Scarne's Guide to Modern Poker

by John Scarne

A little something for every kind of poker player

July 2001

Scarne's Guide to Modern Poker, though over 20 years old, holds more useful info on poker than I've seen in any other poker book. Scarne covers topics such as rules for Draw and Stud Poker, with many variants, some major poker probability principles, money management in poker games, which poker games to avoid, and popular poker cheats (something most poker books ignore). This book deals exclusively with real poker games, played in a group of people, where the only possible house take is a fixed percentage or amount per pot (and he shows you how to figure out if a commercial poker house is giving you a bum deal). If you want to learn how to deal with video poker or casino poker games like Caribbean Stud, let me tell you right now -- you can't possibly make money in the long-term playing those games. Scarne himself will tell you this in one of his other gambling books.

There's basic sound advice to be found in this book, advice you will find elsewhere: obvious things such as don't borrow money to play poker, don't play against people highly superior to you at poker, and don't play when drunk or emotional (unless you really want to lose money). However, there's advice I haven't seen elsewhere (except when they're copying Scarne): ways to prevent common card cheats, ways to calculate whether one should stay in a pot based on pot size versus your odds, and ways to mix up your play, so as to make people uncertain of your style -- so that people will stay in the pot when you've got a sure winner, and so that people will drop out when you're bluffing. I've used this last bit of advice in playing poker with friends; they know I play close to the vest (I'm very conservative on risk), so when they see me calling & raising bets, they think I know I have a sure thing. I've gotten away with some pretty horrendous bluffs with this technique. The name of the game is: don't do it too often.

There are complaints about the number of stories Scarne tells about himself (and sometimes he refers to himself by name, and I go back to check who wrote the book.) Actually, in most of the stories, Scarne's not the central character; rather, some prime poker player is the center of the story. Some of the stories of the tricks he's performed is rather neat. But more to the point, I think these stories are good examples of the kinds of tips and strategies he talks about -- he mentions stories of cheats, of bold betting, and of people who have gone from great poker players simply to good, because they lost betting courage and needed to find games more their monetary limit. More to the point, I feel Scarne is completely justified in "puffing himself up" in these stories of high-roller games and visits to the Merv Griffin show - he can back up his self-promotion with actual knowledge and skill. Scarne also knew how to write a book that would serve poker players at any level, giving specifics as well as general principles to follow. For those wishing to improve their games, this should be the first book you get.

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Mary Pat Campbell, last updated July 2001