Cardoza Publishing is known for, among other things, publishing poker books that feature a number of players commenting on either a single topic or variety of issues in the world of poker. This trend began with the publication of Doyle Brunson’s original Super System, and was most recently seen in Daniel Negreanu’s Power Hold’em Strategy. A similar idea is in play in Warwick Dunnett’s book Poker Wizards. A Boeing 747 pilot who has increasingly found himself playing tournament poker, Dunnett decided to interview some of the top players in the world (plus body language expert Marc Salem) for their thoughts on a set list of tournament-related poker concepts. The “wizards” profiled in the book include Daniel Negreanu, Dan Harrington, Chris Ferguson, Marcel Luske, Kathy Liebert, T.J. Cloutier, Mel Judah and Mike Sexton.
After an introductory passage on each player, where each one tells the story of how he or she became a top player, the chapters play out in similar fashion, where the wizards break down their approaches to areas such as tournament strategy, aggression, common errors that players make, starting hand concepts, specific hand strategies, tells, online play, psychology and money management.
While there are stretches where each chapter reads very similarly (particularly in the strategies for specific hands, where there are a very limited number of ways they recommend playing A-A, K-K and the like), the most interesting aspects of the book are the divergence in styles between the most conservative players, such as Ferguson and Liebert, and the looser approaches of people like Negreanu and Luske.
One such divergence is the attitude the players have towards the early stages of a tournament. While Cloutier and Harrington make it clear (and anyone who has read their own seminal works on poker knows this concept well) that chips saved during the early part of a tourney can be used to double up later on, Luske looks to play a much wider range of hands when the blinds are small, hoping to build up a big stack quickly, and use it to position himself for the long haul. While he admits that this causes him to be eliminated early a lot of the time, he shrugs it off by saying that when this occurs, it allows him to do other things in his life that he truly enjoys with the time he isn’t spending at the table.
The best parts of the book are the chapters on players that the well-versed poker reader may not have heard from much in the past. While most players have read Harrington, Negreanu and Cloutier’s books, few have been treated to Chris Ferguson expounding on game theory and how it relates to how frequently players should bluff in a tournament.
Fewer still have had an extended look into the minds of some of the other top players featured here. When Mike Sexton speaks about how his own approach to tournaments has changed by watching the way professionals work their way through the WPT minefields, the reader is aware that he looks at and edits hundreds and hundreds of hands for the WPT broadcasts each week, and is compelled to pay attention to what Sexton has learned in doing so.
We know that Ferguson is one of the founders of Full Tilt Poker and has extensive experience playing online, and when he presents the argument that multi-tabling online allows a tight player to feel as if he/she is involved in many more hands, thereby eliminating any boredom factor the player may be experiencing, while forcing a looser player to engage with more solid hands more often, we understand that there are years and years of expertise speaking to us.
Another important and fascinating thread that runs through the book is handling the proper mental state necessary to be a successful player, as well as the role that luck plays in both the short and long-term. The wizards discuss various ways in which players can keep the proper attitude toward both winning and losing, and stress the need for constant analysis of one’s game to see whether good AND bad results are coming from your play, your luck or a combination of the two. Anyone who has played the game for any length of time knows just how important the avoidance of “tilt” is, and there are some good tips sprinkled throughout the book for doing just that.
One of the areas in which the players disagree most widely is in determining the size of bankroll necessary to play regularly in $1,000 buy-in tournaments, where opinions range from just $20,000 to $200,000. However, there is universal agreement that the making of a poker pro is something that can only come about gradually. Every one of the experts noted that, unlike other professions, whether or not you are a poker pro is only determined by what your profit/loss statement shows. Until the money you are making at the table is consistently greater than what your day job pays you, keep earning your paycheck, while working your way up the poker ladder.
For those who like their poker books to be chock-full of in-depth, specific strategies for either tournament or cash-game play, this is probably not the book for you. However, anyone who is looking for refinements in any number of areas of his/her tournament game will find enough nuggets of wisdom in this book to do just that.
By having such a variety of players represented (and it should be noted that there really are not any “extreme” loose-aggressive players here), the reader can sift through the writing and get a sense for, among other things, a style that feels comfortable for his or her own natural tendencies. In the long run, finding a mode of play that resonates with one’s own personality and that one can be successful with is probably the most important discovery a poker player can make, and this book can help a less-experienced player do just that.