What does it take to play poker for a living? What is it like to play in big games? What does it take to win? These are the questions Doug Young attempts to answer in his book, High Stakes Poker: The Sky’s the Limit, a chronicle of the lessons learned by a professional poker player.
Young’s book provides advice on what it takes to play at the highest levels in the moderately big games in which he plays. He doesn’t focus on the play of hands. In fact, he doesn’t mention a single hand of poker in the entire book. Instead, his focus is on the mental and psychological aspects that are required in order to play winning poker. This is a collection of about 30 mostly stand-alone essays which contain this advice. Some sample topics include, “Finding A Game”, “Poker & Booze”, and “Pay Attention To That Inner Voice”.
Almost all of the advice is solid, such as advising players not to play with scared money, to quit a game if you’re not playing one’s best, and that players’ biggest adversaries usually are themselves. Some advice isn’t as good. Young talks about how important it is to recognize and play a rush, and how important it is to stay out of the way of another player’s rush. *sigh*. I wish I had a dollar for every poker player who misinterprets or just doesn’t understand the ramifications of the Central Limit Theorem. This is just wrong, and I firmly believe that this sort of advice is harmful to players. Fortunately, very little of the book’s contents are so destructive.
On the other hand, the good advice given in this book just isn’t that strong. For example, Young provides some guidelines for maintaining an adequate bankroll, but it’s all anecdotal. Other books provide similar or more detailed information, but back it up with mathematics, and I think that this is more valuable than one person’s opinion. The author suggests that players should be selectively aggressive, but gives no examples of what that means in actual practice. Should I be betting my draws from early position on the flop in big bet ligaz11 poker? How frequently? How should I play AK when the flop comes king high? I can spend time thinking about someone’s advice to these circumstances, and by thinking about them, improve my play. More general advice like “take the lead”, and “usually fold when facing a bet” doesn’t provide much to think about, which is why I generally lump them in the category of “affirmations” instead of “advice”. Other maxims, including “stay alert” and “don’t drink and play”, while good ideas, certainly won’t come as a major revelation to someone who has read any of the better poker books on the market, or talked to just about any winning player for more than five minutes.
The book might serve as a useful affirmation for folks who are trying to play their best poker and are having some problems doing so, and certainly folks who don’t yet know that drinking alcohol while they’re playing cards is risky at best can benefit from reading this book. Nonetheless, I believe there are better sources for this information. Many books contain the same advice as is enclosed in these pages, but do so more thoroughly and quantitatively, and, therefore, in a manner more easily adapted to a particular player’s circumstance. A lot of the book is devoted to playing in and beating higher stakes home games, so this might be of some interest to players whose experience primarily comes from casino poker.
Doug Young’s High Stakes Poker: The Sky’s the Limit provides some good advice on how to play poker. Unfortunately, its advice isn’t very specific and has been written about extensively in many other books. One topic that this book discusses that isn’t regularly seen in print is information on playing in higher stakes home games, but like the rest of the book, its treatment of this topic is pretty superficial. While Young’s book might serve as a reasonable set of affirmations for folks having trouble focusing on what it takes to be a consistent winner, I don’t believe that the actual contents of this book are probably worth the purchase price to most poker readers.