5 Books To Recommend to New Poker Players

5 Books To Recommend to New Poker Players

By: Brian " Not The Man " Keane


If there is one thing Anthony “Eatahoagie” Cicali and I have discussed at length on several episodes of the Nerdthusiast Poker Podcast this past year, it has been the long awaited return of live tournament poker and what the poker landscape will look like once the restrictions associated with COVID-19 are finally rolled back.  Well…after a 14-month or so hiatus, I believe we can officially say it – live tournament poker is back baby! (…and it could be bigger than ever)  Unfortunately, if you are like me, you probably are a bit rusty.  So, with that being said, allow me to offer a little insight into some of the books I have read in the past (and still frequently refer back to) that helped propel me from an inexperienced player to a more knowledgeable, well-rounded and consistently winning poker player. 

Whether you agree with it or not, people are proving their itch to play live tournaments again definitely outweighs the risks associated with the COVID-19 virus.  The Venetian in Las Vegas, for example, has generated incredible numbers (despite the pandemic) in the several tournament series they have held since the lessening of restrictions began in Nevada late last summer. This became even more apparent with the most recent record setting field of just under 2500 entrants in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open $3500 Main Event, which will award its future winner more than $1.2 million dollars!

With the announcement of a new tournament series popping up somewhere in the country almost weekly, including the long-anticipated return of the WSOP in October, things are finally start to look on the up and up for us die-hard tournament grinders. While I likely won’t be making as triumphant a return to the felt quite like Mike McDermott did in “Rounders”, all this excitement surrounding tournament poker made me realize how unprepared I truly am to get back on “the grind.”  Sure, like many of you primarily live poker players, I’ve played in some small, private house games the last couple of months and even screwed around a little online since COVID hit, but nothing that I would consider extensive. Despite my excitement, I can’t help but feel a sense of panic – why hadn’t I taken the time to study more? 

Thinking back, I can remember when I first got into poker and I really started focusing on my game and on ways to improve it.  And no…I’m not talking about the $5-$10 dollar donk-fests I played with my fraternity brothers in our college dorm rooms.  I’m talking about the all-night cash game sessions that turned into a thousand dollar (and sometimes more) wins or the late night Taj Poker Room “Midnight Madness” tournament cashes I would always seem to make.

If you were like me at the time (23 and all but broke), I couldn’t justify spending the extra money on some book that MIGHT make me a better player. Hell, I was winning a little bit more than I was losing, plus I was reading the newest edition of Cardplayer magazine every month – wasn’t that good enough?  You know…the FREE copy you could get your hands on when you visited the casino (I still have about 100 different volumes of these if anyone is interested in making me an offer).  But like many poker players out there, I let my ego get the better of me.

It wasn’t until after one particularly bad weekend where I lost pretty much my entire bankroll (which was a laughable $3000 dollars at the time) that I decided I needed to evolve. I realized if I ever wanted to be a more consistent, winning player, I needed to invest more time and money into studying the game, than simply playing it. Over the course of several weeks, I spent a good portion of what I would normally set aside for poker, on books. I bought everything I could get my hands on. I started reading online hand reviews, forums, blogs – you name it. I would spend hours scrolling posts on Two plus Two, which at the time was a wealth of information for any player looking to get some insight into the game of poker. It took a while but slowly I started to employ some of the strategies I had read in these books during live action and I started winning again – more consistently too.

Overtime those hundred dollar a night wins turned into a thousand dollars, or more.  The losses, especially the big ones, happened less and less.  Deep tournaments runs, “Day Twos” and consistent cashes started coming more and more.

Nowadays, with “Game Theory Optimal” (GTO) training sites/apps and poker coaching quickly becoming the new norm, many people have forgotten the old school educational “grind”.  Some just jump into paying big money hoping for fast success without first building a solid understanding of the game of poker. Well, if you are like me, which is still pretty much broke and with very little time left in their day to themselves, here are some great books you can buy and sit next to your shitter that might be able to help improve your game, just as they did mine early on in my poker “career” so many years ago.

Harrington on Hold 'em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 1: Strategic Play: Dan Harrington, Bill Robertie: 9781880685334: Amazon.com: Books
Harrington on Hold ‘em (Vol. 1 and 2) Harrington on Holdem

What were once considered “must reads” for any serious poker player, Harrington on Hold ‘em Vol. 1 and 2 were the first true catalyst for improving my overall understanding of the game. Despite when they were published (2004 & 2005), the ideas and tactics discussed in these books are still very much relevant today. There is also a Volume III, titled The Workbook, in which Harrington uses a number of real-life hands borrowed from a variety of tournaments and asks the reader how they would play the hand.  In the back is a scorecard, which helps you keep track of what is considered the “right” play.  These books, in my opinion, should be in every poker player’s library for the simple fact they help create a solid foundation on poker game theory, tactics and strategies from which to build upon.  While a little pricey on Amazon – you can probably find them cheaper second-hand on some of the online thrift book stores out there.

Essential Poker Math, Expanded Edition: Fundamental No-Limit Hold'em Mathematics You Need to Know: Hardin, Alton: 9780998294506: Amazon.com: Books
Essential Poker Math – Expanded Edition Essential Poker Math

Expected EV? Implied Odds? Huh?!  If you are like I once was, you probably have heard these terms many times but never really understood what they meant.  In Essential Poker Math – Expanded Edition, Alton Hardin breaks down these and several other poker related concepts into a more easily understandable form.  Crucial to poker success, the ease with which you can learn to calculate basic odds is made possible with this book.  I bought this book to own off Amazon, but there are free PDF versions out there that can be downloaded and save for easy reference.

Amazon.com: Your Worst Poker Enemy: Master The Mental Game eBook: Schoonmaker, Alan N.: Kindle Store
Your Worst Poker Enemy

Not just another poker strategy book, Your Worst Poker Enemy by Alan Schoonmaker helps bring to light some of a poker player’s biggest flaws - themselves. The book requires the reader to be honest with their abilities as a player and offers a simplistic (though sometimes condescending) approach to recognizing and preventing self-destructive behavior. I highly recommend this book, for even the most seasoned and experienced poker player.  Whether it’s your ego, fear or emotions impacting your game, the ability to recognize these flaws are discussed and ways to prevent them from creeping into your game are suggested so you can become a better, more self-aware player.  

The Mental Game of Poker: Proven Strategies for Improving Tilt Control, Confidence, Motivation, Coping with Variance, and More: Tendler, Jared, Carter, Barry: 8601300358031: Amazon.com: Books
The Mental Game of Poker

My fellow podcast host, Anthony “Eatahoagie” Cicali, recommended this to book to me a few years ago when I was feeling mentally drained from the variance of the game and it drastically improved my thinking almost overnight.  Very similar to Schoonmaker’s - Your Worst Poker Enemy, The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler helps you identify and focus on the things that are definitely costing you money (i.e. lack of aggression, fear, variance, tilt, etc.) and how to mentally deal and overcome these issues. No matter how bad you may be running, this book will provide “simple, step-by-step instructions and proven techniques to permanently fix problems such as tilt, handling variance, emotional control, confidence, fear, and motivation.”  I am always opening this book and re-reading chapters when I feel off my game in a certain area and it always helps re-align my thinking. 

Jonathan Little’s Books


When a fellow poker-degenerate buddy of mine professed his somewhat odd infatuation with Jonathan Little a few years ago, I really couldn’t understand it – until I picked up one of his books.  ANYTHING written by Jonathan Little can add immediate insight into your poker game.  Most of his books are current and relevant but there are just too many to name at this point.  He also has a few apps out there available for purchase and download.  Now while some of the information you receive can be somewhat redundant, Little has a different approach to the game of poker that can help the most timid player become more assertive and aggressive on the felt.  I recommend picking a title that fits the area you are looking to improve in and buy it – you won’t be disappointed.

- Brian Keane
Nerdthusiast Content Writer / Poker Podcast Host
Follow Me on Twitter @BrianKeane0513