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The Mathematics of Poker by William Chen

Release date: 04th June, 2009
Publisher: CONJELCO

List Price: £23.99
Our Price: £13.04
You Save: £10.95 (45%)
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Given our credit crunch special, it seemed appropriate to review a book about poker's maths, essential reading in difficult time.

We've all come across the scam merchants, bluffers and those, like our City villain, who talk a good game, but ultimately, if you want to be a successful poker player, you simply must understand the game's maths. This is the definitive work on the subject.

That's not to say it's easy bedtime reading, although some will find the way in which Chen relates his mathematical theories to the game both practical and enjoyable. However, for the most part, your maths will need to be at a level beyond GCSE for much of the content to make sense.

Sticking with this book could, however, yield enormous dividends as it's extremely likely your win rate will improve markedly should you apply Chen's theories to your game. It's only fair to point out that this is not a book for beginners; you will require a clear understanding of poker (in its many guises) to get the most out of it.

Essentially, Chen endeavours to teach his readers about how they should think about poker and once you've grasped the maths, his concepts are well presented and make enormous sense.

He is particularly good when it comes to subjects such as manipulating the pot size, adjusting correctly to stack sizes and winning the battle of mistakes. What makes these concepts so appealing is that Chen backs his arguments with clear mathematical examples to prove his various points.

Could the reader actually jettison the maths and concentrate instead on Chen's theories for reading hands or manipulating opponents into playing badly? The answer is 'probably', but to do so, you would miss out on a wealth of expertise and obvious poker wisdom.

Granted, if the prospect of making rapid EV calculations turns you cold, you could conceivably skip them, but the fact is that appreciating how to create EV equations will allow to you evaluate your play when not playing, something which, ironically, will improve your game when returning to the table.

In short, you should stick with Chen's maths because once you've absorbed his concepts, this is a book to which you will return time and again.

When Chris 'Jesus' Ferguson beat TJ Cloutier in the WSOP main event in 2000, many game theorists hailed the victory as one which marked the beginning of a new poker age. Forget all of that nonsense about reading your opponent or wearing dodgy sunglasses and a headset they suggested, for poker is en route to becoming a lot like chess or backgammon. In both of these games, computer models can replicate the moves of the greatest players; only child prodigies and world-class players can beat them.

Ferguson was deemed to be the greatest poker 'game theorist' on the planet and his overtly mathematical style of play clearly generated fantastic results. His approach is believed to be based upon the work of a Hungarian mathematician, John Von Neumann, who back in 1949 co-authored The Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour.

Von Neumann, who enjoyed a private life that could be described as 'interesting and full', went so far as to create a series of mathematical equations that determined when it's best to bluff, raise, check or fold, but can poker be boiled down to mathematic formulae?

Andy Bloch, who boasts table winnings of $3 million is, not surprisingly, a committed advocate of a mathematical approach, although he is convinced that associating poker with maths should not deter players from learning 'game theory'. Well that, you may say, is easy for a guy with two engineering degrees from MIT and a law degree from Harvard to say, but William Chen, who has won more than $850,000 at the last two WSOP events, endeavours to make game theory more accessible in The Mathematics of Poker.

It's worth spending time on Chen's arguments, although some of the maths may prove heavy going if you do not possess at least a GCSE in the subject; should you be old enough to have 'O'-level maths, the book will not throw up anything with which you cannot deal.

Chen has tried to write the definitive work on the subject, but it is not a book for those new to poker. It will help enormously if you are already a competent player and have absorbed books such as How to play Poker and Win by Brian McNally.

Chen endeavours to explain how game theorists think about poker, guiding readers through a series of concepts that each have a mathematical angle. From reading hands and forcing opponents to play poorly, to manipulating the pot size and "winning the battle of mistakes", the author's coverage is comprehensive,. However, like any other predominantly mathematical tome, it's the sort of text that cannot be read in one sitting, although regular referrals to its pages will undoubtedly help players evaluate their play in a more slightly more scientific manner than blaming a loss on a run of cold cards before disappearing to the bar.

Few poker players are content with their knowledge of the game and although it may take several readings of certain sections of this book, reading it should greatly improve your game - in theory at least.


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