Harrington on Cash Games Review
Well because I have no life (and because it rained, no baseball practice today), I just finished up both volumes. Now to be fair, I skipped a good amount of the problems, reading all the examples and all of the earlier problems. But that was one of my main problems actually was the lack of explanations in the problems. So I read a few of those in each section but sort of skimmed at least half of each section in the 2nd volume.
First off, if you're looking for quick easy secrets to winning, this book isn't for you. Most players know a lot of these concepts, but Harrington explains them so well and gives concrete examples of how to put them into practice, and brings up a few things most people probably didn't consider. Also if you're looking at crushing micros this is not the book for you. It does have a section on beating weak games (classified as 25nl and lower online, although he says 25nl is the transition point where some of these tactics could be useful against some players), but I'll summarize the entire thing for you. People play worse, just play tighter preflop and widen your range postflop, value top pair much higher. That section is a joke and I think it's probably the only bad section in the entire book, which is good because it's the one dealing with the easiest concept.
So great, you're a 25nl+ player or even less that just wants to step up his or her game to the next level. You understand most basic poker theory, you can read a board, identify the strength of your hand, count outs, etc. This book will probably help you accomplish your goal. But the work is still on you. It does not lay out a formula for winning. Anyway, now that we got that part out of the way, let's concentrate on the books themselves.
Harrington starts out with the basics. Stuff that you should already know if you're going to understand the rest of the book. He recommends to read the section multiple times if you don't know them. I recommend you read a beginner book. He glazes over the topics much too fast for anyone to learn them for the first time. Topics included are pot odds
, calculating outs and odds, different types of bet (value, probe, bluff, semi-bluff), and how bet sizes compared with the pot affect pot odds
. Even if you do understand these concepts you should read these simply because you probably learned these topics in chunks. You may have a partial understanding of a lot of these concepts and this really outlines the theory behind everything and you may even learn a thing or two you didn't know.
Then it gets right into the main theme of the book. Small stacks require less hands to get all-in and bigger stacks require closer and closer to the nuts to play for stacks with. Anything less than the nuts in a deepstacked game requires good pot control, including checking when you think you are beating an opponents' range.
Now if you know anything about the tournament books, you'll know that Harrington does not give recommended plays, but rather a recommended distribution of plays. He will for example say in one situation fold 70% and call 30%. The calls are simply for image building and although most of the time lose money on the hand, they catch the occasional bluff and send the message that you will look people up with bad hands. Similarly he suggests very rarely checking a full house down to the river (obviously raising if an opponent bets and not checking if you have position) simply because it will send the message that these checks do not indicate weakness all the time. Now I agree much of this is needed at high stakes games like the ones he no doubt plays, but most of us playing low to mid stakes online don't need to vary our play first of all because there aren't many observant players to make making a theoretical mistake pay off enough by taking the observant players' advantage away and second of all because we will not be playing a long time with any one person. Obviously if we play at reasonably high limits and are facing a reg who we know keeps notes on us, it may require randomizing plays such as Harrington mentions (and the randomizer is a watch or clock, use the second hand), but from my experience even at limits above the "weak" ones Harrington classifies as 25nl and down, playing theoretically correct and avoiding checking aces to the river or folding with bottom pair 100% of the time when you're pretty sure it's a made hand outweigh the positives of metagame. If you're of this view you can just take the higher probability number and use it the heavy majority of the time, if not all the time.
He then goes into sections on TAG play. He starts out with preflop play and the fact that TAG players in a deepstacked game still play suited connectors, small pairs, and sometimes downright bad hands (but not absolute garbage) like 75o. He talks about how a HSP limp with 82 is just terrible even deepstacked as they are. He points out how the gap concept doesn't apply in deepstacked cash play because of implied odds, and that because of reverse implied odds hands like AA unimproved are marginal hands, not monsters at all.
He goes through all the different hands and examines them through examples about how he recommends playing them. Then he gets into flop play. He talks about having a plan for the hand before you do any action on the flop, how to identify a goal given an opponents' range of hands, and various ways to accomplish that goal. He then goes through the possibilities of heads-up flop play. You flopping a monster, flopping one pair, flopping garbage. Then he gets into all 4 posibilities with aggressor and position. He goes through the typical hands you'll play and how to play them correctly but here's where I'm not sure where he's coming from. He talks of how it's usually correct to follow the standard line of checking to the raiser and cbetting when you raised preflop the majority of the time. Most concepts he's good at explaining but he really doesn't explain this too well. He does explain checking when you have a monster but what about hands you think will fold a weak hand but don't want to commit enough chips to re-raise the inevitable bet? And obviously if you do that some of the time you have to also re-raise monsters to balance the play sometimes. But he advocates mostly standard play here that most people would be familiar with but a few variations that deep stacked play causes that some people may not catch. He includes several examples of wa/wb and similar variations where betting accomplishes nothing even though you're most likely ahead (including pot control when you're wrong).
The next logical section is the multi-way flops. It advocates an extremely straightforward approach on these flops which makes perfect sense. If you hit a hand you're more likely to get paid off if you just bet it, and if you missed you don't really want to bluff as there are more people that could have you beat. One big thing it mentions is that even hands like middle pair that could possibly be ahead need to be bet because of the sheer number of draws that could be present. The only exception to this is if you have the absolute nuts, and for example flopped a boat. Most likely no one else has the one remaining card for a pair or one of the 2 remaining cards for trips. So you slowplay hoping someone will catch up or bluff at it. Remember with all the cards drawing, and with most of the "outs" opponents may think they have not really being outs, you can afford to offer this draw knowing you will have the best hand on the turn the overwhelming majority of the time.
Now we move onto volume II, basically the same book but it was apparently too long to fit in one and they wanted more money out of it .
Volume II continues the logical sequence and moves on to turn play. It discusses concepts including the fact that draws all have significantly worse odds, the importance of pot commitment in a large pot, and the effect that the threat of a river bet has, making it conducive to bluff when your opponent has the threat of another barrel on the river and to wait for the river to value bet because they know their odds of seeing the showdown. Of course to mix it up he advocates a mix of checks and raises with both, skewed towards the theoretically correct play.
And then he goes on to discuss river play, determining which hands you're willing to stack with considering opponent, previous action, etc. He uses math and ev concepts to show that in most cases with the nuts a straight shove is more profitable than a value bet because although it gets called less often it is an overwhelming step up from a value bet and it will be called by somewhat weaker hands simply because it looks so much like a bluff. He goes through a ton of sample hands each with a hand of different strength and different circumstances.
The next section is devoted to tells
. He talks about how over-rated live tells are and gives examples for first of all how rare it is to have enough hands to develop a tell on someone, make sure it's right, and then actually get into a position to use it. And then when you do get in that position, it doesn't always help (example is boat with low set, straight and flush draw on board. Does his tell meaning extreme strength mean nut flush? Nut straight? Straight flush? Higher boat? But he points out that giving off tells can hurt you a lot because you have 8 others watching, and that if you give one off mostly all will notice and exploit it. He talks about the merits of a poker face vs. a scripted defense, which includes intentional "tells" meant to confuse opponents. Even if he knows some of the tells are intentional, are all of them? Is the nervous tick part of your act or is it real? He advocates up to 6 scripts to follow which you generate randomly with your watch as mentioned before. This way the minority of the "tells" you are giving are involuntary and the voluntary ones are random, meaning they are meaningless, which leads to the fact that the majority of tells you are giving off are meaningless, which is always good. He ends with an example of how Negreanu, who prides himself on his ability to talk and not betray his hand, actually does betray his hand and concludes that if someone like that can slip up, so can anyone reading this book.
The next section is devoted to LAG play, which isn't nearly as comprehensive or helpful as the TAG section. Basically it points out that LAG play is similar to TAG play, because there is a point, usually on the turn and river, where it's not a matter of style, it's a matter of correct play vs. incorrect play. LAG players simply play more speculative hands and play them faster, allowing their monsters to be paid off. It warns of going too far though and losing too much value with the total junk to justify the increase in action with monsters. It's a good short summary of the style, but if you're looking to learn or perfect the style, you've picked up the wrong book. Dan Harrington plays a TAG style and spends the bulk of this book explaining how to employ it.
Finally he gets into beating weak games, which as I mentioned, contains absolutely nothing new to the average CC poster. It advocates tightening up, not playing speculative hands, and valuing your hand more postflop because mid pair and bottom pair are more likely to call you down. It also advocates value betting both more money and more frequently, because you are more likely to get paid, and opponents are less likely to pay attention to things such as pot size and bet size.
It has another section on bankroll management and basically has valuable information but again nothing a CC poster hasn't seen 20 times.
It concludes with an interview with a good cash game player, forget his name and never heard of him before but apparently he likes to keep it that way. It's somewhat interesting although there is a lot about his life and such there is a lot about poker. He talks about the young players who walk in and don't understand that it's possible to lose for entire months while playing good solid poker and that the one problem with the young kids who walk in are that they are too willing to call re-raises. One other main point is the fact that he mentions that $5/$10 online games used to be weak as recently as 2003, which means that if the trends continue, low limits are likely to become stronger as well. Although that doesn't mean they will become unprofitable as there will still be plenty of people who don't understand the game willing to put $50 or $100 and play with no regard to BRM, but as I mentioned in another thread about going pro, you can't quit your job with no backup and expect to profit at the rate you are profiting now at online poker in the long term. Players will get better, and the games will get tougher.
One thing that I'm skeptical about
He advocates min-raising (or mini-raising as he calls it) UTG and talks about how better position should be more. Now I usually do exactly the opposite since in EP I need to compensate for my postflop position problems and the fact that because I'm raising from EP I'm most likely crushing any later position's calling range, thus the bigger bet extracts more value while I'm ahead. Later position I don't need to bet as much to discourage callers plus I'm more likely to have position postflop. Now his logic was you bet more with more information because you're more likely to have the best hand. Now while this may have some merit my opinion is that you just play with better hands out of position thus since if you're raising you're most likely raising a monster from UTG (AA-JJ/AK) that compensates for the lack of information and the bigger raise, especially in lower stakes games (again, not the target of his books), is still likely to be called by hands we crush.
Other than that these are very solid books, really well written and really well explained for the most part. You have to understand that if you're not a cash game pro playing 5000nl with 300 BB stacks you need to be selective of the strategies you use, but he backs up what he says with the reasoning and logic behind it, so you can see if it applies in your case.
But overall, it didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know. Sure it explained it a whole lot better and definitely increased my understanding of some key topics. But almost all the topics addressed I either already knew or could derive from what I already knew. So these books are not going to turn you from a mediocre break-even player to a player who suddenly crushes the games he plays, but if you are willing to put in the work, try some of the concepts he lays out, critically examine them rather than blindly accept and try to use them, I guarantee you will become a better poker player by reading this. There is a lot of material in these 2 books and plenty of examples (I mentioned I skipped several of the problems, I have full intention of going back and reading every single one of them in the next few days), many of which I could relate to and remember being in a really tough spot in a similar situation and obviously with a lot less money at stake .
So I would definitely advocate any decent to good poker player to buy this book. It's definitely worth the money, but only if you're going to work to apply the concepts, understand the theory behind them, and apply them to your game. If you treat it as a secret book to all of a sudden make you a poker god, you won't be satisfied. But if you're working on your game and want an extra boost up, these are the books for you. I give it a 9/10.