What a difference a decade makes! The renewed interest in big bet poker (mostly no-limit hold'em, but also some other games) has made this insightful book by Stewart Reuben and Bob Ciaffone even more relevant than when they wrote it. As much as I liked it in 1997, I like it even more now that I can actually put some of its advice to use.
I enjoyed switching back and forth between the Reuben and Ciaffone voices - both authors have lucid, informal writing styles, and both have a good sense of the appropriate level of detail. Reuben probably conveyed more of his personality, in part by repeatedly advising the reader that he's a real bully at the table, in part through a conversational voice that made his sections especially pleasant. Ciaffone's writing was only a little less colorful.
In general, I found each of the chapters individually fascinating for different reasons. Although I don't expect to play no-limit draw lowball, I know infinitely more than I did before reading the book, and I'd even consider taking a shot at a game with unusually small antes (the authors do admit that part of their goal in writing the book was to help repopularize big bet poker). The stud chapter worked through from third street to the river, as do most stud texts, but I'd be hard-pressed to draw any other parallels with books on limit stud. And the chapter on London Lowball, which I thought would be a bit dull, was probably one of the most interesting in the book, due in part to an addendum on some simple concepts adapted from game theory.
To my surprise, I found the quizzes after each of the game-specific chapters to be interesting and informative reading on their own, unlike quizzes in other books I've read. Each question presents a game situation, and each possible alternative receives a different score (e.g., 5 points for raising, 2 for folding, -20 for calling). They then include a brief description of the considerations that went into each decision. I found it useful to see how well my own thoughts predicted their discussion, and in one or two places there was even the opportunity to anticipate how Reuben and Ciaffone would disagree.
My only gripes with the book were minor, including a few rough spots, some typos, some odd transitions that had me momentarily confused, and a system for calculating post-flop odds that struck me as needlessly complicated.
Overall, I thought the book succeeded not only as an introduction to big-bet poker, but also as an enjoyable book that stands up well to multiple readings. The mix of games covered, far from diluting the relevance of the book, really helps emphasize the importance of fundamentals. Of course there's much more to big-bet poker than the contents of this one book, but it offers a good introduction that goes well beyond the kind of how-to-play advice you get in most books. "'
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