The Intelligent Poker Player - Philip Newall

I was pretty excited to read this book, especially after reading that a lot of people really liked it.  I didn’t expect to be blown away by any means, but did anticipate this being one of the better books I’ve read in a while.

I ended up being pretty disappointed, and frankly I have no idea what some of these other people saw in this book.  I wouldn’t say it was a terrible read by any means or even a book that people should stay away from buying, but you need to make sure that your expectations aren’t too high, as mine clearly were.

I wouldn’t call this a mathematical poker book as some have, although the author is definitely a fan of game theory as it applies to poker, and that is for the most part what drives his advice.  

Be warned though that most of the material is geared toward limit poker, and although Newall claims that this is mostly because it is easier to illustrate his points with the simpler form of betting, it’s also true that most of the strategies are also much more applicable to limit poker as well.  So if you are not one of the very small percentage of players that play limit poker, his ideas will only have limited relevance.

Newall claims to take a top down approach to the game, meaning starting with overall strategy and then looking to apply it to game situations, but in reality the starting point isn’t made very clear, and we are simply given a lot of the application without really being given much of the underlying strategy.

So in that sense this may be seen as a book of poker mathematics for the masses, as is claimed, because the mathematics are pretty much left out.  That’s probably a good thing for a lot of readers though, who become both bored and lost in such discussions, but I would have liked to see more theory being given.  The whole idea of poker is to get us to improve our thinking and this book could have done a much better job of that.

A lot of the arguments in this book apply to tough higher stakes limit holdem games, where the defensive posturing that the author suggests, otherwise known as looking to play more optimally, have more validity than your typical run of the mill poker game of today.  

While he does admit that looking to exploit and looking to play optimally, meaning looking to not being exploited, are more related than a lot of people think, I believe that the best way to play is to look to combine these two elements.  Readers are left to their own resources to come up with a good plan to do both though, although he does provide some insight on the defensive end of things, of a high enough quality to at least make the book readable.

However, this book for most readers will be more of an ordeal than anything and you really have to be motivated to improve your game by all means available to get through this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5