One of the things I try to do when reviewing books is to judge the book according to what the book tries to be, not what I think the book should be. Championship Hold’em is trying to be a lot. It presents itself as a book aimed at all hold’em players: novices and professionals alike. That’s a pretty big target. When writing a book, the big targets are much harder to hit than the small ones.
They’ve come very close to hitting that target. A wide range of players will find the book interesting. It’s not a book for a rank beginner. It doesn’t include descriptions of the betting rounds or a table that tells you a flush beats a straight. If you have no experience at the game you’re better off starting with a book like Poker – Hold’em: Book One, by Andy Nelson, or The Winner’s Guide to Texas Hold’em by Ken Warren, or Winning Low-Limit Hold’em by Lee Jones, or even my Complete Book of Hold’em Poker. But, if you have any experience at all in the game, enough to know the difference between the flop and the turn, then Championship Hold’Em aims at you and hits its mark pretty well.
The structure of the book is unusual. In some ways it’s an editor’s book. It has some chapters written by T.J. Cloutier, some written by Tom McEvoy, and most of the book consists of transcripts of conversations between Cloutier and McEvoy. That’s not a typical book format; but it works well in this book.
The first chapter, by Cloutier, sets the tone with a list of 18 “Key concepts for Winning at Limit Hold’em.” The traditional list of this sort might contain items like Hand Selection, or Check Raising. Not T.J.’s list. He has items in his list like Watch Your Opponents and Remember that Kickers are Important. He doesn’t give you a set of rigid rules — he gives you guidelines for thinking. Although the book does go into technical details about hand selection, when to raise, and other topics, this first chapter sets the tone of the general approach — this book is about thinking during the game.
That’s where the conversation-transcript format fits in so well. You’re immediately exposed to the thoughts of the two authors. They aren’t giving you advice. They’re discussing their thoughts between themselves and you’re listening in. I think this is a powerful instructional tool.
Because of the conversational nature of the presentation you’ll see some UFA statements that are a little hyperbolic — exaggerated for effect. An example is in the excerpt where T. J. says, “I would rather play [low connectors] unsuited … because … if the flop comes in your suit there’s a good chance your drawing dead to the flush.” I doubt if T. J. literally means that he’d rather have an unsuited 76 than a suited 76. Within the context of the conversation it’s clear that he’s simply using hyperbole to say that in the ramming-jamming type games, some hands, mid-sized suited connectors in particular, are dangerous hands that should often be avoided.
Avoiding danger, or staying out of trouble is a theme throughout this book. It probably stems from their experience in tournament play and nolimit games. In those structures the idea of staying out if trouble is a lot more important than in a typical limit game. If I have any criticism of the book it’s probably that I think they overemphasize the idea of avoiding trouble. But, if you’re going to make mistakes, that’s a mistake that is often not a mistake.
The book has coverage of a lot of topics often avoided in poker books. They discuss kill-pot games, jackpot games, and the difference between raked and time collection games. As you might expect from these writers they have an extensive chapter on limit hold’em tournaments. The only hold’em book that includes both cash game and tournament tactics, Championship Hold’em also contains 20 sample hands that illustrate how you might play them in tournaments in contrast to cash games.
I highly recommend Championship Hold’Em as a second book for any hold’em player or as a first book for any experienced hold’em player.