Recently I had decided to pick up a copy of Daniel Negreanu’s book Power Hold ‘Em Strategy, by Cardoza Publishing. Like many, my favorite form of poker is No Limit Hold ‘Em, particularly tournament play. I have played the game multiple times on PokerQQ and enjoyed the gameplay quite a lot. Negreanu is, without argument, one of the elite players in the poker world, as well as one of the most recognizable. His tournament winnings exceed over $9 million, so whatever Daniel has to offer about optimal strategy has to be worthy of consideration. The book itself has a variety of professional players that contribute chapters, with Daniel himself penning the final one: Small Ball. The line on the back cover describes the book as a “serious course for beating Hold ‘Em”. The first part of this review focuses on the initial chapter, written by Evelyn Ng, titled “Big Bet No Limit Hold ‘Em”.
First off, I have to say right off the bat that I liked this chapter a lot. It is definitely geared towards the complete beginner, but covers a fair amount of strategic ground that is easy to learn and apply. Many other beginner books offer a recommended set of starting hands with general betting guidelines, and this book is no different in that regard. The advice for sizing up your bet and playing specific hands on the flop and beyond is very clear and straightforward. The style of play is really quite tight/aggressive, which is in contrast with how Negreanu typically plays. Although it isn’t an optimal style of poker play (which Evelyn Ng herself quickly points out), it can be a devastating one if the cards connect in your favor. Sharper players will often have the chops to make the necessary plays to outmaneuver a total beginner using this strategy, but the benefit of a big bet style is that it can always potentially deliver a knock out blow to an opponent for all his chips. Strategies against limpers, using a short stack, and shorthanded play are all offered here.
There are a few downsides to Ng’s chapter, though. I personally found some of the middle position hands to be somewhat loose, and wouldn’t be comfortable opening the pot with hands like small pocket pairs and low suited paint cards without a good reason to do so, like a steal or targeting a weak player. If you are a player who favors a very tight pre-flop strategy, it might take some getting used to playing marginal hands such as these. Another drawback was the complete absence of any strategy for head’s up play. Although there was reference in the introduction that head’s up strategy would be covered elsewhere in the book, I think a total novice could still use a few guidelines to help them be competitive. Lots of players online play in single table tournaments, so getting down to head’s up play will be quite common for the average player. Playing too tight during head’s up is a recipe for failure. There also were some minor inconsistencies with the starting requirements. For example, Ng writes that if one or two limpers before you enter the pot, you make a larger raise of 7x the big blind, yet the diagram accompanying it gives a different recommendation. A sensible reader will no doubt be able to pick that up, but it still makes me wonder whether that was Ng’s oversight, Negreanu’s, or Cardoza Publishing. Those little errors are supposed to be weeded out before going to print.
Regardless of the drawbacks, this introductory chapter is a good one for new players. It could very quickly get someone playing at a competitive level, and get them thinking about their poker game correctly. Too many newbies and low stakes players are weak because their play is impulsive, loose, and poorly thought out. This chapter will help players avoid those mistakes. The drawback to this system, though, is that players commit too many chips up front and might get trapped by more savvy players who understand how to counter this strategy. For a beginning system, though, it’s a great start that can be built upon.