosphere), in each case he's found something genuinely of value to apply to poker, and sharing it with the reader as directly as possible. The first section also benefits from a nice mix of bare basics that the newcomer will find useful and interesting insights that more experienced players should find worthwhile (e.g., some interesting simulation results I'd never heard described before).

When it comes to describing actual play in the second section, Krieger's approach is anything but cookbook. In places, this gives the text a vagueness that will probably leave the genuine novice flailing for concrete advice on how to handle difficult situations. For example, while he presents advice on starting hands in a convenient graphical format, he offers somewhat haphazard textual guidelines on adjusting for raises and re-raises, and on raising yourself. I don't know if/when he advocates cold calling a raise with 88 in late position, or raising with KJ in middle position. And while he sets out as one of his goals to cover how to handle the different types of flops, he devotes only 13 pages to the topic, covering only a handful of the different situations you'll run into.

A bright spot is the inclusion of a chapter on playing AK, focusing on preflop considerations. The chapter strangely includes no specific mention of playing AKs, but does discuss in some detail considerations in playing the unsuited version. I'm assuming he doesn't intend for the two hands to be played identically, but it would have been nice to see a paragraph or two on adjusting play if the hand is suited.

Similarly, he writes at one point that you should only raise if you're "sure" you'll be best if you're called. Without getting into details, this will probably not cause novices much if any trouble - in fact, a great merit of presenting the material as he does is that it emphasizes for the novice's benefit how to reason about betting on the end. However, the more experienced player (and perhaps the more observant novice) will wonder what percentage will count as "sure."

Again, writing on the topic of playing top pair on the river, Krieger is strong in detailing the considerations players will need to take into account in order to make the best decisions, offering a qualitative approach that will appeal to the cardroom newcomer, and help keep the novice from making some common mistakes.

In general, Krieger's book is a good treatment of hold'em, because he gives generally good advice and provides both the experienced player and the relative novice with material to think about. The text is lucid and forthright, a rare enough asset in the poker writing market.

However, I would have preferred he cover play in more detail, including advice on how to play more preflop situations, advice on how to handle tricky post-flop situations, etc. The book weighs in at 171 pages, which is about average for poker books (can anyone explain to me why, despite the fact that everyone acknowledges that poker strategy is extremely complex, the vast majority of poker books are so short?), and Krieger readily acknowledges what more writers should - that no single book can turn a novice into a winner. But the purely recreational player thinking about taking up serious hold'em will learn a lot from this book, and can fill in the details by consulting the follow-up reading he recommends.

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