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Howard Schwartz

Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

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Gus, ghosts, poker math -- three super arrivals for players

15 May 2008

By Howard Schwartz
For years, poker observers and opponents have been fascinated with world class player Gus Hansen's style of play. His play has stymied even the most astute opponents. For the past year or so, there were rumors of a tell-all Hansen instructional book. Gus Hansen -- Every Hand Revealed (370 pages, paper bound, $15.95) is a reality and very much worth a read.

Des Wilson, who previously authored Swimming With the Devilfish, has a colorful classic with Ghosts at the Table -- Riverboat Gamblers, Texas Rounders, Internet Gamers, and the Living Legends Who Made Poker What It Is Today (342 pages, hard bound, $26).

Pat Dittmar, who understands the need for players to understand their chances at winning based on what's left in the deck, has a beauty titled Practical Poker Math -- Basic Odds & Probabilities for Hold 'Em & Omaha (231 pages, paper bound, $29.95).

Let's look at them in order.

Truly a poker superstar, the often emotional and unpredictable Hansen, who dedicates his book to the late Chip Reese and to his own family talks about a visit to his special world. "It is the story of a five-day rollercoaster ride from my first hand ... to my last. It is a story of my moves, big laydowns, bad beats, suck-outs and lots and lots of stealing. Of patience, pressure and aggression. Of bluffs, reads, and tells."

Known by some as the Great Dane (he hails from Denmark), Hansen focuses on his Australian tournament action in January 2007. You'll feel you're in the tournament with him for most hands. He omits the hands without any pre-flop action.

The book has eight chapters, illustrated hands, and most importantly, rationale and explanations of why Hansen did what. One section reveals how through certain body language (head fakes, hand gestures or table talk), someone may "extract information" from an opponent. Keeping your cool and "not give away an inch" while staying calm is key, he says.

This is more of a diary and textbook with focus and examples of one memorable tournament, but it is also a tutorial and a look inside the mind of a very colorful, and sometimes a very successful, world class player.

Des Wilson's Ghosts at the Table is a remarkably thorough history of the game of poker as it heads toward how it evolved to its present high stakes, international level. There's history, there's Hickok, there's Tombstone, guns on the table, cheats on the riverboats, and the life and times of Texas Road Gamblers. There are big names, big games, big hands, and there's the big, controversial game between Johnny Moss and Nick the Greek. Did it ever take place? In what year? Wilson traveled many miles to gather his facts and interview players from the past and the live, colorful ones still in action.

Indexed, packed with photos; with plenty from Binion's World Series of Poker with text on how the idea for the extravaganza came about, it's a must-read history-biography book.

This is not a book on how to learn and play the game. It's like an expensive bagel and the savory lox that go along with it. It's a book to relish and enjoy for the facts compiled, the questions answered, and as a resource to help you enjoy the game more than ever, as a player or observer.

Pat Dittmar has been playing poker 20 years. He's a Las Vegas resident and like other pro residents of the city, he's played internationally. In this book, which answers many questions and fills in many a gap in poker mathematics, he discusses basic calculations (including combinations, permutations and factorials) odds in hold'em and Omaha hi-lo.

In an organized and sequential format, using sample hands and colorful, yet uncomplicated mathematical formulas, he helps the beginner to somewhat experienced player understand what their odds are and the chance of their opponents of improving before and after the flop. He discusses odds that the turn card will do this or that; odds with two cards yet to come; odds of hitting on either or both the turn and river, the runner-runner and the river bet.

Few books have been written focusing on Omaha hi-low split odds, but this one has a major section on the subject including before and after the flop; the nut hand or nut draw; money and expectation after the flop; odds with two cards to come; runner-runner and the river bet.

An interesting category is the "will" or "will not" occur. His way of presenting his poker math is unique -- not heavy, yet not so simple his misses too much.

This is a book for the thinking player who wants to incorporate some mathematics and an understanding of odds into his or her mode of play. I think he's done a fine job of presenting just that -- preparing players to improve their game beyond just getting lucky or getting good cards.

Copyright Gambler's Book Shop. All books reviewed in this article are available from Gambler's Book Shop (Gambler's Book Club), located at 630 South 11th Street, Las Vegas, Nevada 89101 and online at

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