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October 24, 2014

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Columnist Jeff Haney: How poker players use strategies learned in Dan Harrington’s two popular books on Texas hold ‘em

Jeff Haney can be reached at 259-4041 or [email protected]

Late in 2004 and earlier this year, an acclaimed two-volume set of books on how to play no-limit Texas hold 'em tournaments, titled "Harrington on Hold 'em," was released by Two Plus Two Publishing of Henderson.

Since then the level of play on the circuit of major poker tournaments, already pretty rugged, has become even tougher and more sophisticated, according to professional gambler Blair Rodman.

That's no coincidence, Rodman said.

The two books, written by former World Series of Poker champion Dan Harrington with co-author Bill Robertie, quickly became required reading for anyone trying to compete in the cutthroat business of high-stakes tournament poker.

It didn't take long for Rodman and other poker pros to notice the results.

"Now, a lot of people know certain plays that only a few people used to know," Rodman said.

Rodman finds it more difficult to successfully execute one particular bluff, he said.

The situation arises in a no-limit Texas hold 'em tournament when he puts in a raise on the first round of betting and all of his opponents but one fold their hands.

Then, even if the "flop," or first three community cards, does not improve his hand at all, Rodman often makes a decent-size bet anyway hoping to win the pot right there.

"A lot of times you could win the hand because the flop didn't help the other guy either, so he couldn't call," Rodman said.

But Harrington addressed that precise bluff in his first volume, thereby alerting aspiring tournament experts to the strategy.

"Although the flop missed you, your opponent doesn't know that yet," Harrington wrote. "The flop may have missed him as well."

Harrington advises following your preflop raise with what he termed a "continuation bet" of roughly half the size of the pot. If there's $750 in the pot, a bet of $350 to $400 after the flop should do it -- assuming the other player checks his hand first.

Since Harrington's books arrived, opponents have been much more likely to call his "continuation bets" rather than fold, Rodman said.

"It definitely has made the games tougher," said Rodman, whose own poker book, "Kill Phil: The Fast Track to Success in No-Limit Hold 'em Poker Tournaments," was recently published by Las Vegas' Huntington Press.

It's no surprise poker players considered Harrington's books mandatory reads. Not only did Harrington win the 1995 World Series of Poker, but he also advanced to three other WSOP championship event final tables. He was the only player to reach the final table in both 2003 (with a field of 839 entrants) and 2004 (2,576 entrants).

It is a little jarring to Harrington, though, when his opponents at the tables blatantly use his strategies against him -- and then thank him for teaching them the moves.

"I find people are using a lot of the techniques I wrote about in the books against me," said Harrington, who finished second in last week's Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship at the Bellagio, earning $620,730.

Plenty of beginners and midlevel tournament players are reading the books, Harrington said, not just high-level professionals.

In a recent smaller tournament, a female poker player unknown to Harrington pulled off a masterful bluff to beat him out of a big pot.

"I thought she could not possibly be bluffing in that spot, and it turned out she was," Harrington said. "After it was over, she told me, 'I won that pot because I read your book.'

"What could I say? 'Oh, thanks a lot!' "

Mason Malmuth of Two Plus Two, who published "Harrington on Hold 'em," also believes the books have made the tournament circuit more competitive.

"The books ... really detail how to play tournaments well," Malmuth said. "A lot of people bought the books, studied them, and the word got out that this was something you needed to do (to stay ahead of the game).

"As far as the books affecting one specific play? I don't know about that. I do know they are helping a lot players better understand tournaments, and making a lot of players much tougher."

Don't expect the games to become any easier next year, either.

A third volume of "Harrington on Hold 'em" is in the works.

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