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Poker News | Poker Book Review

A Review of Harrington on Hold’em: Expert Strategy for No-Limit Tournaments- Volume 3: The Workbook

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In past articles we have reviewed the first two volumes of Dan Harrington’s classic series on no-limit holdem tournament play.  In this third and final book, Harrington offers his readers a chance to put what they have learned into practice with a series of problem hands, the vast majority of which are taken from big tournaments featuring players with which almost all readers will be familiar.  Each hand is broken down into a series of actions and related multiple-choice questions, which the reader is meant to answer to the best of his ability.  Once all of the questions related to a deal have been answered, Harrington presents his analysis of the hand, and assigns point values to each of the possible answers.  At the end of the book, there is a score sheet that the reader can fill out to see how he rates as an overall player, based on the number of points he scored on all the questions, as well as a breakdown of where the reader’s weaknesses are (pre-flop, post-flop, etc.).

One of the more delightful aspects of the book is that Harrington frequently takes us inside the minds of some of the top players in the world, examining their styles of play and giving us an inkling of what makes them tick.  We get to play hands as Chris Ferguson, Gus Hansen, Phil Hellmuth and most frequently, as Phil Ivey or Daniel Negreanu, watching some of the remarkable maneuvers that these two legendary pros have made during some of their more memorable tournaments.  Interestingly, many of the choices that these top players make are not the ones that Harrington recommends as optimum plays (one hand features Ivey bullying a table with 9-3 offsuit, which as you can guess, doesn’t receive the maximum number of points as a pre-flop choice!)   But one of Harrington’s strengths is his ability to keep a foot in two worlds, that is, clearly explaining what the thought process is behind a particular play, while still describing why he thinks another option would have been better.

In putting together the book, Harrington made the smart decision to focus almost all of the problems on post-flop play, recognizing not only that there are countless books that teach people how to play before the flop, but also that play after the board has been revealed is the most challenging part of the game for most players.  The author is committed to helping create more complete players, and the spotlight on this aspect of play is designed to have just that effect.

One new topic that appears in Volume Three is play on the bubble of a one table sit n go tournament.  Harrington undertakes a rigorous mathematical investigation of exactly how to handle a situation where elimination means no cash, but finishing third takes a full 20% of the prize pool, a much different situation from a multi-table tourney, where a minimum cash barely makes a dent in the total prize money.  During the discussion, Harrington leads the reader through a series of hands designed to instruct how best to play with the big stack, with equal stacks and when a player is just trying to hang on.  It is an issue that fills in a gap that the first two books never addressed, and it does it well.

If there is an overall criticism of the book to be made, it is that Harrington seems to depart from some of his own tenets of play whenever the mood suits him.  At the time of the book’s publication, I was participating in a weekly live poker forum with eight other players.  We decided to use a problem from the book as an introductory quiz each week, with a discussion of the hand following Harrington’s explanation.  The arguments that ensued were insane!  Some were to be expected, based on a player’s differing approach to the game, where he just simply disagreed with Harrington’s style.  But many were brought on by what people found were inconsistencies in the recommended plays, based on what had been learned in reading the first two books of the series.  Of course, it is just this type of argument that has kept 2+2’s online forums going for a number of years now, but there was certainly a lot of truth to people’s objections.  In the long run, it just goes to show just how multi-layered poker strategy really is, and that even with someone who seems to play as straight forward a game as Dan Harrington, there are many areas of nuance to be considered.

Probably the greatest strength of the book is the repeated insistence that players learn how to properly size their bets.  In every problem, players are presented with a wide variety of raise sizes from which to choose, and Harrington takes great pains to explain how different choices greatly impact the way the rest of the hand will play out.  By following along with Harrington’s reasoning, and thinking in advance about what the player’s intention should be at every step of the way, the reader can make great strides in understanding this absolutely crucial aspect of play, and greatly improve his ability to control pots at any stage of a tournament.

In the final analysis, Volume Three - The Workbook is a solid rounding off of the Harrington series, and a worthy addition to any library.  Players looking to improve their games will be well served by taking the time to go through each problem in great detail, learning the particular aspects of the game that the author is emphasizing.  My own suggestion would be to record answers on a separate sheet of paper, so that, after you’ve finished the book the first time, you can let it sit for a few months and then return to it and approach the problems anew.  In comparing how you did, you will have a clear blueprint of what has solidified in your game, and what areas still need improvement.

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