Poker for Dummies by Lou Krieger and Richard Harroch isn’t exactly going to be the book that will turn you into a poker god. It is geared toward the home game player and casual casino player who would like to dabble in several popular poker games. If that’s you, this will be a fine first book. Otherwise, you should probably give it a pass.

The book’s main flaw is it’s too broad in focus. It was written before the hold’em craze really took off (it was published in 2000), which is one reason it covers several variants. The variants covered are seven-card stud, hold’em, Omaha high/low eight-or-better, Omaha high, and seven-card stud high/low eight-or-better — coincidentally, the same forms of poker that sites such as PartyPoker offer. This breadth comes at the expense of depth. Nowhere is pot odds discussed, although they aren’t ignored entirely. For instance, they will tell you not to fold on the river with any kind of hand, which is generally correct, and that a bluff only has to succeed a fraction of the time in limit play to be profitable, also correct.

The book does not cover pot-limit or no-limit play on the pretense that a beginner should not play these forms of poker. This is generally wise, but today a no-limit game can be more accessible to more beginning players than when the book was written. Still, a beginner is far more likely to go broke at no-limit hold’em than at limit unless he is taught properly and specifically for this task, and that would be a book in itself. Similarly, the book does not discuss shorthanded play at all, although some discussion may be appropriate since home games are often shorthanded compared to casino games, with four to six players being a typical number among friends.

I’ll note that this was my first poker book, bought sometime between 2001 and 2003 (my memory is not very good), so I had it quite a while before I first played for real money in October 2004. Therefore, I can read this book from the perspective of a neophyte, recalling what it was like to read about this stuff for the first time, and also as an experienced player.

By the way, this review is not really meant to be read by people who intend to purchase the book for themselves, since I would imagine if you’re on this website you’ll probably have enough poker knowledge to not need this book. But some people may be thinking of purchasing the book for a friend, in which case this review should be helpful. If you are a completely new player, this review should still give you some insight, but I will use occasional poker slang which I’m afraid I must leave undefined for the sake of brevity. (This review is long, so it needs all the brevity it can get.)

Beginning chapters
The opening chapter discusses the history, rules, and basic etiquette of the game. Nothing stands out to me except that it does not state that A2345 is a straight. This is something that a lot of beginning poker texts and hand ranking charts seem to omit, and I wished they didn’t because it wasn’t until a while into my play money career (admit it, you had a play money career, too) that I found out that A2345 did make a straight. Other than that, it is comprehensive and covers the bases pretty well, and I can say this having read the chapter years ago as somebody almost completely new to poker, and having looked over it again now as an experienced player.

Chapter two begins discussing general strategy. It explains that frequent decisions are the money-makers and money-losers, not what happens in a particular pot. It explains hand selection, aggression, and position. However, it does not discuss pot odds at all. It does hint at it, for instance explaining that you need to be right only 10% of the time to make a call on the river if you’re not sure you have the best hand, but it doesn’t explain the mathematics of it. Maybe the “For Dummies” guys thought math would scare the readers away, and I suppose there’s some truth to that. I think it at least deserved mention, though, so that anybody who wants to know more will know what to look up.

Seven-card stud
Although this book was published only a few years ago, it’s perhaps telling that the first chapter is seven-card stud and not hold’em. I myself am ambivalent toward the hold’em craze: it is a great form of poker, but I wish its popularity didn’t come at the expense of everything else. (Hold’em was the dominant form of poker in casinos in the U.S. when the book was published, but I’m sure it wasn’t as dominant as it is now.)

The book has you playing tight strategy, certainly a good idea for a beginning player, and it’s perhaps more important to be tight in stud than any other form of poker. It also discusses what to do with certain kind of starting hands, such as three of a kind, big pairs, small pairs, and drawing hands. However, it does not discuss play on other streets very much, except noting that fifth street is the most critical point, where you will throw away many of the hands you decided to play on third street, and if you call on fifth street you should usually see the hand through to the river.

Texas hold’em
Here it is, the hold’em chapter. First it explains the differences between hold’em and stud, including how blind bets work. The advice given is fairly standard, such as the importance of position, “fit or fold”, etc. The given starting hand requirements are loose, likely in part because of the assumption of small stakes. For example, in late position it says hands that are as weak as 54s and 87o are playable. It does explain that some of the playable late-position-only hands are more playable than others, but doesn’t explain which ones or why and doesn’t quite get across just how trashy a hand like 87 really is. The advice also seems inconsistent. It says 87o is a playable hand in late position, but also says that a pair of fours is not playable until late position. The inconsistency is in the apparent definition of “playable”: a lowly pair of deuces is playable in any position in a loose enough game, if you fold when you don’t hit a set. So saying a pair of, say, sixes isn’t playable in early position is setting a fairly high standard for a “playable” hand — but saying 87o is playable in late position sets a low standard, where almost any hand that has a chance of showing profit in some situation is deemed “playable”. It also doesn’t discuss much about what is “playable” when it’s been raised in front of you, and other common situations.

The discussion of the flop is pretty well-handled, given that the book is written for players new to the game. There is more discussion of the flop, turn, and river than there was for the corresponding streets in seven-card stud. On the whole, the chapter is not that bad. I just wish they defined the starting requirements better, since the cards you hold before the flop dictate how you must play the rest of the hand.

Other games
The book goes on to discuss seven-card stud high/low, Omaha high/low, and Omaha high. Omaha high is discussed in only a page and a half, which is not surprising since it’s discussed in its limit form, and Omaha high is not commonly played fixed-limit, and the Omaha high/low chapter seems a tad short as well, but the stud high/low chapter is pretty well fleshed-out. Like the other chapters, they are decently-written.

The book goes on to discuss home poker, including describing some popular home-game variants such as five-card draw (hey, remember that game?), lowball, baseball, and even some variant I’ve never heard of called “iron cross”. However, strategy for these games is ignored entirely, and the chapter isn’t particularly insightful.

Other information
All that covers only half the book! After the home games chapter, it’s back to general information again. First is a chapter of bluffing, which is decent, but not as insightful as a page of Matt Lessinger’s “Book of Bluffs”. Then is a nice chapter on money management and recordkeeping. It contains the usual: it discusses (but does not endorse) stop-losses, talks about win rate and standard deviation (and how to estimate them), and finally how large your bankroll needs to be and when to move up. I’m surprised that the book discusses standard deviations, but does not discuss pot odds! Oh, well…

The next chapter covers tournaments, but it hardly provides any insight on how to play them. It certainly doesn’t discuss the basics of no-limit play, which is unfortunate since the majority of tournaments in the United States, big and small, are no-limit hold’em. Then we get a chapter on video poker. It starts off by emphasizing that video poker is not poker, and one kind of gets the impression the publishers made them throw the chapter in there. (I don’t know if that’s what actually happened, but it wouldn’t surprise me.) It does contain sound advice, but the book wouldn’t have been hurt much by its omission. Then we get a chapter on the World Series of Poker, including a few stories.

Finally we get to more good stuff: using a computer. It gives a glowing review of Wilson Software, then discusses online poker. The information in both parts is a little out of date — as is usual whenever computers enter the picture! It talks about the value of play money games, but I think it exaggerates a bit. In the real world, almost every play money hold’em game there is will be capped before the flop! It’s hard to learn much about poker in a game like that. It also mentions, which I would recommend to almost nobody because it’s on Usenet, which is too geeky for most people. Hell, it’s too geeky for me, and I’m a geek.

The rest of the book is pretty much lighter stuff, including poker jargon, other books to read, and the final “Part of Tens” that the “For Dummies” series is known for among its fans. The top-ten lists include a list of tells, ten legendary poker players, ten keys to success, ten things to consider before going pro, ten ways to improve, and ten ways to adapt your poker knowledge to everyday life. It’s well-done for what it is.

Poker for Dummies is a fairly good book for what it is. Again, I think its focus is too broad (“broad focus” is an oxymoron, isn’t it?), but I suppose it would be very difficult to write a “Poker for Dummies” that is more focused. Too much focus and you lose the “for dummies” aspect.

Focus: 7/10
Just a tad too ambitious in teaching several poker variants. It doesn’t go into a whole lot of depth about particular games, but then it doesn’t particularly need to, as it’s meant to be an introductory text.

Quality of advice: 8/10
Not much different from the advice I’d give in many cases.

Examples: 5/10
They could have done a lot more here, but what’s there is well-explained.

Readability: 10/10
Very easy read.

Appropriateness: 10/10
This book is meant to be an overview of everything about poker for the beginning player, and accomplishes that task exactly.

Overall (not an average): 8/10
The score is given considering what the book is. It does not claim to be an in-depth analysis of the game, and so it is not scored as such. I do think a beginner may find a book with a more narrow focus to be more immediately helpful, but then again it may not be as fun to read.

VERDICT: A good if not too serious book for a recreational player or a complete beginner.