Review: The Psychology of Poker by Alan N. Schoonmaker

Reviewed by Chris Hughes (a.k.a. 'lowraise' on the LLH poker forum)

I decided to read this book as it is one of the further reading recommendations in Ed Millers "Getting Started in Hold'em" and I wanted to expand on my understanding of the types of players I was coming up against constantly and to try and get an edge against them if possible. A lot of people on the forum ask questions about how to play against the loose aggressive player? How do I beat tight tables? How can I stop people drawing out on me? Why don't these players respect my raises? You know the type of thread; you've read them, responded to them and in my case started most of them. This book helps tell you why the players you play against do what they do and more importantly it offers advice on ways to tackle such players. As well as helping you assess your own game and looking at ways your mindset influences your play and how to build and expand yourself to make you into a better player.

The book is split into 3 main areas. These are "Right Stuff", "Right Skills" and Playing Styles. It also uses a selection of self assessment questionnaires to identify what type of player you are as well as similar methods for assessing your opponents play.

The Right Stuff section examines the skills that a top poker player needs and asks the reader whether they have the same skills and also it asks you primarily why you play poker. The book identifies that the first player you need to defeat at poker is yourself. It is inherent in humans to play losing poker; a winning poker player isn't a natural trait. With the questions about why you play poker is to help you look deeper than the fact that most players always reply “To make money” but in fact a lot of people play to pass time, as an intellectual challenge or maybe for the thrill of gambling in general. The reasons you play poker have a large bearing on the type of player you are, for example people who list to socialize as their main motive for playing poker are in general passive players as they want to get on with everyone.

The Right Skills section looks at how psychology can help you with two very useful tools, hand reading and choosing the right game. It looks at how the type of player might play a hand, what range of cards he might play and how to adjust your thought process accordingly. The table selection criteria looks at where you would be best sitting at a table depending on the type of player you were and also depending on the type of player you encounter at the table. I found this section alone was worth the price of the book. Most other books pay lip service to these ideas but this book really explains the whys and wherefores about the necessary considerations.

The largest part of the book looks at the various types of playing styles you'll encounter. The book only looks at the extreme types of player and says that most players will show a mixture of these types of behavior but generally have tendency to one type or another. We are now all familiar with the different types of player that it talks about, Loose Passive, Loose Aggressive, Tight Passive and Tight Aggressive.

The book uses a rating system on a scale 1 - 10 where you assess you opponents on how loose/tight & passive/aggressive they are. If they fall with in the lower or upper third of the scale then that tells you the main trait of that player. So someone who has a loose/tight rating of 2 and a passive/aggressive rating of 8 would a loose aggressive type of player. Playing online means that you can use a tool like PokerTracker to help give you a more thorough way of analyzing the way your opponents play and with the use of additional tools like PokerAce HUD or Gametime+ you can assess the right way to play the hand at the table depending on the type of player you are up against.

After the rating system the book then explains the different types of players in 2 parts. The first part is if you are playing against that type of player and the second part is if you are that type of player yourself. The first section looks at how to recognize the type of player quickly; their strengths; weaknesses; how to read their cards; how to play against them and finally what to do if you are playing in that type of game. The second part looks at ways you can use the type of player you are to your advantage; why you are that type of player and also it makes recommendations on how to improve you play.        

The only faults I could find with this book were that it doesn't tell you how to play against the average type of player, although it does say that if you follow the advice in most of the other types of poker books then you won't have any trouble beating this type of player. But having a clearer view of why people follow a simple line of thought might have been a little bit useful. I would also love to see the book updated to include how to use the techniques on the internet and how anonymity on the internet changes the way certain players play.

Overall I would say to people if you take your game seriously and have read a few books and want to know how to adapt the techniques you have learnt in those books to different players and table conditions then read this book. It will give you that little bit extra and it'll also help you identify who you are at the poker table and why you play like you do.