For a while now there has been a type of no-limit Hold'em tournament specialist known derogatively as the "move-in artist". These players generally play a hand in one of two ways. Usually,Nick Christenson is widely regarded as one of the best gambling book reviewers publishing today. He is a contributor for Poker Player magazine, and has published in Full-Tilt and Gambling Times. He is also the editor of the very funny 'Casino Death Watch,' which chronicles the comings and goings of casinos in Las Vegas. He is an avid poker and blackjack player. Nick's website is www.jetcafe.org/~npc/ they fold, but their other option is just to push all-in. The problem is, that in a no-limit game without deep stacks, this can be a remarkably effective strategy, frustrating those who prefer to "play poker". The all-in strategy is examined in considerable detail in Kill Phil by accomplished tournament veterans Blair Rodman and Lee Nelson.
Part One of the book sets the table. It provides a brief history of tournament poker, as well as a qualitative explanation of why the move-in strategy works so well. Rodman and Nelson do a good job of justifying why this playing style is an effective way for those without advanced poker skills to close the gap with tournament poker professionals.
Parts Two through Four cover increasingly detailed revisions to the Kill Phil move-in strategy. Rodman and Nelson do a good job of covering all the bases. Their complete strategy considers position, stack size, limpers, playing in the blinds, the number of opponents, and many other factors that may affect play. I am impressed by the thoroughness of the authors. This comes at a price. The complete strategy is fairly complex, but it is within reach of any diligent student. At the same time, there were a few situations in which I thought additional specifics could have been provided, but only at the risk of confusing the target audience. Overall, I think the book does an excellent job of balancing simplicity and thoroughness.
The authors acknowledge that the Kill Phil strategy is not their own whole cloth invention. Specifically, they cite David Sklansky's "The System" from his book Tournament Poker for Advanced Players. They also acknowledge that he subsequently refined his strategy, but they omit a citation for it, which is unfortunate. I appreciate that Rodman and Nelson provide more and better citations than the average poker book, but there is still room for improvement here.
The book concludes with some ancillary material. The authors provide a sample tournament where most of the principles discussed in the book are applied. Of course, in this story the protagonist using the Kill Phil strategy does extremely well, but it wouldn't have been much of an example if our hero had been out drawn on the first pot he plays. The example is useful, but the readers should note that few tournaments they play will go any where near this well, no matter how good their strategy is.
Another late chapter provides suggestions for how poker players can improve their mental acuity when traveling. I was interested some of the authors' suggestions until they recommended taking homeopathic remedies to help the body adjust. Frankly, the fact that Lee Nelson, a medical doctor, was willing to endorse homeopathy made me sick to my stomach. It also makes me call into question their other health-related suggestions.
Another minor objection I have to the book is that they state their strategy in terms of how their opponents play. This is fine as far as it goes, but it weakens some of their strategies. A more mathematically rigorous approach would be to adopt a strategy one that was indifferent to whether one's opponents were playing tight or loose, and then adjusting it based on opponent playing styles. The fact that the authors don't approach their strategy in such a rigorous manner weakens some of what they're saying, and also answers a question Rodman and Nelson raise about why the recommendations of Sklansky's advanced version of "The System" differs from the strategy presented in Kill Phil.
These issues aside, Kill Phil is a good book on no-limit poker tournaments. It fulfills its promise of providing a strong tournament strategy that even a beginning poker player can employ to make them a threat in any poker tournament. I expect that successful tournament players will also benefit greatly from reading this book. Not only is the Kill Phil strategy entirely appropriate for even skilled poker players during later stages of tournaments, but it is important to understand this strategy as tournament players will face opponents who have adopted it. While I don't think the book lives up to Russ Hamilton's back cover endorsement as the "best book on tournament no-limit hold'em", it is well worth reading, and I recommend it.
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