Book Review: Education of a Modern Poker Player

untitledIn 1957 code-breaker/spy/poker enthusiast Herbert O. Yardley (perhaps the original “Most Interesting Man in the World”) published Education of a Poker Player. The book was one part memoir and one part poker primer, and together it combined for a fascinating read.

Some 55 years later, in 2013, John Billingham, Emanuel Cinca, and Thomas Tiroch, working with D&B Publishing, combined to publish Education of a Modern Poker Player, and when I received it in the mail my first question was, “how will this compare to Yardley’s seminal work?”

I’m happy to say that while I wouldn’t put it on the Mount Rushmore of poker books alongside the original –Education of a Poker Player was one of the first poker books I read and still one of my all-time favorites—Education of a Modern Poker Player is a solid entry in the poker book market.

What’s the book about?

Education of a Modern Poker Player follows amateur poker player and mathematician John Billingham on his journey from micro-stakes fish to profitable low-stakes poker player. Billingham picks up two mentors (AKA poker coaches) on his journey, Cinca and Tiroch, who act as his guides.

What is refreshing from the outset is Billingham is under no illusions as to the quality of his play, and is probably one of the most receptive poker players you’ll run into when it comes to accepting criticism and making improvements.

The text is broken up into two main parts (along with a smaller “Interlude” and an “End?” which is more of a preface to a future book) where we see Billingham journey from a “Fish” losing at $10 No Limit tables, to “Less of a Fish” where he becomes a profitable low limit player, specializing in fast-fold poker games.

The similarities and the differences with its predecessor

Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat; this book is not the page-turner that the original Education of a Poker Player was, mainly because a legitimate poker primer in the modern era needs to be far more detailed and math oriented (read as, more plodding). So Modern Poker Player is a bit more primer than memoir, where the original is a bit memoir than primer.

Unfortunately, there is really nothing that can be done about the dryness of poker books nowadays; it’s simply the way of the modern poker book. But Education of a Modern Poker Player is still light years ahead of most poker primers in terms of readability thanks to its conversational format.

Modern Poker Player does have the same teacher/pupil dynamic as the original, only this time around it’s the main character who is the student –in Yardley’s work he was the teacher trying to educate Ling, his Chinese confidant. So there is a lot of back and forth between the authors, like in Yardley’s original.

Who is this book written for?

This is most definitely a book for beginners, but unlike most poker primers on the market, Education of a Modern Poker Player is also geared towards people who have been playing for a while and still find themselves struggling.

The book lays out the tools at your disposal to turn your poker game around (the shortcuts if you will, like software programs, coaching sites, and forums), as well as doing an excellent job of correcting the bad habits players have already formed.

This last aspect is something you don’t see very often, if at all. Most poker primers assume the reader is a blank canvas that can be tattooed in any way shape or form the author decides. Education of a Modern Poker Player is more of a tattoo cover-up, a book designed to get rid of a hideous mistake(s), which is actually much harder than starting fresh.

While a solid winning player might get some entertainment value out of the book, and might get a refresher course on what it’s like to think like a fish, the real audience for the book is new or struggling players.

You can buy the book for about $20 on Amazon, or grab the Kindle version for a mere $12.

Author’s note: I did not read Education of a Modern Poker Player on my Kindle, but having read a D&B Poker Book on my Kindle in the past I can say the formatting is really good, so you won’t have trouble reading the charts and graphs.

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