- SUPER/SYSTEM by Doyle Brunson (1979)
- THE BIGGEST GAME IN TOWN by Al Alvarez (1983)
- SHUT UP AND DEAL by Jesse May (1998)
- LOST VEGAS by Paul McGuire (2010)
- BIG DEAL by Anthony Holden (1992)
- THE PROFESSOR, THE BANKER, AND THE SUICIDE KING by Michael Craig (2006)
- POSITIVELY FIFTH STREET by James McManus (2004)
- THEORY OF POKER by David Sklansky (1976)
- SUPER SYSTEM 2 by Doyle Brunson (2005)
- HARRINGTON ON HOLD'EM by Dan Harrington (2004)
- PHIL GORDON'S LITTLE GREEN BOOK by Phil Gordon (2005)
- THE MENTAL GAME OF POKER by Jared Tendler & Barry Carter (2011)
SUPER/SYSTEM by Doyle Brunson (1979)
The Bible for poker players.
Coming in at over 600 pages and weighing in roughly the same amount as a medium-sized dog, Super/System is the one book you're guaranteed to find on the shelf of every poker player.
Doyle Brunson's original edition of Super/System was initially titled “How I Won $1,000,000 Playing Poker.” It was published in 1979 and fetched a high price. The book went out of print for many years before it resurfaced during the glorious poker boom.
For Super/System, Brunson assembled an amazing volume of strategy tips on different poker games from his friends and fellow professional gamblers. Mike Caro covered the intricacies of Draw Poker. Chip Reese penned the chapter on Seven-card Stud. The Lowball section was penned by Doyle Brunson with Joey Hawthorne. David Sklansky wrote the section on Stud Hi/Lo. Bobby Baldwin covered Limit Hold'em and Doyle Brunson covered NL.
At the time of its publication, Super/System was the greatest collection of poker strategy every assembled. Over 35 years after its publication, some of the strategy seems a little bit dated, however, the importance of the Super/System will live forever.
Brunson often joked about how he regretted writing Super/System because the overall book sales dwarfed in comparison to the millions he could have won from opponents who did not know all of his secrets and tips.
DOYLE BRUNSON, SUPER/SYSTEM
If you're going to have a rush, you've got to let yourself have one. You've got to sustain that rush. And to do that, you've got to get in there and play. It used to be that after I had won a pot in no-limit I would be in the next pot, regardless of what two cards I picked up. And if I won that one, I'd always be in the next one. I'd keep playing every pot until I lost one. And in all those pots, I'd gamble more than I normally would. If you don't play that way, you'll never have much of a rush. I know that scientists don't believe in rushes, but sometimes rushes can make you a fortune. There's only one world-class poker player that I know of who doesn't believe in rushes. Well, he's wrong, and so are the scientists. Besides, how many of them can play poker anyway?
THE BIGGEST GAME IN TOWN by Al Alvarez (1983)
In 1981, an English poet visited Las Vegas with a mild fascination to the poker world. He spent three weeks on the rail at the 1981 World Series of Poker. By the time, Al Alvarez left Las Vegas and flew back to London, he amassed enough material for book that would become The Biggest Game in Town.
Al Alvarez penned what is arguably regarded as the best book every written about poker. Opening up the first page to The Biggest Game in Town is like stepping into a time machine and walking into The Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas in the early 1980s. Alvarez vividly captured the fringe characters he encountered in Las Vegas.
Alvarez was regarded as a well-respected poet, who was also friends with poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. With the publication of The Biggest Game in Town, Alvarez successfully brought the low-brow world of high-stakes poker into the same consciousness of the high-brow world of arts and literature. For the first time names like Benny Binion, Johnny Moss, Texas Dolly, Amarillo Slim, Stuey Ungar, Nick the Greek, and Treetop Strauss were introduced to non-poker audiences. Those noteworthy poker people might be household names today, but at the time no one outside of Las Vegas knew anything about those legendary gamblers.
Interesting side note… in the 2003 film "Sylvia" about the troubled life of Sylvia Plath, Alvarez was portrayed by actor Jared Harris, who is also most known for his role as Lane Pryce in "Mad Men."
As the game went on, Moss, who was wearing a pale brown suit flecked with darker brown, like a chocolate chip cookie, took off his heavy gold bracelet and watch and laid them on the table beside his chips. His shirt was open, showing a necklace of heavy twisted gold. The railbirds eyed all his treasure with delight. They love Moss, and he plays to them in a deadpan way, his old lizard eyes registering something almost like pleasure whenever they applaud a win. He is said to be superstitious, and when he was running a poker room on the Strip he once fired a dealer who consistently gave him bad cards.
SHUT UP AND DEAL by Jesse May (1998)
You might know Jesse May from his TV commentary in Europe, but two decades ago May wrote one of the most important pieces of poker literature. In 1998, “Shut Up and Deal”, Jess May's first novel was published.
May captured a precious time in poker history, at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. This was way before the online boom, but at the time brick and mortar poker scene exploded after it was allowed in Atlantic City, N.J. May wrote a humorous, yet gritty novel inspired by his own experiences playing cards in Atlantic City and Foxwoods, Connecticut.
“Shut Up and Deal” tells the story about a young player named Mickey. He's trying to figure out his true calling in life, but while he sorts that out, he's playing on the poker circuit and navigating the slippery underworld inhabited by local legends by the name of John Smiley and Bart Stone. Mickey, often spotted wearing wild costumes and flamboyant suits, travels across America and even hits up casinos in Europe seeking out the biggest game he can find.
May eloquently captures Mickey's vivid, lush, funny journey in "Shut Up and Deal."
Mickey the Narrator
I been playing for over six years now, and I still try and start each day as a new day, pick myself off the floor and get focused.
LOST VEGAS by Paul McGuire (2010)
During the height of the online poker boom, Pauly McGuire was an unknown writer who was hired to cover the World Series of Poker. He moved to Las Vegas for only a couple of weeks, but stayed for several years.
Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker is a collection of his bizarre experiences as a reporter and gambler. He wrote about the underbelly of Las Vegas from a local's perspective, and described the not-so nice scenes that were operating in the shadows of the bright lights of Vegas.
Lost Vegas was published in 2010. In 2011, the French version of Lost Vegas was translated into French by Bejamin Gallen and published in France and Europe by Inculte.
Las Vegas lures you to shed moral responsibility and piss away your money on indulgences like decadent food, entertainment, gambling, and sex. If you don't enjoy these pastimes, then what's the point of visiting the land of compromised values? Where else can you get a cheap steak, crash a Mexican wedding, get cold-decked in blackjack by a dealer named Dong, play video poker for thirteen straight hours, drink pina coladas out of a plastic coconut, bum a cigarette from an 85-year-old woman with an oxygen tank, speed away to the Spearmint Rhino in a free limo, get rubbed by a former Miss Teen USA, puke in the back of a cab driven by a retired Navy SEAL, snort cheap cocaine in the bathroom at O'Sheas, and then catch a lucky card on the river to crack pocket aces and win a poker tournament? Only in Las Vegas.
BIG DEAL by Anthony Holden (1992)
The Oxford educated Anthony Holden spent many years as an award-winning journalist and assistant editor at The Times before a spat with Rupert Murdoch sent him on a detour.
Holden is a prodigious writer who authored biographies about Tchaikovsky, Shakespeare, Laurence Olivier, the Prince of Wales, and Leigh Hunt. Holden is also an award-winning music critic for the Observer.
In poker circles, Holden is known as the author of Big Deal: One Year as a Professional Poker Player.
Originally published in 1992, Big Deal is a thoroughly enjoyable read about one man's journey through the nefarious high-stakes poker world in the late 1980s.
Holden eloquently and honestly detailed the year in the life of an Englishman who decided to play poker professionally and make the tremendous leap of faith of poker aficionado to full-time rounder. Big Deal chronicles the ups and downs of Holden's bumpy ride on the poker circuit, which took him to exotic locales such as Las Vegas, Malta and Morocco.
A remarkable odyssey... part Damon Runyon, part Dostoevsky.
THE PROFESSOR, THE BANKER, AND THE SUICIDE KING by Michael Craig (2006)
Andy Beal, a wealthy banker and real estate developer from Texas, developed a hankering for high-stakes action after a successful weekend in Las Vegas in 2001. Beal studied the game and returned to Las Vegas in 2003 looking for the highest-possible stakes ever-recorded inside the Bellagio. A group of poker pros, known as the Corporation, pooled together their bankrolls as several of them took shots at Andy Beal over a series of matches spread out between 2003 and 2004. The Corporation was comprised of Doyle Brunson, Todd Brunson, Ted Forrest, Jennifer Harman, Chip Reese, Phil Ivey, Minh Ly, Barry Greenstein, Lyle Berman, Howard Lederer, and David Grey.
Author Michael Craig chronicled Beal's matches in his book The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time, which was published in 2006. The book covers seven of the matches at the Bellagio, focusing on October 2003 when over $20 million dollars was exchanged hands between Beal and The Corporation.
In 2006, Beal returned to Vegas to play in another series of heads-up matches against The Corporation. Beal's return (featuring Beal's epic heads-up battles against Phil Ivey at the Wynn) was not included in the book.
'The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time ' is more than just about a few hands of poker. It is a story of outsize egos, appetites, and ambitions; it is a story about the highest echelons of poker playing that very few are able to see; it is a story about one man, twenty million dollars, and one of the most exciting poker games in history.
POSITIVELY FIFTH STREET by James McManus (2004)
In 2000, James McManus was assigned by Harper's Magazine to cover the murder trial of Ted Binion, the son of Benny Binion and heir to the Horseshoe Casino fortune. Ted Binion was brutally killed by Sandy Murphy, his ex-girlfriend and former stripper. A whirlwind trial ensued and McManus split time between the downtown Las Vegas court house and the poker tables.
While he was in Las Vegas, McManus took a shot at a WSOP Main Event satellite. He beat pro Hasan Habib to win a $10,000 buy-in seat into the 2000 WSOP Main Event. During the week of the Main Event, McManus embarked on a heater and made it all the way to the final table ,that also featured T.J. Cloutier and Jesus Ferguson. McManus' epic run ended when he was knocked out in fifth place. Ferguson would go onto to win the Main Event and McManus returned to Chicago to write a book about his experience.
In Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker, McManus weaved his final table appearance along with his remarkable reporting of the gruesome Ted Binion trial. Positively Fifth Street is an engaging and entertaining book and McManus captured life in Sin City and the poker world just before the massive online poker boom changed both.
Random fact: the title of McManus' book is a play on a title of a Bob Dylan song “Positively Fourth Street.”
McManus teaches at the MFA program at the Art Institute of Chicago. He is also the author of several other books including Cowboys Full: The History of Poker.
MICHIKO KAKUTANI, The New York Times
Artfully woven...McManus captures the adrenaline-juiced tension of the game, and he also captures the anomalous mix of skill, bravado, gamesmanship, and sheer good fortune that a player needs to succeed; the bantering rivalry and comraderie that engulf the survivors; and the knowledge, as Conrad once put it, that 'it is the mark of an inexperienced man not to believe in luck.'
THEORY OF POKER by David Sklansky (1976)
David Sklansky worked in an actuarial firm before he moved to Las Vegas to become a poker pro. Sklansky won three WSOP bracelets in the early 1980s, but he's known in the modern era as the author or co-author to over a dozen poker books on Two Plus Two Publishing.
The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky was one of the first books ever written about Texas Hold'em. In the mid-1970s, Seven-card Stud was the most popular game in Las Vegas, and Hold'em was rarely played outside of Vegas or in certain gambling hotspots in Texas and the South. It seemed as though Sklansky was only publishing his book for a few thousands hardcore Texas Hold'em players. Little did he know that Texas Hold'em become the most popular version of poker in the world.
The Theory of Poker might be dated by today' standards, but the most recent editions have been updated to incorporate the modern game.
DAVID SKLANSKY , The Theory of Poker
Every time you play a hand differently than you would have played it if you could see all your opponents' cards, they gain; every time you play a hand the same as you would have if you could see all their cards, they lose.
SUPER SYSTEM 2 by Doyle Brunson (2005)
Call this one The Bible, Part 2.
Super System 2: A Course in Power Poker is the follow up to Doyle Brunson's original tome Super/System, and published in 2005 at the peak of the online poker boom in the mid 2000s. Brunson asked several of his friends and the top pros in the world to contribute chapters on their best games.
Much like first book, the sequel is massive and nearly 700 pages. The only bigger book in the bookstore is David Foster Wallace's behemoth Infinite Jest (1,079 pages), but that's a book very few people actual finished. On the other hand, Super System 2 was a book that was devoured and read many times over. Much like the first volume, Super System 2 is a book that poker players will re-read and re-visit many times a year as reference material.
Bobby Baldwin and Mike Caro appeared as guest authors in the original Super/System and they returned to contribute chapters in the sequel. Brunson also tapped several players from the Big Game at Bobby's Room in the Bellagio including Johnny Chan, Jen Harman, Barry Greenstein, and WPT founder Lyle Berman. Also included in this volume were Todd Brunson and Daniel Negreanu, who represented the next generation of poker players. And of course Doyle Brunson shared more thoughts on NL Hold'em.
Super System 2 covered basic strategies and some advanced theories, along with a section on poker psychology and the history of Texas Hold'em by Crandell Addington. The most insightful chapters were on the games that had the least amount material written about it, specifically Negreanu 's chapter on Triple Draw and Todd Brunson's chapter on Stud 8.
Super System 2 is not as ground-breaking in the strategy department as Super/System. Many of the co-authors did such a fine job in the original volume covering the popular games, so Super System 2 feels more like supplement material. Regardless, you should make room for it in your poker library.
SUPER SYSTEM 2 MAIN CONTRIBUTORS
HARRINGTON ON HOLD'EM by Dan Harrington (2004)
Dan Harrington is a former chess wizard from Cambridge, Massachusetts who spent many years as a bankruptcy attorney. He considered himself a semi-pro even though he's one of only 5 players who won the WSOP Main Event and a WPT title. Harrington won two WSOP bracelets in 1995 including the Main Event. Harrington stepped away from the game in 1996 and used his winnings to create a bridge financing loan company, which is still flourishing to this day.
Harrington returned to the poker world in glorious fashion in 2003. He made a name for himself at the onset of the online poker boom when he made back-to-back final table appearances at the WSOP Main Event in 2003 and 2004. Shortly after that remarkable run, Harrington published the first of several books on no-limit hold'em tournament strategy titled Harrington on Hold'em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 1: Strategic Play and Harrington on Hold'em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 2: End Game. According to Nolan Dalla, "This is the best-selling poker book in history, having now surpassed 300,000 copies sold."
What makes Harrington on Hold'em so special? Unlike many other poker books that used hands as an example, many of Harrington's examples were seen by millions on TV. For the first time, readers had a first-hand recollection of a specific hand and could go back and see how Harrington played it step by step. At the same time, Harrington on Hold'em gave many amateurs their first leg up in playing tournament by giving them a system to follow. And for pros, Harrington's books helped strengthen their games. Harrington broke down the book into specific stages of a tournament like short-handed and heads-up.
By the way, this book is broken up into two volumes and sold as two separate books. It goes without saying that you should pick up both Volume 1 and Volume 2. There is a Volume 3 that is a workbook.
Dan Harrington won the gold bracelet and the World Champion title at the $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em Championship at the 1995 World Series of Poker. And he was the only player to make it to the final table in 2003 (field of 839) and 2004 (field of 2576) considered by cognoscenti to be the greatest accomplishment in WSOP history. In Harrington on Hold 'Em, Harrington and 2-time World Backgammon Champion Bill Robertie have written the definitive book on No-Limit Hold'em for players who want to win, and win big.
PHIL GORDON'S LITTLE GREEN BOOK by Phil Gordon (2005)
Phil Gordon was one of the infamous Tilt Boys, a group of Silicon Valley geeks and poker enthusiasts who took the Vegas poker scene by storm at the end of the 1990s. Gordon was one of the many guys from the “Dot Com Bubble” era who made the transition from the tech sector into professional poker.
During the poker boom, Phil Gordon was most known for his astute commentary on the popular TV program Celebrity Poker Showdown. He also authored several poker books, including Phil Gordon's Little Green Book: Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold'em.
The Little Green Book is very straight forward and does not contain any complicated math, which makes it one of the best books for beginners. The Little Green Book but packs a lot of information into what appears to be a small sized-book that could fit in your back pocket. Phil Gordon offers very good strategy advice on playing NL cash games, while telling a few anecdotes on the side.
Gordon wrote a follow up that was colored blue and aptly titled Phil Gordon's Little Blue Book: More Lessons and Hand Analysis in No Limit Texas Hold'em.
(The Little Green Book) provides the key to leaving solid amateur play behind and embracing the first inklings of playing like a true pro. I now feel endowed with that intangible element of strength known as unbridled confidence.
THE MENTAL GAME OF POKER by Jared Tendler & Barry Carter (2011)
One of the best books ever written about poker psychology is The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler and Barry Carter. The full title is The Mental Game of Poker: Proven Strategies for Improving Tilt Control, Confidence, Motivation, Coping with Variance, and More.
Barry Carter is a British journalist and poker reporter. Even though Jared Tendler is not a poker player, he's a former college golfer who holds a master degree in psychology. He's been a mental coach for both golfers and poker players.
Tendler offers sessions to poker players who are looking to plug leaks in their mental game and do their best to stave off mega-tilt. Tendler has a revolutionary approach and he helps players go deep and confront their fears. Tendler's first poker client was Dusty "Leatherass" Schmidt, who is now known as one of the legendary online grinders. Much of Leatherass' success is attributed to Tendler's lessons. Tendler shared many of those approaches and how to avoid tilt in his book The Mental Game of Poker.
Once you get all the basic poker strategy down, the next step is tweaking the mental side of your poker game. Without a doubt, The Mental Game of Poker is the one book you must add to you library ASAP.
2012 WSOP MAIN EVENT CHAMPION GREG MERSON
It is the only book I recommend. My buddy Tony Gregg (2013 One Drop Champion) told me I should read The Mental Game of Poker on audio book, I downloaded it in the middle of June 2012 and listened to it every night over the course of the WSOP. I couldn't endorse it more, I've done interviews where people ask me what book I would recommend and that is the only book I would recommend. I couldn't agree with the philosophy of the book more.
Actor George Segal passed away after complications from heart surgery at the age of 87. The comedic actor was nominated for an Oscar for his work in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Poker players will recognize Segal as "Bill" from "California Split", a buddy film directed by Robert Altman in 1974 about a pair of degen gamblers from Los Angeles that also featured Elliot Gould.
Journalist and author, Maria Konnikova, recently published a new book about her experiences learning poker and taking down a big event in the Bahamas. Erik Seidel took Maria Konnikova under his wing and a short time, she became a decent poker player en route to a victory in a side event at the 2018 PCA for $84K. She chronicled her experiences in a non-fiction book published by Penguin titled 'The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win'.
While everyone is holed up at home binging on new shows and movies, there's a bunch of highly popular poker movies on Netflix to help get you through the coronavirus pandemic. The all-time classic, "Rounders", is available to stream. In addition, there's "Molly's Game", "Mississippi Grind", and "Win It All" to help you pass the time while in quarantine or lockdown.
Musician and actor, Kenny Rogers, passed away recently at age 81. Rogers is a country and western superstar, but he's also well known in the poker world for his anthemic hit, "The Gambler", which appeared on Rogers' 1978 album, also titled "The Gambler".
Awkwafina will star in a new film titled 'Baccarat Machine', which is based on a Michael Kaplan article about the Phil Ivey edge sorting case and his accomplice, Kelly Sun (real name Cheung Yin Sun). Awkwafina will play Kelly Sun, the mysterious Chinese woman who accompanied Ivey during highstakes baccarat adventures in Australia, Asia, Monte Carlo, and the United Kingdom. The two bilked casinos for millions by Sun manipulating edge sorting techniques in their favor. The two were eventually busted.
D and B Poker published "Poker and Pop Culture: Telling the Story of America's Favorite Card Game" by Martin Harris. During the poker boom, Harris authored a popular blog titled Hard-Boiled Poker. Harris quit his job as an English professor and went to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker for numerous outlets. Over the last 15 years, Harris compiled a collection of essays that became the genesis of Poker and Pop Culture. We're fortunate that Harris sat down with us for a fun interview.