Poker: Bet on a good read

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The Independent Culture
ONE of the pleasures of going to Las Vegas, where I am heading soon to report on the World Series of Poker at Binion's, has nothing to do with gambling. It is the chance to drop into the Gambler's Book Club and browse around. This little store, five minutes' taxi ride from Glitter Gulch, is an oasis of calm and contentment away from the screaming neon of the too-much- fun club which defines the rest of town.

The Gambler's Book Club is run by a book fanatic named Howard Schwartz. He knows every reference, and probably every paragraph, of any publication you care to name which has any relation, near or far, to gambling. He has never forgiven me for knocking him out of the media Hold 'em tournament at Binion's with a lousy pair of 3s. But on matters literary, he is a constant source of friendly advice. Howard's booklist of gaming titles runs to 30 pages of newsprint, tabloid-size. It includes under the poker section well over 100 titles, which prompts me to reflect: which three poker books would one recommend to a new player?

I think for a general, enthusiastic introduction to the game Herbert Yardley's The Education of a Poker Player (dollars 9.95) is a classic. You can't learn to play poker from this book, but its tangy, gaming saloon, frontier atmosphere is authentic. Yardley doubled up as a spy, code- breaking in Chiang Kai Shek's China, but leaves you in no doubt that his happiest nights were at the poker table.

For sheer expertise, no one has given away so many secrets as Doyle Brunson, two-time winner of the World Championship, in his masterwork Super System (dollars 50). This is a substantial book (605 pages), comprising chapters by Doyle's poker cronies on different variations of poker, written from the standpoint of both limit and no- limit play. It covers seven-card stud, low ball, high-low, hold 'em and draw, and is full of insights on every page.

The most prolofic writers on poker these days are David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth, who pool their higher maths for the benefit of the general reader. As Texas Hold 'em is the most popular game in Nevada and California card rooms, and everyone is more or less following his advice, Sklansky's Hold 'em Poker (dollars 17.50) is essential reading. Graduate students may delve into Sklansky and Malmuth's Hold 'em Poker for Advanced Players (dollars 29.95) if they prefer.

You don't have to go all the way to Vegas to benefit from the Gambler's Book Club. Credit card orders can be faxed to (702) 382 7594 or sent by post to GBC, 630 South llth Street, Las Vegas, Nevada 89101.