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Poker News | Poker Book Review

A Review of Championship Hold’em

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The vast majority of poker books that focus on Texas Hold’em have been written about the no-limit variant of the game, from Doyle Brunson’s seminal chapters in Super System to Dan Harrington’s three-volume tournament series and two-title cash game books.  There are few books written by players of that magnitude on limit hold’em, a game that doesn’t have the reputation of its no limit cousin, but is played even more frequently in cash games, both live and online.  However, there is an exception that fills that void, which is TJ Cloutier and Tom McEvoy’s Championship Hold’em, which has been released in a new edition.

For those not familiar with these two authors, Cloutier is a member of the Poker Hall of Fame, having for a long time been the all-time leading money winner at the World Series of Poker.  McEvoy was one of the finalists for Hall of Fame honors, and won the “Champion of Champions” tourney at the WSOP, an invitational held for former winners of the Main Event, which McEvoy captured in 1983, becoming the first man to win the tourney after having qualified via a satellite tournament.  Both are legendary players, as well as prolific authors, having penned numerous instructional guides, both together and with other authors as well. 

Championship Hold’em is a no-nonsense guide to winning at limit holdem in both cash game and tournament settings.  The authors make no bones about teaching a very solid approach to play, making it very clear that they consider a tight-aggressive style to be optimum for this game.  What is refreshing about the new edition of the book is that the authors are very cognizant of the shifting landscape in poker today, and the much more loose-aggressive styles that have become in vogue.  Rather than ignoring these new table realities, Cloutier and McEvoy present a number of ideas about how to combat these types of players, as well as others that you may run into at the table.  They detail the best strategies for playing tight, loose and “no fold’em hold’em” games, and introduce lots of concepts for how to deal with every type of player you will encounter.

Along the way, the two even show that they don’t always agree on just how to play a hand.  One particularly entertaining discussion they have concerns flopping the nut flush draw with two over cards to the board, and how best to play it.  Both present cogent arguments for why they play it the way they do, and the reader is left to think about which strategy he would employ.  The beauty of poker is that many different approaches to situations can work, and the authors show here that not even the top players necessarily agree on how to handle specific hands.

The book is clearly broken down into sections that cover all aspects of cash game limit hold’em.  After beginning with an overview of the basic concepts to master in order to have success in the game, as well as a look at the different types of games you will encounter, lengthy chapters follow on play before the flop, as well as at every stage of the hand that follows the flop.  In addition, a side chapter is inserted, which instructs the player in the proper uses of the raise, the check-raise, the bluff, the semi-bluff and the fold.

After this, Cloutier and McEvoy then delve into tournament play in limit hold’em, building on the ideas presented in the cash game sections, but clearly demonstrating how those concepts need to be modified in order to be successful in a tourney setting.  They detail how to set a table image, and how to take advantage of that image as the tournament proceeds.  They also look at how to handle different situations and players that are likely to be encountered during tournament play.  All of it is clearly written and comprehensively explained.

What follows this is the most entertaining portion of the book, where the authors break down 20 different hands that you might be dealt in a tournament and detail the best ways in which to play them.  The hands range from the obvious, like pocket aces, all the way down to very marginal and even questionable hands, especially when you consider the reputation for tight play that the authors carry with them.  They explain in each hand why or why not to get involved with it, how to play it depending on both position and flop, and what to look out for if you are involved in a hand with it.  The best part of this section of the book is that it forces the reader to begin to take a number of variables into account when considering how to play this game, and allows you to get inside the minds of two top professionals and see how they think.  

Beginning poker players are often what are termed “Level One” thinkers, where all they consider is the cards they hold.  While the authors make it clear that it is important to play good cards, they force the reader to consider deeper levels of poker strategy in order to make their decisions.  What cards are your opponents likely to have?  What type of players are your opponents, and why are they making the moves they are making?  When they bet at you, what cards do they think YOU have?  All of these aspects of limit hold’em are taken into account in Championship Hold’em, with an eye toward navigating the dangerous waters of today’s more aggressive styles of play.

This new edition of Championship Hold’em is a worthy volume for anyone who plays limit hold’em to have in his/her library.  Along with Jennifer Harman’s chapter on the game in Super System 2, it represents writing from two players who have stood the test of time, have seen everything there is to see in poker and are still profiting at the tables.  Both Cloutier and McEvoy are masters at what they do, and are voices to be listened to and learned from.

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