Book Review: Tommy Angelo’s Elements of Poker

Steve Ruddock

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Tommy Angelo’s, Elements of Poker was first published in 2007, which by poker book standards makes it some 400 years old. But if you’re looking for a book that can stand the test of time this is a good place to start.

Light on strategy and heavy on wisdom, Elements of Poker is hard to quantify, as it doesn’t fit into the typical poker book category. It’s not a strategy book, it’s not simply a “tips” book, and it’s not a poker psychology book. It’s all and none of those things. The best way I can describe Elements would be to compare it to an AMA Reddit thread that became so popular it was turned into a self-help book, or perhaps a survival manual. If I was forced to compare Elements of Poker to another poker book it would be Larry Phillip’s, Zen and the Art of Poker.

A particular way of thinking

I’m a big fan of this book, as I tend to have a similar poker-world-view to Angelo – that world view being, when it comes to poker decisions that in most cases, it depends, and the answer (no matter what anyone might try to convince you) is rarely a matter of right and wrong. Elements delves into these gray areas.

Reading Elements of Poker requires an open-mind. In the world of Tommy Angelo, not every edge needs to be pushed, and not every perceived edge is actually an edge, some are mirages – such as the mantra that should always keep playing if you think you have an edge in a game.

Basically, there are things you’ll agree with and things you’ll disagree with, because, after all, there is a lot of gray in poker.

Elements of Poker will cover topics you’re well versed in and other topics you’ve never really considered before. Still, there is also a lot of material that most poker players intuitively know, but have never seen clearly spelled out for them. Angelo looks a lot of poker situations from a different perspective than most, and even though the book is nearly a decade old, many of the topics he hits on are currently hot debates in the poker world, including rake increases and how poker rules are applied.

Being a good poker player

Playing poker the Tommy Angelo way is first and foremost about having fun and respecting the game. A lot of the book is comprised of do’s and don’ts ranging from the amount of money you should show up to the casino with, to when it’s appropriate to talk during a hand. If you follow Angelo’s advice on the written and unwritten rules of poker you’ll be a happy, well-liked poker player.

As the header says, Angelo will teach you to be a good poker player, good meaning virtuous and playing the game the right way.

Being good at poker

When it comes to strategic decisions, for Angelo it’s not all about the EV of play, nor is it about a personal decision based entirely on your motivations. In the world of Tommy Angelo your mental health (your motivations and staying in the right mindset to play your best) are as important as the EV of a particular decision. There is a certain honesty to Angelo’s advice that is often lacking in other poker books, as not every decision can be based entirely on numbers, nor can it be strictly emotional. Some of the advice seems contrarian, and pure numbers players will likely ridicule some of his suggestions, but wizened players know most of the advice is sound.

So, on top of being a good poker player, Elements can also make you good at poker.

Who would benefit from reading Elements?

Unlike a tournament strategy book, or a book about poker tells, this is one of those universal poker books, where a new player can have their eyes opened to the wonder that is thinking poker. At the same time, a more experienced player can also benefit, perhaps by learning a few new concepts and having several others reinforced.

Elements would be a great first or second read for a beginner poker player. It would also be a great read for a longtime player who has become soured on the game of poker, or poker players in general, or an experienced player who feels they have nothing left to learn.

But as noted above, the most important thing to remember when you read Elements is to keep an open mind, and don’t feel bad if you question the author’s advice, because Angelo would be the first to tell you that every poker player is different, and needs to blaze their own path. Elements can’t blaze this path for you, but it will offer up the advice needed to keep you from falling off a cliff, catching poison ivy, or running out of water while you’re finding your way.

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