The Mathematics of Poker by Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman

Pete Kaminski
poker Math


Not so much a poker book as a math primer with frequent illustrations that draw exclusively on poker. Chen and Ankenman have created a unique text, one that deals far more with a meta approach to the game of poker from a mathematical perspective and offers very little in the way of traditional, scenario-focused advice. While not for everyone, this book has the potential to reshape the way poker is played.

Book Structure
Clocking in at about 400 pages (with none of the large-face type or wide margins you’re accustomed to if you’re a 2+2 reader), this book covers a lot of ground. The book is broken up into 5 sections: Basics, Exploitive Play, Optimal Play, Risk and Other Topics. Each section is segmented by chapters, and each chapter is capped off by a review of the key concepts it contained.

Unique Advantages
This is really the only (modern) book of its kind. You won’t find another text that takes such an in-depth approach to the meta-math of poker. Other books that talk about poker math are content to settle on the surface, focusing on concepts like pot odds, reverse implied odds, equity, stack ratios, and so on, but this book bridges the gap between fundamental game theory and application of said theory to poker.

Some books will change the way you think about a given situation; others will change the way you perceive certain tactics. This book has the potential to completely change the way you think about poker as a game as well as the proper method for approaching the game from a developmental perspective.

This is also a unique book insomuch that it has utility for just about every player (truly novice players will likely be in far over their heads).

You can’t write a book like this without using a lot of numbers and letters that represent numbers arranged in weird ways unfamiliar to the average reader. There’s a lot of mathematical language deployed in the book, and while Chen and Ankenman do a good job of walking you through difficult concepts, this book is still not going to be a casual read for the average player. It’s going to demand some effort on your part (which should actually be considered an advantage, but might be a turnoff for more casual players).

Chen and Ankenman have broken the mold of what a poker book should / can be, and in doing so, are offering a template for a new era of poker. This book may well end up being regarded as the SuperSystem of its era – a text that marked a fundamental shift in the way that poker is played.

Focus: 10/10
No filler. This book is about developing and employing mathematical models that can be used to understand proper play in poker, and just about every word goes to that end.

Quality of advice: 10/10
Outstanding. This book very rarely, if ever, makes a claim without valid warrants.

Examples: 8/10
Good but, given the complexity of some of the concepts, additional examples would have been helpful in spots.

Readability: 7/10
This is a dry book. It’s more akin to reading a textbook on a subject you enjoy than anything. I don’t know that there’s any way Chen and Ankenman could have avoided this without sacrificing focus and clarity.

Overall (not an average): 10/10
A groundbreaking book.

VERDICT: Buy it and get ready to go back to school.

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