Review of Real Poker: The Cooke Collection

Roy Cooke is one of the better known columnists for Card Player Magazine. Since 1993 he has been writing insightful articles on Poker Strategy, and Real Poker: The Cooke Collection is a compendium of his articles up through 1998. Overall, I find Cooke to be one of the more insightful Card Player columnists, and while not all of his articles are gems, a significant number of them reveal an important, intrinsic truth about the game of poker.

The book is divided into five sections: Introduction; Play of Hands; Theory, Strategy, and Tactics; Philosophy of Life and the Game, and Miscellaneous Topics. Truth be known, these divisions are rather arbitrary, as they were not on Cooke’s mind as high-level topics when the articles were originally written. These sections do serve to break up the book a bit, though. Unhappily, few changes were made from how they appeared in magazine form to this book. Many of Cooke’s key concepts are stated repetitiously. This isn’t so bad when the Slot Gacor reader will have a two week gap enforced between reading successive articles, but in a book like this the repetition and seasonal context often appear awkward at best.

As one might imagine from any collection of articles that span six years of a writer’s career, the essays range in quality from the banal to the sublime. Although I feel much of Cooke’s best work has been in 1999, there are a lot of winning strategies expressed in these pages. It is quite clear that Cooke is a successful professional poker player, and he manages to impart a great deal of his winning methodologies in his articles. Many authors try to communicate their strategies by presenting them as universal truths. Cooke tends to avoid this, and in his best articles, he presents one specific situation in extraordinary detail, and describes his thought processes as this situation unfolds. By doing so, he doesn’t create a magnum opus like Sklansky’s Theory of Poker, but he often succeeds in imparting wisdom. This examination of poker strategy through microcosm is effective, and given the number of poker authors who have aimed for and failed to deliver a general strategy for their readers to follow rote, Cooke’s methodology is quite successful.

Of course, this style is not without it’s down sides. This book is not intended for beginners. Cooke not only assumes that the reader knows how to play, but that they know how to play well. Further, Cooke, correctly in my opinion, strongly emphasizes that the correct play in a given situation depends on a large number of variables, and with the same cards, the same betting, and sometimes even the same players, the same hands should often be played quite differently. Every great poker player undoubtedly agrees with this, but in the hands of a poor player, the “it depends” mantra can be greatly abused. I believe the solid player will benefit greatly from following Cooke’s analyses of many poker situations, but some losing players might use Cooke’s words to reinforce their worst tendencies. Consequently, there are many players that probably won’t benefit from Real Poker, but that’s not the fault of the book.

There are two issues that bother me about this book that I wish to raise. The first is that while I have not had this book fall apart on me, the binding does not appear to be very sturdy, and I wonder how it will hold up over time. However, the fact that this is 400 pages of quality material at, for poker books, the quite reasonable price of twenty dollars substantially mitigates this.

The second complaint I have is with one of Cooke’s tendencies. He quite rightly points out that players who berate the “live ones” at the table and run them off are costing themselves a great deal of money and would be well advised to cease this practice. Nonetheless, Cooke often describes players he’s playing against who make bad plays in enough detail that if the descriptions were accurate and these people read the article, some of them would surely recognize themselves. In my opinion, there is little to distinguish these two practices, and neither is worthy of a player of Cooke’s stature. A lot of players feel the need to demonstrate their own superiority at the expense of others. Some do it at the table, some do it on other forums. Real professionals don’t need to do it at all.

Overall, though, the information contained in this book is quite good and I believe it is well worth reading by any seasoned poker player, although I would recommend that most beginners primarily study other books until they have become at least a break even player. If one already owns all the issues of Card Player since 1993, all this volume does is put Cooke’s articles in between one set of covers, but that by itself might be enough to make Real Poker: The Cooke Collection worth picking up.

Real Poker: The Cooke Collection is an aggregation of Roy Cooke’s articles that appeared in Card Player from 1993 to 1998. This book has some flaws, but overall it presents good value to experienced poker players looking to improve their game. Novice players may want to defer its purchase until their game has become more fundamentally grounded.