I just got done reading Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo and was really very impressed. I’m somewhat famous for saying that nothing new gets written about poker no matter how many books are published but this is a rare exception. I mean, how many poker books talk about meditation and pranayama type breathing exercises?

It didn’t much surprise me that Tommy would write such a unique book as when I interviewed him back in October 2006 I knew he had a very unique way of looking at the game. But I dig that fresh look. I dig it because how many different ways are there to cover the fundamental aspects of poker?

Elements of Poker isn’t completely devoid of odds and outs but Tommy assumes you already know all of that and you’re looking to improve your game and become a more professional player. His focus is more on helping you see things in perspective rather than telling you whether or not you should raise to get a free card. Learning to separate yourself from your emotions and to just see things as they are rather than how you hope or fear them to be.

Here’s a favourite passage:

All of my good streaks and all of my bad streaks of every length and depth have one thing in common. They did not exist in your mind. They only existed in my mind. And this is true for everyone’s winning and losing streaks. None of them actually exists. They are all mental fabrications, like past and future. Everything that ever happens happens in the present tense. But how can you have a “streak” in the present tense? You can’t. And therefore, if you are in the present tense, which, in fact, at this time, you are, then at this moment there is no streak in your life. There is no inherent existence to streaks. The streak is there when you think about it, and when you stop thinking about it, it goes away. It blossoms and withers, all in your mind. And when your mind invests a streak, you believe it exists, because you believe what your mind tells you. But the truth is there is only the hand you are playing.

It’s almost as if Tommy has taken everything ever written about poker and said “Okay, let me fill in all of the stuff they left out.” Many people throughout history and especially when talking about poker have said that we all know what the right thing to do is, the problem is doing it. That’s what Elements of Poker focuses on. Learning to spend more and more time in your A game and less and less time in your B and C game.

And not only does he cover the inner game of poker but the outer game as well. He discusses table etiquette, how to call a floor man, when to keep your trap shut at the table, and how and when to request a seat change.

Elements of Poker is not an exceptionally comprehensive work. Weighing in at 250 pages it is far shorter than many texts that attempt to cover only a specific type of poker (e.g. Ed Miller’s Small Stakes Hold’em). But the brevity is owed to the fact that Tommy doesn’t bore you with beating topics to death or spend too much time discussing things he assumes anyone should already know. He spends a few paragraphs or at most a few pages discussing a topic and then moves on to something completely different. In a way, at times, the book can read like a collection of somewhat organized thoughts rather than a guide or how-to. I actually like that style because you can read one or two small sections and sit back and take some time to digest it.

All in all, I think this is a book that will change my score in poker. I highly recommend it to anyone who is able to hold their own at the tables already and is now looking for the little psychological tools that they might need to keep them focused.

Poker is a fruit tree. Money is the fruit. There are two ways to get the fruit. One way is to climb a tree, get all scraped up, risk falling out, pick some fruit, and climb down. Another way is to stand on the ground and pick the low-hanging fruit. The Professional knows how to climb a tree. But he rarely has to.

Poker Blog Post of the Week

The honour this week falls on my good amigo The Rooster for his post Game, Set, Match. The Rooster.

If you know Joaquin you know that he’s about the nicest guy around but he loves to talk smack and he’s been humouring me lately with his classifying poker bloggers into A, B, C, and D categories. Mostly because those ranked below A seem to get so miffed at his rankings . . . which is exactly what his goal is.

It was a great tournament with some great banter. That is why we really play these tournaments. Some of you newbies (c and d Listers) might not know this so let me school you on some of the history of these blogger tournaments and the etiquette that must be used.

Rooster, keep up the good fight, man! Keep the newbies in check :-)

Poker Pic of the Week

Poker Pics

Really beautifully done. Good lighting, great atmosphere.

Lifted from Flickr user Blixt

Top Poker Stories

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Life on The Rock

I didn’t spend much time on The Rock this week. I had to travel to London on business. As I write this I’m at the Cumberland Hotel which is unique. The lobby is some sort of retro light show sort of thing that’s hard to describe. Though hard to describe, it’s huge. And it’s always cold. The temps are getting down to around freezing in the evenings and there’s no heating but space heaters in this monster size lobby. With all of the pink and blue mood lighting they have going on it reminds me of those ice hotels that they put up every year in Sweden or wherever.

The room is nice but nothing special. Though I do have to say whoever designed the shower probably failed basic engineering. The shower door swings open and close but the door is hinged so that the opening faces the shower head. Since it doesn’t completely close right that means the bathroom floor gets soaked. And more importantly the shower fixture itself is well into the shower so you have to step into the shower to turn on the water. As the first burst of water is always freezing cold and there’s no way anyone’s arm is long enough to turn it on from a safe distance you start every morning with a refreshingly cold burst of water while you try to dial in the right temp.

So Friday night I go out to dinner at Khan’s. Upon our return to the hotel we walk into the lobby there’s a group of paramedics in the lobby doing CPR on some guy as the hotel staff stands around stunned. I mean, right there in the middle of the lobby the EMT’s are pumping this guy’s chest and bagging him. Talk about a “Holy Crap!” moment. So my co-worker and I hit the hotel nightclub Carbon. We walk in and it’s thump, thump, thump sort of music and we decide to go to the regular hotel bar to have a drink.

Passing through the lobby again the EMT’s are still doing chest compressions which is a very bad sign. I was a combat medical specialist in the army as well as a rescue diver and let’s just say that if you don’t immediately respond to chest compressions chances of them getting you restarted without a jolt of electricity drop to almost nil. I tell my co-worker, “you know once they start they’re not allowed to stop.” He looks at me with a quizzed look and I tell him “I’m not sure of the laws in England but in the US once you begin performing life-saving treatment the only person who can call the patient dead is a doctor so you have to keep going until a doctor gives you the okay to stop treatment.” The fact that they were still doing CPR in the middle of the hotel lobby and hadn’t evacuated him probably meant that he was dead and they were waiting for a call from a doctor to stop treatment. They didn’t want to do emergency transport to the hospital ER.

We had a nightcap and then ran across the street to pick up some stuff from the market opposite the hotel. As we walked back in we saw two ambulances still parked out front as well as a police car. When we walked by the cops were taking statements and the body had been walled off with a makeshift barrier of bedsheets and chairs.

Saturday night we hosted a work-related affiar nat the Loose Canon poker room. That was inteteresting. I got to meet a lot of interesting people but unfortunately I didn’t get to play.

Afterwards I wandered into a casino and smashed the blackjack tables to the tune of £2500 (about $5000 USD) which was more than the entire prize pool in the poker game we hosted so . . . all in all not a bad night.

Parting Shot

You’re making progress as a poker player when you blog less about your poker prowess and more about your failures.