Classic Texas Holdem Lessons
We've already covered the latest and greatest Texas holdem instructional material found online, but while putting that page together, it occurred to us that some poker players may not be so tech savvy.
It's easy to tell readers to visit Twitch and live stream poker coaching sessions, but plenty of poker players out there today just aren't all that comfortable using the internet for more than web browsing and email. And that's fine, spending time online isn't for everybody, and many folks out there actually learn more effectively when they're exposed to more tangible teaching.
With that in mind, we've decided to create a companion piece to our main page on Texas holdem Lessons, Coaching, and Strategy - one that focuses on traditional teaching materials like books and live classes.
Of course, it is 2016, so you won't find the same diversity of poker coaching tools in print as you might have in the 1990s. But even so, several poker authors have taken up the mantle from pioneers like Doyle Brunson, David Sklansky, and Barry Greenstein, penning in depth poker books that reflect the rapid advancement in strategic thinking over the last few years.
Additionally, a few poker training courses eschew the online route in favor of a more personal experience. By inviting students to convene physically in classes and seminars, live instruction sessions like the World Series of Poker (WSOP) School are a great way to immerse yourself in the full fledged poker experience. With cards in hand and teachers on hand to offer pointers and advice, a live poker school can help bridge the gap between theory and application.
If you're a poker player who prefers traditional forms of learning over the digital alternative, you're not alone. The demand for an alternative to online poker coaching may not be as great as it once was, but it still represents an important segment of the overall market.
This page is intended to provide a thorough introduction to some of the more influential and widely read poker books and training manuals, along with a rundown of the live classes and courses where aspiring players can gather and hone their skills together.
Classic Poker Books That Still Hold Up
Before the dawn of the digital age, the most efficient way of disseminating a lifetime's worth of poker wisdom was by writing a book. Although much of the advice found in these dusty tomes is quite outdated by now, a few classic titles have managed to endure, capturing timeless poker lessons that will always remain applicable.
Super / System by Doyle Brunson (1979)
And in 1979, nobody had lived the poker life quite like Doyle Brunson. One of the original Texas Road Gamblers, Brunson simply dominated the biggest poker games played during the era, travelling from city to city alongside pals like Puggy Pearson and Chip Reese and taking on all comers.
Between 1976 and 1978 alone, Brunson managed to win five gold bracelets at the WSOP in Las Vegas, including back to back $10,000 Main Event World Championships in '76 and '77.
One year after his amazing WSOP run, Brunson sat down to write what would later become the undisputed Bible of poker strategy books: Super / System: A Course in Power Poker.
Over the course of more than 600 pages, Brunson lays bare his personal approach to Texas holdem poker, revealing to the world for the first time how high stakes pros play the game. Brunson also invited friends and fellow pros like Reese, Bobby Baldwin, David Sklansky, and Mike Caro to write various chapters on their areas of expertise.
As a result, the original Super / System offered the general public their first glimpse inside the real world of high stakes poker. Brunson and his team of contributors combine to explain every aspect of the game, from deciding on starting hands to sizing up opponents, and of course, Brunson's signature relentless aggression.
Back in the day, few players raided the table with repeated raises and reraises like Brunson, and his ability to push talented opponents around with ease was the stuff of legend. As the Course in Power Poker component of the title suggests, Brunson devotes much of the text to teaching players how to overcome their fear and apply aggression to their advantage.
Of course, in 2016 the idea of "playing back light" - or raising with a lackluster hand on a bluff - has become a standard part of poker strategy. With that in mind, Brunson's book - along with its 2005 sequel Super / System II - won't be offering modern players all that much in the way of new information. But who do you think invented the style employed by today's young guns?
It was Brunson and his merry band of road gamblers, who were winning gold bracelets and dragging six figure pots well before stars like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey were even born.
Adding Super / System to your poker library should be considered an essential step within your overall poker tutelage, because you can't understand the game as it's played today until you look back at the way it once was.
Holdem Poker for Advanced Players by David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth (1988)
The name Mason Malmuth may not ring bells for poker players today, but if you frequented casinos and card rooms during the '80s and '90s, you probably read one of his many strategy books.
Along with Sklansky, an analytical sort who turned his poker play into a prolific career as a strategy writer, Malmuth wrote holdem Poker for Advanced Players to tackle a specific variant of the game: Limit holdem.
Nowadays, Limit holdem tables run less frequently than the more popular No Limit variety, but back then Limit was the only game in town. In the modern world, Limit holdem still has its place, and plenty of players enjoy nothing more than a relaxed session at the $3/$6 Limit tables grinding away against old friends and foes.
At the higher stakes, Limit holdem becomes a surgical game preferred by experts well versed in the game's nuts and bolts. Many of the largest poker games in the world, in terms of average pot size, are actually limit games - with the famed "Big Game" at the Bellagio in Vegas typically running at $800/$1,600 blinds and higher.
When reading through holdem Poker for Advanced Players, you may be surprised to learn that terms like "semi bluff" - which are now common parts of the poker vernacular - were actually coined by Sklansky and Malmuth.
Whether you consider yourself a Limit holdem aficionado, or you simply recognize that Limit skills form the foundation for many high level No Limit strategy concepts, sitting for a spell with holdem Poker for Advanced Players is a great way to absorb integral knowledge about the classic poker variant.
Harrington on Holdem by Dan Harrington (2004 to 2006)
Published during the height of the poker boom, Harrington on holdem is really a catchall term used to describe a three part series on tournament teachings, and its companion piece on cash game play.
The first title in the series, Volume I: Strategic Play, was released in 2004 to critical acclaim form the poker community. Written by Dan Harrington, the mild mannered veteran best known for his stunning 3rd 4th run in the '03 and '04 WSOP Main Events, Volume I introduces readers to several fundamental concepts that have since gone on to become principal foundations of poker strategy.
In the book, Harrington explains an idea that he coined the M Ratio at the time. Essentially, Harrington used the M Ratio to continually assess his own stack's health during the course of a tournament. By dividing his total chips by the current big blind, Harrington was always able to determine the relative value of his stack.
Today, poker players barely mention their current chip count, instead referring to their stacks in terms of big blinds. Obviously, this is the optimal way to think about tournament chips, because the constantly escalating blinds work to devalue chips like clockwork. Through his development of the concept of M Ratio, Harrington's first volume literally changed the way we speak about poker today.
As you might imagine, Harrington on holdem covers much more than this one lesson, offering a full tutorial on the advanced poker arsenal used by one of the game's most successful pros of his era.
The first volume was followed one year later by Volume II: The Endgame, which focused on the crucial latter stages of tournaments when a single mistake can mean the difference between a six figure score and a min cash. One year later, Volume III: The Workbook was published, serving as a finishing course for the first two volumes by testing readers with poker puzzles, example hands, and other interactive teaching tools.
In 2008, Harrington expanded his oeuvre with the two volume Harrington on Cash Games, which shifted from the tournament centric coverage of the original series to teach readers the ropes of proficient cash game play.
All in all, the five books written by Harrington during his heyday as one of the most consistent tournament pros on the planet form an essential addition to any self taught poker class.
Modern Must Read Poker Books
The new generation of poker pros cut their collective teeth studying the classics listed above, so it's only right that a few young guns took their own shot at becoming authors. Even while many of their peers are investing their instructional energies to mediums like Twitch and YouTube, today's poker writers have chosen to reach out to audiences who still prefer to access information by flipping through pages.
Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker by Jonathan Little (2011)
As one of the most consistent tournament performers of the day, Jonathan Little has recorded 127 live tournament cashes for more than $6.3 million in earnings.
Along the way, Little has also carved a niche within the poker community as a talented writer, publishing several instructional books to supplement his growing Float the Turn coaching platform.
With Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker, the best of Little's analytical approach to Texas holdem is on display. He begins by establishing a firm understanding of the fundamentals, including the role of effective stack size and the power of position. Throughout the more than 300 pages that follow, Little invites readers to consider a variety of situational poker conundrums that are regularly encountered during tournaments of every size and scope.
Chapters like "Do Not Play Robotically" and "Make Your Decisions Simple" are direct and to the point, explaining reasons why beginners should avoid the temptation to overdo things. When watching elite pros on TV one upping each other with advanced moves, it can be easy to think that's how every poker hand goes down. Little dispels that notion repeatedly, urging his readers to focus on the basics and work on mastering a few skills rather than trying and failing at several.
The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler (2011)
As the coach for more than 450 poker players, Jared Tendler applies his Master of Science degree to develop full service "mental game" improvement.
In his first book The Mental Game of Poker, Tendler delves into the esoteric nature of poker psychology and how the brain can affect the body. As Tendler teaches, concepts like controlling emotions and resisting tilt, exuding confidence at the table, finding the motivation to play to your fullest potential, dealing with the brutal swings caused by short term variance, and others that remain in one's head can directly and indirectly effect performance over individual hands and prolonged sessions.
Tendler uses his scholarly background to explain the fundamentals of the mental game, before providing useful advice on how to address the various "mental leaks" plaguing every player from time to time.
Poker studs like 2012 WSOP Main Event winner Greg Merson, Team PokerStars Pro Lex Veldhuis, and online legend "Ben "NeverScaredB" Wilinofsky swear by The Mental Game of Poker. These high profile pros each point to the revelations found within as pivotal in their own poker development, so surely you can learn something about yourself by taking Tendler's advice.
Reading Poker Tells by Zachary Elwood (2012)
Even though he's not a well known pro, poker player Zachary Elwood still managed to contribute a valuable addition to poker literature with Reading Poker Tells.
Approaching the game from a psychological profiler, Elwood devotes his teachings to the role of "tells" in poker. Everybody who has watched poker depicted in the movies has seen exaggerated poker tells, as blinks, flinches, and smiles give away the strength or weakness of a player's holding. And while these dramatic poker tells aren't the most common sight at a real poker table, Elwood lets readers in on one of the game's biggest secrets: tells do exist, and they can mean the difference between winning or losing over the long run.
Elwood works to categorize the seemingly endless array of physical movements, verbal statements, and involuntary actions that every human being cycles through during moments of stress. In doing so, he constructs a valuable encyclopedia of poker tells, complete with detailed descriptions of how they appear and sound.
In addition to teaching readers how to spot tells, Elwood spends several chapters discussing how to interpret the scattered pieces of information you're able to notice. By examining the relationship between "strong" and "weak" statements, confidence and hesitance, the speed with which a bet or action is taken, and even subtleties like re checking hole cards and bet sizing patterns, Elwood walks readers through the types of tells that even disciplined pros are prone to display.
The significance of tells in modern poker is still a matter of debate, and detractors of tell oriented poker strategies assert that this approach can rely on unproven supposition rather than ironclad strategy. But if you remember that tells are just one tool in a skilled poker player's arsenal, Reading Poker Tells is the perfect book to improve your observational abilities at the table.
Excelling at No Limit Holdem by Jonathan Little (2015)
Little is back again with yet another book that will likely go down as a classic decades down the road, just like Brunson's famed Super / System.
And just like that all timer from "Texas Dolly", in Exceling at No Limit holdem Little assembles several of the sharpest poker minds to contribute individual chapters. The book offers poker knowledge from 17 pros and figures within the game, including Chris Moneymaker, Phil Hellmuth, Olivier Busquet, and many more.
In Moneymaker's chapter, the 2003 WSOP Main Event winner that sparked poker's boom days tackles "Lower Buy In Tournament Strategies," while Hellmuth discusses "Short Stack Strategies: Old School Versus New School" with English pro Liv Boeree.
Elwood contributes a chapter on "An Overview of Poker Tells," and Dr. Tricia Cardner gives her insights into poker thinking in a chapter titled "Mental Toughness: The Ultimate Psychological Edge."
Throughout the book, Little jumps in with two chapters of his own, "alue Betting Versus Pot Control" and "Tackling a Final Table."
As stated by Little in his Introduction, the goal of Excelling at No Limit holdem is "to help beginning players transform into strong amateurs, (and) to help strong amateurs become world class."
By combining the different styles of 17 successful poker players and pundits, Little does just that, offering neophytes a wide range of ideas to consider, while giving veterans new ways to solve the same puzzles they've been pondering for years.
Live Poker Coaching
Once you've read through a few of the poker books listed above, odds are high you'll want to take to the tables and put your new knowledge into action.
But heading straight to the casino for a tournament or cash game may not be the best idea, especially if you lack live poker experience. Playing on the internet is one thing, but sitting across from eight stone faced opponents starting you down from across the felt is another animal altogether.
One of the best ways to prepare for the rigors of live poker is to participate in a physical poker coaching seminar or academy. While most require travel to a central location like Las Vegas, if you can get yourself there, learning in person from experienced pros and instructors is a tremendous resource to take advantage of.
WSOP School of Poker
Formerly known as Zen Poker Mentoring, this live seminar program was created by Las Vegas poker pro Brian Rast. He may not be a household name, but Rast is widely regarded as one of the top players in the world's largest tournaments.
Since 2015 alone Rast has won more than $10.5 million in live tournaments, including a historic $7.5 million haul from his first place finish in the inaugural Super High Roller Bowl $500,000 buy in tournament. All told, Rast has earned over $19.1 million playing live poker since 2005.
For Rast, creating Zen Poker Mentoring in late 2014 was a labor of love, as the veteran pro saw an avenue to use his downtime as a way of giving back to the poker community. The company, which specializes in live coaching sessions involving 15 20 students and several well known instructors, was later acquired by the WSOP to form the WSOP School of Poker.
WPT Bootcamp and WPT League
Under the stewardship of fan favorites Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten - both accomplished players in their own right while also announcing the WPT - these instructional groups have blossomed into beloved segments of the poker community.
For over a decade now, the WPT Boot Camp has served as a meeting ground for aspiring poker pros looking to learn alongside likeminded individuals. After taking part in group classes - led by poker luminaries like six time WSOP bracelet winner T.J. Cloutier, Doyle Brunson's Todd Brunson, and the first woman to win a $1 million prize, Kathy Liebert - attendees gather to test their knowledge against one another in freezeout style tournaments.
The goal is to prepare beginners for the reality of a live poker session, including the long hours, the logistics of handling chips and cards, observing the rules, and even advice on etiquette at the table.
After graduating from the camp, players tend to transition to the WPT League, a worldwide network of small pub poker leagues that meet regularly in towns and cities all across America, Europe, and Australia. These leagues compete in free to play tournaments, but the games are serious despite the low stakes, with league standing points and even entries to genuine WPT tournaments up for grabs.
The atmosphere at a WPT League event is laid back and casual, with players ranging from 18 to 80 getting in on the action. In fact, an 85 year old grandmother in Australia made headlines this year, after Nita Day stormed through her Gold Coast WPT League to claim first place in the season long standings.
Playing in a casual setting can be a great way to take the pressure off while you work on improving your game, and WPT League is as casual as it gets. With no money on the line, a friendly lineup of opponents, and the opportunity to experiment with new plays without punishing your bankroll, these pub poker get togethers are perfect for beginners looking for an easy entry point.
Advanced Poker Training
To supplement the site's wide array of interactive instructional material, Advanced Poker Training also provides a convenient link to connect students with poker coaches.
While scrolling through the Advanced Poker Training stable of coaches, you can read up on the resumes of respected pros like Scott Clements, Jonathan Little, Ed Miller, and even Mike "Mad Genius of Poker" Caro.
Rates for coaching services vary between $100 and $300 per hour, which is a bit expensive, but if you're willing to invest a few hours and few more bucks, the insights gained can prove to be invaluable over the long run.
Another thing to consider is the sunk cost of playing without consulting a coach first, because raw rookies inevitably drop a few buy ins before ever becoming profitable. So if you're going to drop $1,000 to get better at poker, you might as well do it with a pro like Clements - 2x WSOP bracelet winner, WPT champion, and $7.1 million earner in live tournaments - showing you the ropes.
Sometimes the best Texas holdem lessons aren't found online. Some of the bet lessons are found in an old fashioned book. Don't make the mistake of ignoring the classics when you're looking for the best Texas holdem poker lessons.