The Psychology of Poker

Written in 2000, The Psychology of Poker filled a void in poker literature by dealing strictly with the mental game of poker players. The book does not provide strategic advice (nor does it claim to), but sets out to investigate why players play the way they do. Mainly, it helps readers understand the motivations behind his or her moves and teaches how to adjust accordingly. The book divides poker players into four groups: loose aggressive, loose passive, tight passive, and tight aggressive. Each group also represents a very distinct playing style with its own strengths and weaknesses. The bulk of the book is devoted to describing these differences and explaining how one can profitably exploit them. Schoonmaker helps players recognize their own styles of play using written exercises that analyze players’ motives for playing as well as their style. He particularly emphasizes how a player can toughen his or her game in order to move into the tight aggressive category (the optimal mode of play). Schoonmaker also introduces concepts such as the eight principles of poker, questions to determine one’s psychological preparedness for the game, the law of subjective rationality, and the egoistic fallacy. He concludes with a list of deadly sins for poker players and his cautionary perspective on making money at poker, entitled “don’t quit your day job,” which may seem slightly dated given the rising number or professional poker players today. Schoonmaker artfully explains complicated psychological concepts with straightforward, if at times repetitive, language.

The book’s weakness arises from Schoonmaker’s assumption that his reader (like him) knows very little about poker or is simply not very skilled. A more experienced player will become easily annoyed by this supposition, as it is referenced quite often. The advice in the book thus applies best to cash ring games, home games, or low stakes casino games, but definitely not to high stakes games and especially not to tournaments. Some players may find Schoonmaker’s categorizations of players too rigid and general and difficult to identify until after hours of play. They may also observe that most high stakes players and pros play in the tight aggressive category, but possess many more psychological intricacies than this book allows. Despite these shortcomings, The Psychology of Poker does provide a brand of insight into the game which remains unexplored in other tomes.

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