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Richard Allen
Publisher: Applied Visual Resources (1996)
Pages: 146+72
Reviewed 8/97

Richard Allen's FoolProof is an odd book to review. First of all, it's not exactly a book - it's a text, workbook, and a tic-tac box with cryptic symbols all over it. Second, it doesn't just present material, it includes a system you're supposed to use to teach yourself that material. In fact, you could argue that the book is the system, billed as a "30-day program for hold'em success." While I didn't go through the program myself (I'm not much for programs), I did go over the material, to see what I could learn.

The work is mainly devoted to preflop play. Rather than presenting new material, Allen sets as his goal to present a synthesis of preflop play advice from a variety of other sources, including Sklansky/Malmuth, Lee Jones, Ken Warren, Caro, Brunson, etc. His synthesized strategy is printed concisely on the tic-tac box, which is meant to be carried to the cardroom. The book begins with material on learning to understand the box, and then moves into a detailed consideration of what he recommends in each situation.

Allen's system bears an interesting resemblance to blackjack basic strategy, in that it tries to take most of the thinking out of preflop play. Once you've internalized what's on the box, you shouldn't have to think much at the table, at least until you see the flop. As an educator by training, Allen has apparently devoted his time to developing not just the material itself, but also a system for learning it. Having more experience as a student than as an educator, I didn't notice anything especially unusual about his approach to teaching.

For me personally, I think the book will turn out to be most useful as a ready reference on how to play various hands. Even where I don't necessarily agree with Allen's reasoning (I'm no expert, so I'll let others argue most of the details), he often lays out his considerations carefully, and provides enough information for the interested reader not only to reconstruct his reasoning but to re-synthesize one's own strategy. The workbook quotes the material from his various sources which was used to derive the recommendations, which is a nicely concise way of seeing how different authors recommend treating certain situations. Throw in Allen's own discussion of how to play various starting hands, and you get a pretty detailed reference for preflop play.

One vague concern I have about how Allen derived his recommendations concerns the weight given to different sources. You'd think Sklansky and Malmuth would merit a bit more weight than Ken Warren or Andy Nelson, and that Lee Jones's recommendations, intended specifically for low-limit games, would carry even more weight (given that FoolProof is aimed at players breaking into the low limits). Similarly, it's not clear where recommendations from Brunson's Super/System should fit into a manual for new players. In any case, it isn't immediately clear how Allen integrated these varied sources. As for the recommendations themselves, although there are a few things to gripe about here or there, they seemed to meet his broadest goals, and are probably appropriately conservative for the new player starting with the lowest limits (at whom the book is aimed).

One bit of advice that is probably going to be the source of some contention is Allen's advice on playing AK. Although he generally doesn't recommend a preflop raise, he suggests a raise is more appropriate in a very loose game. I thought this sounded backwards, and it certainly seems to contradict both Sklansky/Malmuth (for middle-limit or moderately skilled games) and Jones (for low-limit or nofold'em games), both of whom basically agree that you only want to raise with unsuited high cards when you're against few opponents or it will thin the field. While his basic advice not to raise with AK in these games is probably reasonable, it seems like raising would be more appropriate against fewer opponents or when you might move someone, i.e., at tighter, not at looser tables.

The remainder of the book presents Allen's general approach to becoming a winning player, recommendations for money management, and assorted other tidbits. At times, I thought he was a bit overbearing with his approach. He implies strongly that a beginner cannot become a good hold'em player without going through his program. While it's true to some extent that a beginner has to learn many if not all of the things Allen presents in order to become a winning player, there are certainly other ways to learn this material. He also seems to suggest in several places that losing sessions can usually be attributed to poor play ("if you don't make any errors, the likelihood of [going broke] is very slim"), which flies in the face of what we know about variance in poker. Finally, I thought that presenting novices with an involved money management scheme, however well-intentioned, is likely to mislead the novice reader into thinking they can win by money management alone. I think a few simple admonishments about playing too long, throwing away your last chips, and other common errors, would have been more appropriate.

Will FoolProof make anyone a better player? My guess is that if it forces you to sit down and flat out memorize a basic strategy for what to do with what cards in what situations, it will turn out to be a lot more helpful than, for example, simply memorizing Sklansky and Malmuth's card rankings. This is simply because Allen has created a concise way of specifying a reasonably complete preflop playing strategy, and it's encapsulated enough to be memorized simply. More experienced players might find the book helpful in identifying holes in their play, although I think they would be better served reading and re-reading books like Jones and Sklansky/Malmuth (as appropriate).

On an almost irrelevant note, while it has nothing to do with the book's contents, FoolProof could stand to be more professionally printed. The review copy Allen sent me appeared to be a not-especially-good photocopy of an original probably constructed with outdated software. Certainly not nearly as crisp a product as one could easily produce with a modern word processor, a decent laserprinter, and a trip to the local copycenter. On the other hand, while the binding (the sort of plastic spine you might get at Kinko's) initially struck me as an odd way to present a book, it's probably appropriate for this sort of workbook approach.

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