Now is the season of cashing in those book tokens you were given for Christmas. Here are half a dozen books on poker that would make excellent late presents - or that you might buy simply to amuse and educate yourself.

1. Hold 'em Poker, by David Sklansky, $17.50. The first and basic guide to Hold 'em, which is a must read, for the simple reason that everyone else has read it and plays by Sklansky's guidelines.

2. Super System, by Doyle Brunson, $50, is a high-powered guide to the main variations of poker, by world champion Brunson and friends. It is full of tremendous insights, albeit geared to the American rather than the British game.

3. Poker Essays, by Mason Malmuth, $24.95. Erudite and perceptive analysis of casino poker, reprinted from his column in Card Player, followed by an equally strong volume two.

4. The Education of a Poker Player, by Herbert O Yardley, $9.95. This racy account of the author's derring-do in card saloons of the old West, mixed up with poker stories and modern espionage, has become a classic. My favourite quote: "There's something seductive about the smell of horses, moonlight, and wet dew glistening on the green grass ... Separately, they're not compelling. As a whole, no girl can withstand them." The English edition has a neat foreword by Al Alvarez, in which he confesses he learned more about life from this little book than from reading Shakespeare or DH Lawrence.

5. Alvarez himself is the author of The Biggest Game in Town, $3.95, an entertaining and revealing insight into the minds of the top Vegas professionals.

6. Keno Runner, by David Kranes, $17.95. This wild, surreal but virtually unknown novel is my all-time favourite book about the experience of Las Vegas. The author, a university teacher, has a mystical feel for gambling. "Las Vegas isn't America" is its theme; "America is Las Vegas." Although you can't, as they say, learn poker from books, you can at least skim a few lessons on the plane getting there. All these titles are available by credit card from the Gambler's Book Shop in Las Vegas, fax 001-702- 382-7594. Numbers 4 and 5 are published here by Oldcastle Books and Fontana.