Book Reviews

‘MOLLY’S GAME’ – Why the entrepreneur in you must read this book .

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I teach Strategic Management ( Competitive Strategy in Poker ) at the Indian Institute of Management- Kozhikode.  I know, really cool. However, with so many grading assignments and other pending tasks, reading a book  has become a luxury.

Recently, I treated myself to a book that i had been wanting to read for quite some time. It is sort of a poker biography of poker entrepreneur and author, Molly Bloom – her introduction to the world of high stakes business folks, running high stakes cash games under the radar, and the inevitable fall from grace.

 Okay, this is not a book where hands would be discussed.

It is more about the business of LIVE poker. Molly’s reference to her talented brothers and how she felt she’d come up short was unexpected and kind of endearing. The folks in Bloom’s life, with the exception of one Hollywood star, are spoken about with fondness. Whether they are aggressive business folks, superstars, law enforcement or game staff, I finished the book coming to like these inhabitants of the poker world.

Bloom’s book gives us a sense of what makes for a high-society poker game – comforts, ease, action, proximity and glamour of every bit of the experience – from playing to collections. Just as she builds a unique poker experience and starts counting out her first big profits, the reader begins to wonder how long the good time would last. Bloom rolls with the punches, taking her game from coast to coast, somehow making an equally good show of it irrespective of the location. Be they Hollywood celebrities or Wall Street biggies, they co-occupy rarefied felts with the other rich and wealthy.

The business and competitive (not in poker, but the business of running a poker game) aspects that struck me are: first, how a rank outsider – Bloom – finds a niche for herself; second, how she goes about making this niche profitable; third, how or what defends this profitable spot; and finally, what might drive the heavy handedness of law enforcement. Let me elaborate.

How the astute business woman navigates the high testosterone world of the poker business is fascinating in itself. While men dominate this world, their alpha-male territory defense instincts and how all that testosterone overdose may be an entrepreneurial opportunity is fascinating to read. A powerful man bossing the game is nothing to be fearful of, just as far as you can find at least other power thirsty man – seems to be Bloom’s mantra. It made me wonder if I could use sections of the book as reading material for an entrepreneurship class.

Bloom’s CRM (customer relationship management) is fascinating. Fulfilling the silliest of customer desires goes a long way in the poker business, it appears. She recollects fascinating experiences that had her scurrying around so that the boss wouldn’t throw a fit. While painful in itself, in this helter-skelter she makes friends and gets a shot at love. Like a professional wrestler, she turns and throws the collections problem with the promise of the next, even better, even sexier, game.

Bloom’s careful documentation of her players and their needs creates a database which would take a potential rival many years to emulate. This gives her a shot at running this profitable business for a longer time. In her book lie fascinating secrets of how a poker business ticks. It takes 9 to have a game, but for Bloom any 9 wouldn’t just do. A careful selection of the 9 players is important for the experience to be fun, profitable, less of a collections headache, and a source of repeat business. Again, as you read the book, these poker business insights jump at you.

Notwithstanding the plethora of evidence of poker being a skill game, poker in general and live poker in particular, is exposed to the vicissitudes of the legal system and its enforcement. In the US, those like Bloom who run the game may sometimes find themselves in prison, a choice of cooperating or long prison sentences ahead of them.

Having taken the former way out, Bloom has had the opportunity to tell her story. It is a fascinating one. Not only poker lovers – anybody with interest in service businesses, entrepreneurship, or a woman navigating ‘a man’s world’ of poker would find this book good to read. 

Write to me in the comments below and we can discuss the book at length using the business management lens further.

-Deepak Dhayanithy, Assistant Professor, Straegic Management, Indian Institute of Management- Kozhikode

King of a Small World - A Poker Lover’s Take

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King of a Small World is poker player Rick Bennett’s debut novel, written specifically for  a small audience of poker enthusiasts. That being said, the novel masterfully sucks you right in, at the very first page, into its world. It doesn’t matter then, if the only thing you know about Poker is it begins with a ‘P’.

Set in southern Maryland-Washington, D.C., an area known for its love of Poker, King of A Small World is an unsentimental evocation of the enigma that is the world of professional poker.

It is a smart and gritty, coming-of-age-novel about self assured narrator and ace card- player, Joe Moore. In his mid twenties, Joe is easily the best stud poker pro in Maryland and is content about remaining the best in the small world of Maryland. He also frowns upon friends and colleagues who are salaried and are ‘ tied to their jobs like slaves’.

He is forced to rethink his destiny and values that shaped his outlook all these years when he is offered a very high paying  job as a casino boss, begins a brand new love affair and discovers simultaneously, that he is going to be a father, by way of an old girlfriend. The novel follows his trajectory of trying to juggle between change of responsibilities, family, love, money and his zeal to create the perfect environment for his new non traditional family, all the while trying to stay true to himself and the things he enjoys doing.

There are several instances where Joe draws parallels between poker  and ‘the other games people play, away from the tables’. There are times where Joe also espouses poker themes commentaries about human behaviour and the ever shifting landscape of personal identity and existence.
For example, when Joe makes a trip to Vegas, drowning in the waves of WSOP fever, he shares his impression of the urgency and the unceasing drama of being human being played out all around him in the casinos.
There is a quote he makes that captures the essence of what it means to be a poker player.
"This is how gambling works — it fills the senses," Joe explains. "Close your eyes and listen. In a casino, you'll hear the sounds of jingling, clinking, clanging, clicking. Open your eyes and you'll see the myriad colors of lighting and carpeting and walls and uniforms, shining and bright. Taste? Free drinks and meals to any decent-sized bettor. Free drinks and cheap meals to everyone. Touch, too, is thought of. Plush carpeting, brass rails, leather chairs, polished wood. And maybe in the air, with the smoke, is sweat.
But it is the sixth sense that casinos most seek to arouse,"
Joe continues. "The sense of life itself. Of drama. Of story. Of passion. Of love and fear. Of power and sex. Of a moment frozen, of existence beyond the mundane, of escape from all other problems because right now your attention is focused on the money you have on the line. If time is money and life is time, then money is life. And you're gambling for it."

Such detail brings about a certain kind of  immediacy in response to the scene, especially so for readers who've been inside such places. 

Bennett is a poker player, so it doesn’t come as a surprise when the game fuels both the plot of the book and contributes heavily to its various themes, with Bennet drawing connections between the game and Joey's complicated life full of conflicts and relationships.

Rick Bennett’s easy knowledge of poker customs and the values that shape the poker player’s environment and psyche, make for an engaging narrative which climaxes with brisk bits of domestic and professional melodrama. An extremely enjoyable read, we at 9stacks urge you to pick up this exciting page turner, right now!

Have you read the book? Let’s begin a discussion in the comments below!

Cheers,

Team 9stacks

Poker Books to Read

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Books carry with them timeless wisdom. With poker it is slightly different, because the game is ever-evolving. Having said this, it is always useful to read about different prevalent strategies of the time. Poker isn't about following a certain set of rules, but learning different strategies and creating your own out of it. This is our list of all the poker books that you should ever need.

The Classics

These are the oldest books with which most of us started our poker journey. They maybe outdated now, but there is still some timeless advice here.

  1. The Theory of Poker: A Professional Poker Player Teaches You How To Think Like One
  2. No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice
  3. Super/System
  4. Phil Gordon's Little Green Book: Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold'em

Maths and Theory

Solid poker maths fundamentals are the building blocks to becoming a better poker player. And these books are the right pick.

  1. Poker Math That Matters
  2. The Mathematics of Poker
  3. Poker Workbook for Math Geeks
  4. Essential Poker Math: Fundamental No Limit Hold'em Mathematics You Need To Know

Cash-Games Specific

Cash games - whether 6-handed or 9-handed are the most common form of Texas No-Limit Hold'em. These books will help you master the format.

  1. Small Stakes No-Limit Hold'em
  2. Harrington on Online Cash Games; 6-Max No-Limit Hold 'em
  3. Professional No-Limit Hold 'em: Volume I
  4. Playing The Player: Moving Beyond ABC Poker To Dominate Your Opponents 

Tournament Specific

Tournaments are a different beast altogether from cash games. Let these books guide you.

  1. Kill Everyone 
  2. Harrington on Hold 'em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 1: Strategic Play

Mental Game

At the most elite levels of poker, the slight difference between the mental strength of players can result in huge edges. These are some of the most popular books in the category.

  1. The Mental Game of Poker
  2. Elements of Poker

Poker Tells

Everyone loves to make a big call just by looking at how the villain is acting at the table. This book is a classic in the genre.

  1. Caro's Book of Poker Tells

Advanced

Once you've mastered the basics, get started on some advanced concepts:

  1. No-Limit Hold 'em For Advanced Players: Emphasis on Tough Games
  2. Applications of No-Limit Hold em
  3. Easy Game

General

Biographies, epic poker stories, novels - all that and more in this big list of all the general books on poker:

  1. The Banker, Professor, Suicide King
  2. Fools Die
  3. One of a kind: the rise and fall of Stu Unger
  4. The man with the $100,000 breasts
  5. Molly's Game
  6. Shut up and deal
  7. King of a small world
  8. Blood Aces - the story of Benny Binion / WSOP founder
  9. The Picasso Flop
  10. Positively fifth street
  11. Poker Nation
  12. Straight Flush

Did we miss any important book? Let us know in the comments below and we will add it to the list.

Love,

Team 9stacks