Book Review: ‘The Myth of Poker Talent’ by Alexander Fitzgerald
Why Anyone Can Be A Great Poker Player
With those words we are introduced to Alexander Fitzgerald and his excellent first book “The Myth of Poker Talent.” Those words, written as a subtitle on the cover, stand as the book’s central thesis. One that states that anyone, from any walk of life, from any socio-economic background or upbringing can be a world class poker player. And Alex shows you how.
This book is not easy. It’s not exactly a real page-turner. There are no flowing prose, colorful characters, or side-splitting anecdotes. What you’ll find are charts, tables, and calculations with well thought-out descriptions and explanations. This book is like a semester of Advanced Poker.
But it’s well worth the price of tuition and you have the best professor on campus.
Before I dive deeper into the books nitty-gritty, I’ll simply come right out and say it: this is the best poker book I have ever read.
And I really don’t even think it’s close. Here’s why.
This Guy Gets It
Looking back over the notes I took while reading, one of the first things I jotted down was “Read Chapter one and you’ll be hooked – says so much of what I’ve always thought.”
I think it has to do with Alex’s age and what the state of poker was when he came to the game. I think what hit home for me the most was that Alex seems to speak to his generation, to millennials. He detests the many special snowflakes in the poker world, and wants his readers to understand that if they want to get ahead in this game, they are going to have to earn it. Alex speaks in-depth about the sense of entitlement that many players need to abandon. It’s his contention that this game owes nobody anything. Nothing will be handed to you.
One of several lines that had me thinking, “Yes! Absolutely!’ was in a section early on where Alex recommended that his players needed to embrace luck and variance. Because luck and variance are what keeps recreational players in the game and new players coming back.
In ‘Myth’ the same theme is continuously brought up: anyone can win. Alex doesn’t have the Master’s Degrees and PhD’s that many other poker theorists have. What he does have is an impeccable work ethic and drive to win. Alex is sharp, but he’ll be the first to tell you that he doesn’t have the highest SAT scores. He says those things aren’t important. What is important? Study and hard work.
Alex also has the wherewithal to realize that anyone who is reading his book has almost certainly read other poker books before. He knows anyone just starting the game will have gone to old staples like ‘Super System’, ‘Harrington on Hold ‘Em’, or even ‘Play Poker Like the Pros’ first. And therefore Alex, from the get-go, looks to strip away all the pre-conceived notions of his students before he teaches them today’s advanced tactics.
The first chapter includes sections on ‘Practice not Talent’ and the all-important ‘How to Learn.’
I could likely write my entire review simply on these two subheadings, but suffice it to say, Alex’s mantra is that hard work, not God-given ability, are what make a poker player excel.
But Who is Alex Fitzgerald?
This might be the only real knock against this book. Alex Fitzgerald is not a household poker name. Most people who are deep into the poker scene will know the name just as I did. But the marketability of ‘Myth’ may be hindered in that Alex has seen very little television time, at least in the United States. The reasons for that are two-fold. Alex now lives abroad in Costa Rica and is still primarily an online player.
Not that he’s not a proficient live player. Alex still has well over half a million in live tournament earnings with a 2009 EPT final table comprising roughly a third of that.
But Alex’s fame as a player is almost matched, if not surpassed, by his renown as a coach. He has coached well over 1,000 poker players in addition to producing several training videos for sites like CardRunners. This is in addition to the countless webinars and articles he has produced himself.
Alex Writes Like a True Teacher
One subheading early on in the book is entitled “The Language of This Book.” I think this section speaks volumes as to what kind of teacher Alex is. He knows not to spend chapters going over the rules and what hands beat what. Instead this section goes over very quickly the vernacular that many modern players use. Terms like UTG, the cutoff, and VPIP.
Similarly he prepares his reader for the journey by slowly explaining what a HUD is (Heads-Up Display) and how it works. HUDs and tracking software are a specialty of Fitzgerald’s.
I was reminded so much of my own favorite teachers in high school and college. Alex would introduce a new concept. He would then break it down to its simplest form and explain it again and again. First came the theory, then would come the math justifying it, and then some examples of the tactic in action.
And that is Alex’s teaching method.
He is able to present new information in a friendly, almost conversational way without talking down to his readers or belittling them.
I Hope You Like Flopzilla and Hold ‘Em Manager (Because Alex Sure Does)
(And also CardRunners EV, ICMIZER, and NoteCaddy)
Three months ago I reviewed Matthias Pum’s book “Strategies to Beat Small Stakes Pot-Limit Omaha” – also from D&B Publishing. While Pum’s book and Fitzgerald’s obviously cover different poker variants, I discovered some unifying themes that connect them.
I wrote the following about ‘Strategies’ and I’ll echo it here:
“I must give potential readers this simple warning: if you hate stat-tracking and the Heads-Up Display, this may not be the book for you. The pages are chock full of stats, percentages, and ratios. Almost every move and bet is explained using the math of the hero’s statistics and determining the best play against the opponent’s stats.”
Like Pum’s work, ‘Myth’ heavily features basic math and calculations for the meat of its text. Individually, these are very simple 7th grade equations, but collectively they can come across as overwhelming.
Unfortunately, all the EV calculations and computations in ‘Myth’ aren’t very fun. Certainly the first two chapters where Alex waxes philosophic about today’s game and the ideal mindset were more entertaining. Yes, those were a lot more fun.
But guess what? Too bad. Alex isn’t very forgiving of any readers or players that think they can skim over these sections and just go by feel to win at poker. The days are long gone of lookin’ your opponent in the eye and seeing if he’s got it. It’s a nice idea, but Alex iterates that this simply isn’t what poker is. At least not anymore, if it ever was. It’s about math and ranges and determining the absolute best long-term positive EV play for every street of every hand.
‘Myth’ is Laid Out Like a Poker Hand Itself
Upon reflection this seems like a simple enough concept, but I loved the fact that Alex basically breaks his chapters down into the order that a hand is played.
Not until Chapter Five does Alex actually get into actual gameplay. And so he begins this chapter with a section that is probably the simplest of all and easiest to understand – “Jamming and Re-Jamming Ranges.”
Anyone can go all-in pre flop. That’s not terribly difficult. And Alex starts in the shallow end here, going over ideal spots, ideal stack sizes, and positions for the most effective all-ins.
The rest follows sequentially. The next two chapters go over pre-flop raising. Opening ranges, three-bets, four-bets, and position. These sections number almost a hundred pages. Alex makes it clear that this is the most important part of the hand. Pre-flop is the foundation upon which his readers will build their figurative full houses. It must be solid.
I was once again impressed with Alex’s thoughts on continuation betting, which is the next chapter. For so long, many of us had come from the Barry Greenstein school of C-betting, and were instructed to ‘protect our children’ with a C-bet regardless of board texture, stack-to-pot ratios, etc. Alex doesn’t care what the old rules are. He says it’s ALL about board texture and the stats of your opponent. Knowing their check-raising percentage is imperative and he brings up once again his favorite stat-tracking tools.
And of course sections follow on check-raising yourself, donk-betting, and triple barreling. Of those sections, I found the one on donk-betting to be the most beneficial. I, like so many players, have grown so used to playing “in flow” that donking (or leading) flops and turns is something that simply doesn’t occur to me enough. Now it will.
It just harkens back to what Alex says again and again. Who cares what you were taught before? Here’s what works today and here’s the math to back it up.
The Final Chapters Provide Guidance
This is primarily a tournament book. And so Chapter 15 is aptly titled “Tournament Theory.” This is a great section to read on its own before playing an important big buy-in tournament. I think it will get players in the correct mental zone.
Alex discusses the nature of variance and how to accept it. He covers the general basics of ICM (The Independent Chip Model) and the risk versus reward nature of tournaments that differentiate them from cash games.
My biggest “whoa” moment came in this section and was evidently similarly experienced by Alex himself. Alex writes:
“One of the smartest offhand comments I’ve ever heard about poker came from my friend Mario Silvestri III. Old-school grinders will probably know him by another name – Pwnasaurus. Discussing poker one day he leaned back, reviewed a hand, and said, ‘I guess with low-stakes players I’ve always wanted to extend the hand.’ The words really stuck in my craw as I went throughout the day. It was one of the most perfect summations of No Limit Hold ‘Em I’d ever heard.”
I loved that line and its reasoning. It’s moments like this that make the book worth reading.
The tournament chapter is followed by “Go With The Averages Versus Unknowns” – pretty self-explanatory.
The final two chapters talk about what it takes to play professionally in today’s game and some other basic life tips to keep you in the winner’s circle – things like eating healthy, studying and bankroll management.
Alex has spent 312 pages teaching his students how to win. And he wants them to hold on to that hard-earned money.
I suppose it’s worth repeating – If you’re looking for light reading, something breezy and fun, this isn’t the book for you. There’s a lot of math and charts in this volume. Close your eyes and flip to a random page, and you’ll probably be staring at a Flopzilla chart. So get your calculators out.
I’ve noted before and I’ll say again that with sites like Ignition Poker and others going to anonymous screen names (and PokerStars cracking down on stat-keeping), I worry that some of these teachings may become substantially less relevant in the years to come. But for now, they’re great.
Alex isn’t wildly famous. Of course if this book had Daniel Negreanu’s name on it and the exact same content, it would likely sell ten times the copies. I think sales will do fine simply because the content is so top-notch. Word-of-mouth should help get this volume into the hands of many players. And of course Alex still has some name recognition. He isn’t Phil Ivey, but he’s also not your average anonymous online grinder.
Lastly, this really is a book geared for tournament players. Yes, it’s still Hold’ Em, so anyone that masters these concepts will still be a great cash game player. But that being said, this book is written for tournaments much more so than cash.
Some Final Thoughts
“The Myth of Poker Talent” comes in at 327 pages, but it feels shorter. The reasons being are that Alex has a conversational tone for easy reading. And also a chart takes up half of every page.
The book is laid out well. I appreciated that all the charts and graphs are in color. Those little aesthetic touches make it both more appealing and professional.
Similar to books like ‘Super System’ or ‘Every Hand Revealed,’ the author lets his own personality shine through in his writing. Alex clearly wrote this book himself without the benefit of a ghost writer or co-author. His vulnerability, confidence, and expertise explode off the pages – at least on those where he’s not only talking about combinatorics and equity percentages. After reading ‘Myth,’ I feel like I know Alex Fitzgerald pretty well.
I could haveread an entirely separate book of Alex speaking on the necessary mental skill sets and attitudes one needs to become a serious winning player. Literally, after the first chapter I told a friend of mine “If the rest of this book is anywhere as good as the first chapter, then this will be the best poker book I’ve ever read.”
I knew after the first page that I was going to be a fan of Alex Fitzgerald’s first poker strategy book. I’ve been playing poker semi-professionally for a decade and I was amazed at how many new nuggets of knowledge I gleaned from Alex’s teaching. If you hate math, you may not enjoy Alex’s work. But if you like making money, then I think you will. This book is aimed specifically for online tournament action, but I have to believe that anyone who reads it cover to cover can find something useful in its words for both cash games and live games. It’s that good.
And to be honest my first thought after I turned the final page was “I really need to read that again.”
And so I am.
Final Review 9.5/10
D&B Publishing seems to be making its mark as the go-to publisher for poker literature. They are set to release Phil Hellmuth’s autobiography ‘Poker Brat’ this summer, as well as Chris Moorman’s new book and another Jonathan Little volume. In addition, reigning WSOP champion Qui Nguyen’s autobiography is on the docket for next November.
‘The Myth of Poker Talent’ is published by D&B Poker
(www.dandbpoker.com) and is available in paperback and ebook.
Keith Woernle is a writer, comedian, and semi-pro poker player based out of New Jersey. He was a producer for season 10 of the World Poker Tour. He won a WSOP circuit ring in 2011. He likes poker a lot. Follow or contact him on Twitter @WoernlePoker.