Jonathan Little’s new book “Excelling at No-Limit Hold’em” is a major achievement in poker literature. Bringing together seventeen of the game’s most respected and well-known players and coaches (including Chris Moneymaker, Phil Hellmuth, and Mike Sexton) to fill over 500 pages, it will without a doubt increase interest in the game. However, the book also triumphs in showcasing poker knowledge that is both accessible and valuable.
Overall, it is a perfect balance of celebrity personality power for true recreational players, advanced poker theory for serious amateurs/pros, and “you can do this too” motivation for weekend warriors at their local casino who are looking to take their game to the next level.
Despite so many prolific voices offering detailed information and insight, it still crafts a broader narrative arc that makes it feel like a comprehensive poker strategy guide.
Not only is it a “must have” for poker enthusiasts of all stripes, but the poker community at large owes Jonathan a huge debt of gratitude for being willing to take the time to put it together.
That’s the essential you need to know. Get the book.
If you still aren’t convinced, I break down the book in detail below. It’s divided into three broad sections: Poker Strategy; The Technical Game; The Mental Game.
Poker Strategy Section
This section deals with global strategies players can use to approach different game types. The first chapter by Chad Holloway sets the tone by opening with a list of “Outdated poker adages.” It addresses common strategies from 5-10 years ago including “Tight is right” and “Open-raise for 3BB-4BB.”
This is a brilliant choice for its implicit recognition that things have changed since “Black Friday.” By starting where many who may have been away from the game since the boom days left off, it’s a tacit “welcome back” that provides solid advice about how to start reconnecting with the game but in a non-overwhelming format.
After getting readers to wade into the waters, more technical advice begins to filter through. Evan Jarvis follows with a great section delving into bedrock poker concepts such as equity, position, and aggression.
From there, Chris Moneymaker gets down to the nitty-gritty as he discusses how to approach a specific game type. He dissects the small stakes live tournaments that he knows very well due to his work as an ambassador for PokerStars.
Choosing this topic is the logical progression of the book’s larger narrative vis-a-vis the recreational player. It completes the transition from big picture to small picture strategy, and once again acts as a big “WELCOME” sign. The chapter actually begins: “Many poker books focusing on no-limit hold’em tournament strategy offer advice that applies primarily to bigger buy-in tournaments…but in reality, the majority of poker players don’t play those events.”
Balancing the nod to the recreational player base is the next chapter by Ed Miller, who devotes over twenty pages to how to move up in stakes. He lays out a single foundational principle to be successful before breaking it down into manageable actionables. If you come to this book from a solid amateur background but just haven’t been able to break through to the higher stakes, it will give you very good food for thought.
The section continues with some other solid chapters. Overall, what impressed me the most is the way the book weaves a detailed information into a topical narrative that is easy to follow across multiple authors and perspectives.
The Technical Game Section
With the preliminaries dispensed, the book moves into what is easily its biggest achievement on the micro-level. For the first time ever it gets successful pros to lay out two fundamental concepts that elude nearly every amateur player I’ve ever spoken with (myself included): how to conduct a proper range analysis and what on earth everyone means when they are talking about game theory optimal strategy, or “GTO.”
Ike Haxton (though not in the book) once commented that the way you study poker is where you find your edge. As a result, Alex Fitzgerald’s chapter demystifying range analysis and presenting the way the pro’s study poker hands is the most valuable piece of poker writing since Doyle Brunson released “The Super System.”
Alex breaks down situation after situation using solid theory and study tools. Although he discusses individual hands and situations, the goal is always to demonstrate the fundamental principles necessary to play winning poker. He painstakingly constructs study processes for you to demonstrate not only theory but how to internalize it.
It all leads him to the following conclusion: “There was too much focus in poker literature and videos on fancy plays. It was impressive and fun to consume, but it didn’t teach much of anything. I wanted to give my students a foundation.”
Building on this discussion of ranges, later in the section Will Tipton breaks down game theory optimal play. This is a front-and-center concept in many areas of the poker world right now. Effortlessly cutting through some dense material by breaking down common misconceptions, he goes to great lengths via memorable examples designed to bend your mind. This approach leads to my favorite sentence of the whole book: “A GTO strategy can involve folding the nuts, even on the river.” If you need a “mind blown” moment to shift your thinking, I can’t imagine a better way than that declaration.
A much better picture of how winning players conceptualize the game emerges from this section and these two chapters in particular. Overall, it provides not just solid strategy advice but paradoxically sketches out the bigger framework wining players operate in by clearly demonstrating the smallest details of it. If you are already a serious amateur, this will be without a doubt the most valuable and important section of the book for you.
The Mental Game Section
Sports psychology is an emerging field that produces proven results for athletes. In an interview I did with hypnotherapist Elliot Roe he emphasized how its underutilization in the poker world provides huge opportunities for an edge. In this section, the game’s three biggest mental game coaches (Dr. Patricia Cardner, Jared Tendler, and Elliot Roe) provide practical advice about how to improve.
The great narrative work of Excelling at No-limit Hold’em reaches a crescendo with this addition. Poker is a game fundamentally intertwined with randomness that produces great emotion in players; the reality is that all the strategy from the previous chapters is useless if you are too unhinged to execute it. Learning to handle variance is essential; working on your mental game is necessary. Or, as Jared Tendler puts it, “Many players wake up thinking their mental game or tilt control has improved just because it’s a new day…If you believe any of these myths are true, expect to continue tilting.”
The mere presence of this assertion makes the book worth getting in-and-of itself.
From there, Dr. Cardner and Jared Tendler lay out why we tilt, and what a strategy to change our habits entails. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving it and their ability to lay process and method over what seems like an amorphous emotional problem is laudable. It will certainly help you identify the weaknesses in your mental game so you can begin to make improvements.
However, improvements can be hard, and the book climaxes with a discussion by hypnotherapist Elliot Roe. He debunks some common myths about hypnosis and lays out how it can help people who are really struggling to get their tilt problem under control.
It’s a personal achievement of Jonathan Little to have synthesized such a diverse range of concepts into a single, compelling narrative and resource.
This is the best poker book to come out in a long time, and I imagine it will remain the best poker book to come out for many years to come. It can be read at face value as an interesting poker book, or it can be used by the ambitious as a textbook to improve.
Seamlessly using detailed analysis by the game’s top players to carve a narrative arc, the book is a complete blueprint for how to play winning poker.