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Total Poker
David Spanier
First Publication: 1977
Publisher: Oldcastle Books (1995)
Pages: 250
ISBN: 1-874061-44-0
Reviewed: 1/99

It's a mystery to me why I'd pick up another book by David Spanier after reading Inside the Gambler's Mind, but I did it. Fortunately, going with my gut worked this time, as I somehow correctly intuited that this book would be a much better read. Total Poker contains quite a bit of entertaining material, including a chapter on Puggy Pearson; a detailed discussion of bluffing (or, "bluff") that ranges from sociology to game theory; a chapter on U.S. presidents; and a brief chapter on poker in the movies.

Total Poker is certainly lighter than the other book, which accounts for some of the difference. It's much easier to be irritating conveying psycho-analytic theories of gambler's motivations than conveying anecdotes about Richard Nixon cleaning up playing poker in the Navy.

Along these lines, not surprisingly, I found Total Poker weakest in those sections meant to convey some theory about the motivations of poker players (not only Spanier's theories, he also describes those of others). I don't want to launch into a half-baked attack on certain types of reasoning right now, except to say that a lot of this material strikes me as uninformative.

The edition I read contained not just the original text of the book but also some later-added commentary from Spanier, frequently just bringing the material up to date. For the chapter that deals with women and poker, he adds what I think falls just short of an apology, as the earlier chapter certainly made some broad generalizations about women (and men). Oddly, it seems in other ways the weakest chapter in the book, for example concluding with a meandering story about "Poker Alice," an American frontier-era gambler.

The last 38 pages of this 250 page book, "Ends and Odds," deal with poker strategy very superficially. They are basically filler. I don't know if Spanier had to make a page count or just figured the naï reader would enjoy a taste of poker strategy, but it isn't useful strategy information and it isn't interesting in the same way that the book's earlier chapters were.

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