A review of The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky

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“Poker takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master.” So said Mike Sexton, a renowned American poker player, which is a fact in the poker community. Many books have been written on how to excel in playing poker, and each has its unique strategies. However, there is a considerable amount of buzz surrounding David Sklansky’s The Theory of Poker.

David Sklansky, the Pioneer of the Mathematics of Poker

Before discussing the book, I took the privilege of knowing the author. David Sklansky was born on December 22, 1947, and was raised in Teaneck, New Jersey. He has three World Series of Poker bracelets, and his live tournament winnings are over a million dollars. Sklansky is also a prolific author, writing and co-writing 14 books on poker and gambling theory.

He was nicknamed “The Mathematician” by those around him due to his obsession with the game’s mathematical approach. He also inclines towards provable long-term profitable poker strategies, thus writing The Theory of Poker.

What’s Valuable in Sklansky’s Book

The Theory of Poker was first published in 1987, and since then, there have been new books about poker strategies. But what sets David Sklansky’s book apart from the rest?

For one, the book has an abundance of ideas, strategies, and insights that are still applicable and widely used today. Though the contents are defined countless times in different media, this book doesn’t make it feel repetitive. Each topic is presented in a way the reader will not be confused or startled.

However, Sklansky put a disclaimer on the preface of the book. He said that the book is intended for players in general but those who know poker’s fundamentals. He added that the readers “want to delve deeper into the inner workings of the game.”

Moreover, he stated that it’s not a “how-to book,” and it doesn’t give you an answer to a given situation. Rather it remedies the question, “What  do you consider in this particular situation before determining what to do?” It explains the game’s logic and examines every aspect of a poker hand (i.e., ante structure).

Poker Is All About Mathematics

Formerly entitled Winning Poker, the book also laid out poker mathematics and heuristics. The first one he discussed was the mathematical expectation: the money a player is expected to win or lose. Moreover, a player can gauge the game and if they’re going to push through with it or not.

Sklansky used a full house in a five-card draw as an example for the mathematical expectation. The best move when a player before you bets is to raise. However, raising will make the two players after you to fold. Another option is to call the player ahead of you, in which the two behind you will follow suit. Thus, calling is more advantageous and yields a higher and positive expectation.

He also introduced implied odds and reverse implied odds. Implied odds are the ratio of the money you expect to win to the cost of calling a bet. Three statements are surrounding this concept:

  1. The larger the potential bets’ sizes, the greater the implied odds are.
  2. You’ll get lesser implied odds if the strength of your hand is visible or known by your opponents.
  3. Weaker players equate to higher implied odds.

Oppositely, reverse implied odds is the ratio of the money you’ll lose to the cost of your opponent’s bets. This concept is the result of an average or mid-strength hand or draw.

The main attraction of this book is the Fundamental Theorem of Poker. He said that when you play a hand differently, they gain if you can see your opponent’s cards. However, if you play a hand the same way as if you can see your opponent’s cards, they’ll lose.

Sklansky Dollars

David Sklansky also introduced the Sklansky Dollars (or Bucks) to the world. The term is used to define the money you expect to win or lose based on your equity. It is based on Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem of Poker. The formula of the Sklansky is as follows:

Sklansky Dollars = [ (Final Pot Size) x (Equity) ] – Last Call Amount

They do not hold any value and are primarily used for post-game analysis. You can use this concept to improve your games in the future.

For example, you have A♥ A♠, and your opponent has Q♦ Q♣. The final pot size is $100 because both of you went all-in, and the last call amount is $50. Your equity is 80.86%. Replacing the formula with the data, it should look like this:

[100 x 0.809 ] – 50 = 30.9

The Sklansky dollars for the given situation is $30.9. Hypothetically, you could have won the Sklansky dollars.

The Theory of Poker vs. Doyle Brunson’s Super/System

You can’t blame people for comparing two somewhat similar things. Like other things, The Theory of Poker has been compared to other books about poker. One of these books is Super/System by Doyle Brunson, published in 1978.

Like Sklansky, Brunson is also a prominent member of the poker community. He is known as a two-time champion of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event and is an inductee of the Poker Hall of Fame. Brunson primarily titled his work How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker, and many significant poker players wrote sections of the book.

Two things make Super/System different from other poker books:

  1. The book is beginner-friendly. It was noted that when Brunson’s book was published, some professional poker players got irritated because of the simplicity of the book. It gave too much information that can make even the amateurs catch up with the professionals.
  2. The book exhumes aggressiveness or the ‘fast’ aggressive style of playing poker. Brunson admits that his whole career is based on the willingness to take risks. This trait is easily depicted in his book.

Most people think that poker is a game of luck and bluffing. However, as said by Sklansky, “it is profound, rich, and full of subtlety.” The Theory of Poker is a must-read for those players who want to step up their game. However, this book is not for the faintest of the heart. The book demands a significant investment from its readers, as they need to break down the concepts over several read-throughs.

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