I’m going to let everyone in on the biggest secret in poker; there is no secret! You can quit looking for that special book, video, website, etc. that’s going to turn your game around and make you into the next Phil Hellmuth Ivey.

Poker books are like self-help books. Only a small percentage of people who read either type understand that the information is 90% – 95% the same as in every other book of the type. Those who get the most out of either (or both) books are those who have a good grasp on the 90% – 95% and are reading in order to learn the 5% – 10% of new information. Everyone else reads each new book and thinks they’re learning something new because they didn’t listen or understand what was written in the ones they already read.

Business/Marketing guru, Seth Godin, recently posted something similar about business books on his weblog:

So, there are two kinds of business books.

The first kind contains a simple truth and then tries to persuade you to actually do something.

The second needs a big pad of paper and a pencil. This is the kind of book that covers the mechanics of a skill. Things like process control or cost accounting.

So, for instance, I can name off four or five excellent books that are good for players new to limit holdem. Ninety percent of what’s in each book is the same basic information. Poker strategy is poker strategy. Some books may articulate points better than others but calling 2 bets cold in MP with J2o is still wrong in all of them. Some might tend toward weaker or tighter play depending on various factors like the audience of the book or the limits being played but the fundamental concepts are the same.

The same holds true for self-help books. If you want to lose weight, buying a book about the latest diet isn’t likely to help if you purchased previous diet books and failed to follow the diet. If you buy a book by Tony Robbins for motivation but you fail to do what he tells you, buying a book by Ken Blanchard isn’t going to help you since they both essentially give the same advice.

As Bruce Walker has commented to me, “We know what the right thing to do is; we just need to do it.”

Back in a past life, I was a stockbroker. Unbeknownst to me when I got into the profession, it’s basically a telephone marketing job. Whether it’s Smith Barney or Merrill Lynch, every new broker starts out pounding the phones 10 hours a day until they build up a big enough client list (and many continue on doing it long after that due to the client churn and a desire to “upgrade” their client list). Do you want to know what the secret to becoming successful as a broker is? Make phone calls. You don’t even need to be a great salesman. Just make lots of phone calls every day.

While I (and others) tried to outsmart the system by reading stacks and stacks of books on everything from financial analysis to successful sales techniques, there was always this 10% or so who did exactly as they were told and made 200 phone calls every day with no concern whatsoever about picking great stocks or learning the newest sales techniques. They operated like mindless monkeys just dialing the phone and reciting the same script every phone call.

Five years later that 10% was making 500% – 600% more than I was in commissions and I was stupefied by the fact that I had put so much effort into being better than them but they somehow thwarted me.

They thwarted me by doing exactly what I had been told (time and time again) was the secret to becoming a successful broker. I knew what the right thing was; I just failed to actually do it. I was too busy writing the killer sales script to make 200 phone calls a day. I was too busy finding the best sales leads to make 200 phone calls a day. I was too busy researching which stocks to recommend to make 200 phone calls a day. I was too busy doing everything except what I should have been doing.

You see this on a lot of message boards where somebody will ask people to review their hand history and tell them if they correctly made their little trick move on the turn. Then the poster becomes hyper-defensive when everybody tells him how poorly he played pre-flop and on the flop. That guy is so caught up in playing tricky that he blames his poor results on not executing his fancy plays correctly while his real problem is he completely donks the fundamentals. He knows he should have mucked the hand pre-flop, he knows he made a loose call on the flop, but he’ll argue for pages and pages that he did those things because he’s a good enough player to get away with it. Of course, he’s on a micro-limits message board asking people to critique his play so that should be some sort of indication of how true that statement actually is.

So next time you’re looking to improve your game, instead of reaching for a new book; reach for an old book. In the vast majority of cases, your leak is going to be right there. If you just read one poker book in your entire life and mastered every concept in it, cover to cover, you would likely be one hell of a poker player.

BTW, if you didn’t already click on the link above, check out some highly recommended poker books here.

24 thoughts to “The Ultimate Secret to Winning Poker

  • Stu

    Good article, one of the best things to remember and not only in poker. You can memorize bits and pieces of information every day, but until you actually use that information, it is not knowledge. Once used, information becomes knowledge !

  • CTJames

    Nice read. I see this is quite an outdated post but what is your view on the current exclusive poker e-books written by certain poker pro’s that cost a small fortune? Do they hold a secret? Or are people still paying for the 5-10% new information?

  • Stampa online

    Hi, Thanks for sharing such a wonderful piece of information. I must say that while reading your post I found my thoughts in agreement with the topic that you have discussed, which happens very rare.
    Some may articulate points better than others but calling 2 bets cold in MP with J2o is still wrong in all of the books. Some might tend toward weaker or tighter play depending on various factors like the audience of the book or the limits being played but the fundamental concepts are the same.

  • OziAussieOzi

    Only one book You will return to over and over.Mike Caro’s The Missing Arsenal. It is the Bible of Poker. They dont call him The Mad Genius of Poker for nothing.His book turned from a Fish to a yearly winner. God bless MIKE. Take care Ray from OZ.

  • Rick Lawson

    I would really like to hear your secret Maclas. It is voodoo? If so I can handle that easily as I lived with the Mccow tribe in Africa for many moons. How about the bending the spoon trick except instead of a spoon you conjure the card you want to magically hit the river? That is also an easy one and also easily handled if your name is Antino Astifari. The mind has tricked itself to except so many of the often so called “impossible” feats that it’s really not that hard to handle it anymore so lets have it. I’m ready and able to beat the poker odds anyway I can.

  • Niclas

    Actually, there is a secret. I found it and I can make money on it, but the problem is that this secret is so “huge” that it´s very difficult to handle it.

    It may sound crazy, and I don’t expect you to believe me but I found a technique who makes it possible to influence wich cards you get. If you, for example, need the 10 of hearts you can have the 10 of hearts. I know it sounds crazy, I mean how can you influnce the the randomness, but actually you can. I also found that the best players are using this technique, but most of the players are not aware of it.
    But’s that on the way to change. I resently read in a poker magazine that Mike Matusov just found this secret and that he learned from Phil Helmut.
    The big problem though, is that it’s to scary to use it. It actually makes you a bit crazy.
    It turn around every thing you and others used to believe. About poker and life.
    And it teaches you a complete new way of playing poker. A complete new strategy.
    A strategy that mostly is based on disciplin, but not the type of disciplin that you used to do. Lets just say that the first technique to master is the technique to no longer care about the result, the money you win, or the money you loose.
    But if you no longer play for the money, why should you play then? Exactly, it takes a way a bit of the reasons to even play and this is only one of the parts to master. The other parts is even more difficult.
    Why do I write this?, maybe it’s a message to the guys out there who still are searching for the secret, It does exist! I can asure you.
    But, be careful what you ask for, you may get it.. :-)

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  • Bidera

    ABC – always be closing..

    In chess, unlike poker, you do need to read more than one book. However, the same basic truth holds, you don’t need to read thousand books to become a good chess player.

    There are many patzers (ie fish) who read book after book and never reach master level.

  • Nick

    Excellent post Bill!

  • Po'Boy

    Bill, long time reader, first time commenter. Mostly I subscribe to your feed get a good laugh (e.g. dealing from the bottom of the deck). This post, however, has been added to my favorites, and one of the better strategy posts of the year.

  • Po'Boy

    Bill, long time reader, first time commenter. Mostly I subscribe to your feed get a good laugh (e.g. dealing from the bottom of the deck). This post, however, has been added to my favorites, and one of the better strategy posts of the year.

  • change100

    I agree with Nerd– awesome post Bill. Gave me great stuff to think about.

  • Poker Nerd


  • Dragonystic

    Well said Bill. I’m sorta thankful for that very fact that no matter how many books are written, and regardless of how much poker people watch on TV, people avoid hardwork, and will never be skilled players for that very reason. Great post. Not only for the truth of it, but because it’s something many people have thought about I’m sure, but never could articulate (as Iggy stated.) I bet the pokerbook publishing companies would rather this little truth be completely unknown and unsaid.

  • Mean Gene

    What’s the saying, ninety percent of life is just showing up? You gotta do the work. Reading can give you the toolbox, or the inspiration, but it can’t replace developing a callous on your fanny from sitting down and DOING THE WORK.

  • Bill

    Now you’re talking Dannamatic!!!!! Woohoo.

  • Dannomatic

    Naw my bad for not seeing where the quote ended and your post began.

    Love me still?
    Let’s make up…
    I’ll make you dinner, some flowers, candlelight, some Barry White playing in the background?


  • Joe_13

    So, I shouldn’t run out and buy Greenstein’s book?

  • Bill

    Well, his entire post was 5 sentences. I quoted 4. I quoted, gave him credit for, and linked back to him to quote 4 sentences in a post of mine that was over a page and a half in length. My bad for leaving out the blockquotes (which I’ve edited this post to include now).

    I’m pretty sure that’s covered under the fair use clause in copyright law and since I’ve seen Seth quote over 4 sentences from other sites on his own blog, I would assume that he would agree with me on that premise.

  • Dannomatic

    Fine post?

    Scraping Seth Godin’s content is really not what I would call a great post. Alright great post *Seth* – excellent content scrape *Bill*!

    Bill let me introduct you to the Hyperlink, Hyperlink – Bill, Bill – Hyperlink.

  • iggy

    damn bill – fine post. something i’ve always thought of but never articulated.

  • MEP

    one of your better posts. Of course the donkey that reads about poker has already dismissed your post because you don’t have a link selling the snake oil that he seeks.

    Hard work is undervalued, magic elixir can always be sold for $9.95…and faster than one can bottle it.

  • Dave

    I couldn’t have said it better myself…I do own a few books though..I keep reading the same five…

  • Buffalo66

    Coffee is for closers.

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