There is no recent poker book that has created as much controversy as this one by Mr. Hellmuth. (In fact, there probably is no player who creates as much controversy as this one). The action-craving players say this is a great book, because it teaches you to recognize situations where you can win the pot even with marginal or bad hands, simply because of your aggression. Conservative people who use mathematics more than the author does (especially the grinder-type of limit hold’em pros) claim that this book advocates way too loose play, and that following Hellmuth’s guidelines is a certain recipe for disaster. Actually, I think they are both right. I don’t like the advice on his limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha cash games strategies at all, but on the other hand I do like to get into the mind of an obviously great player like Hellmuth, especially when it comes to tournament play. This way, I might be able to incorporate some things into my game that mathematical-oriented people could never teach me. So, while some parts of this book may help your game improve greatly, other parts may be very harmful when followed blindly. Also the Top 10 hands, while intended for beginners to make it easy for them, are just a bad way to start off IMO. All in all, I would say: buy the book. It is cheap ($15.95) and offers advice from a proven tournament champion – even though it is not always champion advice.
Phil Hellmuth, self-proclaimed “Poker Brat”, isn’t exactly known for his exemplary behavior at the tables. One could even say: “Quite the contrary”, as berating his opponents, belittling them, and whining both after losing and after winning pots are all part of his arsenal. Also, his quotes like “If luck weren’t involved, I would win every tournament” and his other ways of showing how great he is compared to others, don’t exactly make Phil the most popular or best-liked player on the circuit.
However, Hellmuth does have some incredibly good results to back up this attitude of his. After all, he has no less than 11 WSOP bracelets. And still being relatively young, and with an eagerness and desire that is unparalleled in the poker world, there can be no doubt that the Poker Brat will go into the history books as one of the most successful players ever.
Does this excellent resume also make him a good writer? Well, it depends on whether you want to see Hellmuth’s good or his bad things. Rather often, his CardPlayer columns follow a pattern like this. Phil makes a great play or a good read, followed by a not so good move by one of his opponents. In those cases where the opponent gets lucky at Phil’s expense, the story often ends with something like: “I was unlucky in that pot, and at first was very mad about that. But then I thought about my lovely wife & family, and about how blessed I am with the life I lead”, etc. Or, the story will end with how he left the table, and whether or not he had the class to say “Nice hand”, “Well played”, or “Best of luck”. Rarely will you find any very advanced thoughts in Phil’s writings. Yes, sometimes there are even comments that make your head spin, like: “So, I folded my QQ to his reraise. And even though my opponent just had 77 and I would have been a 4-to-1 favorite to win, I still liked my laydown as I could have gone broke on the hand.”
It is for this reason that many math-oriented people don’t like Hellmuth’s approach to the game much. But at the same time, everyone still reads his columns, even those people who only talk about the flaws in his analysis. Heck, his columns may be so popular exactly because he isn’t afraid to go against common wisdom, or against math-oriented play. Also, a lot of people watch him in action or read his stuff simply because they want to disagree with him or want to see him fail. Of course, this is one of the main reasons why Phil is always the center of attention, and continues to be so high-profile. And quite clearly, there can be no question that a man with the courage to go against what people think or say, and who will simply stay true to his character whatever the outside world thinks of him, deserves a lot of respect – let me repeat, a lot of respect.
I do have to admit that I am one of those math-oriented people who have problems with Hellmuth’s theoretical approach, and the flaws in his math. Mainly because of this, I am not too fond of this Play Poker Like The Pros book. I especially disliked the beginner section on limit hold’em with his “Top Ten Hands”, and the pot-limit Omaha high strategy was just plain weak. Again, not enough deep thoughts as to various plays and their concrete implications, and the fact that he almost never mentions any stack sizes in the decision process are things that I view as bad. Also, his advice on continuing to bet the pot on the turn with top set “in order to protect your hand” after this turn card has completed all kinds of possible straight draws, followed by the advice that if you get raised the pot here, “you will have to look out, because he will almost always have the straight” – well, this is not the type of advice that I think will help the readers to start thinking on a deep enough level. In general, what I dislike about this book in particular, and about Hellmuth’s writings in general, is that he almost always comes up with one play that he says is good, without analyzing alternative plays that could be better, cheaper, or both.
However, the author definitely deserves credit for having tried to come up with a truly meaningful addition to poker literature. After all, Play Poker Like The Pros covers almost all games, discusses tournaments as well as cash, live as well as online. So clearly, Phil has put a lot of time & effort into trying to produce this “definitive” piece, when he could have simply come up with a fluff type of book about remarkable hands & stories – a book that would have also been a bestseller, but that would have required considerably less time & effort to produce. So, the author should definitely be praised for trying to enrich the poker world with a book about all games & structures – yet, as fate has it, I sill like his second book better that is not much more than such a “fluff” book, collecting a few of his columns and adding a few stories here and there. Why do I like this book, Bad Beats & Lucky Draws, better, you ask? Well, because in this book Hellmuth is simply being his usual self: self-oriented, egotistical, sometimes charming and forgiving, yet always eager & focused to perform at the highest possible stage. In other words: All the things why so many of us love to hate him.