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Poker News | Poker Book Review

Harrington on Hold’em Review: Expert Strategy for No-Limit Tournaments - Volume 1: Strategic Play

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If there were a Mount Rushmore for influential poker writers, one of the faces that would be carved into the mountain would undoubtedly be the Boston Red Sox hat clad head of Dan Harrington.  Best known as a player for his victory at the Main Event of the World Series of Poker in 1995, Harrington also pulled off the perhaps more remarkable feat of making back-to-back final tables in the Main Event during the Moneymaker boom era in 2003 and 2004, when the number of players in the tourney grew exponentially.  But perhaps more important to Harrington’s legacy in the world of poker are the two brilliant series of books on no limit Holdem strategy that he has authored, the two-volume cash game opus Volume I and Volume II, and the original three volumes of writing on tournament play.  The scope of material in each of these books is much too wide for just one article; therefore, volume one will be covered here, with reviews of the second and third books to follow soon.

Anyone who doubts the amount of thought that goes into playing a live no limit Holdem tournament will immediately be stopped in their tracks by a hand from the 2003 Main Event final table that Harrington analyzes in loving detail at the start of the book.  He gets inside the heads of all the players at the table, players with remarkably different styles ranging from Harrington’s own very tight play to the wild aggression of Sam Farha, and describes the thinking that each player goes through during the hand, also spending some time on how the hand could have gone differently had different actions been taken.  It is a tour de force of analysis, and sets the tone for the depth and clarity that infuses the entire three-volume set.

The overall goal of the first volume is to explain to the reader how to play the early-to-middle stages of a no limit Holdem tournament.  The book is broken down into seven parts, each of which covers an essential area of tournament strategy.  Part One is an overall introduction to the game, including all of the things that need to be considered in playing a hand.  Part Two deals with playing styles and how to play them, play against them, and how to switch from one to another.  Part Three concerns itself with reading the players at the table and understanding how best to exploit their styles.  Part Four teaches the mathematics of pot odds.  Part Five is a complete strategy on betting before the flop.  Part Six covers post-flop betting.  Finally, Part Seven deals with betting after the turn and river cards have hit the board.

One of the best aspects of the book is the set of hand problems that follows each chapter.  Once the reader has digested the information in the section, he/she is given a series of sample hands and asked to make the correct play, based on the cards, the other players at the table and the situation in the tournament.  While other books have used similar quizzes to solidify reader knowledge, none have gone into the loving detail that Harrington puts into his explanations of why a play is proper or not.  Harrington gives us a very complete look at all the factors that he considers at the table before making a play, and inspires the reader to do the same.  Mastering these problems, and going back and reviewing them numerous times, is certain to improve the results of any tournament player, no matter how advanced you are.

While the topics covered in many of the sections of the book are not unfamiliar to readers of other books on tournament holdem, it is the depth to which Harrington goes in explaining them that separates this book from others of its ilk.  For example, in the section of the book on Reading the Table, the author spends many pages detailing the decision-making process that is necessary to engage in relative to the playing styles and actions of your opponents, as well as how they are reacting to your table image.  What Harrington does is examine decisions on a third and fourth level strategic basis, and he forces you to consider the plays you are making in a much richer context than simply the two cards in your hand.   

While Harrington clearly has a preferred style of play (tight-aggressive), for which he has earned the joking nickname “Action Dan,” he is not averse to approaching the game as a teacher from multiple perspectives.  While the majority of moves described in the book utilize a more controlled style, he not only shows how looser players would deal with a similar situation, but also describes the necessity to shift gears at various points in the tournament, ushering in different types of moves and counter-moves.  At the same time, the mathematics of the game is always there as an anchor for every bet and fold, as Harrington continually goes out of his way to examine pot odds and outs at every stage of a deal.

One of the beauties of the book is how many different situations are examined at every step of a hand.  While many books simply talk about which hands to play before the flop, Harrington breaks it down into many more categories, examining just how to react in a wide variety of contexts.  For example, he looks at times when you are not only sitting in different seats at the table, but also breaks down betting options based on how many players have already entered the pot, how large their bets were, and what their playing styles are.  This allows the reader to extrapolate the information into almost any situation that they will face in a tournament, at every stage of play.

Overall, Harrington’s tournament books are indispensable for both amateurs and professionals alike.  They are books that will provide a never-ending treasure trove of information that you will keep coming back to, over and over again.  This is a book that every poker player should own and read multiple times to fully understand the game from one of poker history’s best minds.

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