The Mathematics of Poker - Bill Chenn & Jarod Ankeman

As anyone who has ever played even a single hand of poker can tell you, there are two essential parts to the game: the players and the odds.  While perfecting your poker demeanor and your ability to correctly read your opponents can take years to master, it means nothing if you can’t do the math.  The Mathematics of Poker by Bill Chenn and Jarod Ankeman offers players new and old tools to obtain a mathematical advantage. 

From the very first word of the introduction, the authors describe poker in such a way that even the most novice poker player or the least mathematically minded person can grasp.  They offer seamless strategies to meld the intuition and math of poker.  As I was reading their list of common misconceptions, I found myself thinking how I had never thought of the game in these terms.  As an avid poker player, it is easy to fool yourself into thinking that you have everything figured out.  Little did I know how much my poker game had been lacking.

I had always hated playing in cash games.  It was too much of a grind, and I always had better success in tournaments.  I discovered as I read that it wasn’t the differences in the games, but the difference in how I approached it. In a tournament, I always knew that once my stack was empty, I’d be going home.  In contrast, in a cash game, I always knew that if I ran out, I could just get more cash.  This caused me to play much more sporadically and to push odds in a cash game that I knew were very much not in my favor.  Of course, I wanted to remain unpredictable and “unexploitable”, but found out that all I was really doing was exploiting myself.

I love the honesty with which the authors approached this book.  They made it very clear that they were offering no mathematical proofs, nor did we have the technology to fully test their theories.  That made reading the book feel much more like I was having a conversation with them versus simply being told how to calculate odds and adjust my strategy accordingly. The fact that they segregated the “hard math” throughout the book really makes it easy to understand for everyone.  So many other similar books read like a mathematical journal that they become disjointed and confusing.  If you don’t want to know the deep down numbers of poker, you can still walk away from this book having a much better understanding of the game as a whole.

Ultimately, I can say that of several upon several poker strategy books I’ve read, The Mathematics of Poker is very near the top of my list.  By mixing all aspects of the game with the uncanny ability to let the reader choose how far they want to go down the rabbit hole, Chenn and Ankemann have created a truly “must read” book for everyone who picks up a deck of cards.

Rating: 4 out of 5