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.