Friday, December 08, 2006

Book Review: "Read 'Em and Reap"

Here's a book that I wanted to get my sweaty little mitts on for a couple of months prior to its release, Phil Hellmuth Presents: Read 'Em and Reap. Authored by former FBI agent Joe Navarro, famed in poker circles for his seminars on nonverbal tells at Camp Hellmuth and the WPT Boot Camp, the book promised to be a solid complement to Mike Caro's Caro's Book of Poker Tells, the first attempt anyone made to categorize some of the visual behaviors present at the table.

My motive for wanting this book, of course, was and is pure greed: I plan to play more live poker in the coming months, as I once did, years back, and I want to do more than just make money --- I want to make as much money as possible.

So with that in mind, is this a good, worthy book?

Oh, yeah, in that regard it is. Navarro's seminars have frequently been reported to be among the most valuable and memorable parts of those seminar attendees' experiences, and Read 'Em and Reap certainly offers up a goodly amount of valuable, potentially profitable insights. But perhaps the greatest value from a book such as this, for the ordinary poker player, is helping define the path. We all see the information, but we don't always observe it for it what it is.

Read 'Em and Reap is a reminder in how to think, to observe, to learn how to sift and categorize visual clues. For poker players with a considerable knowledge base, it'll serve as a reminder as to what one should be watching for and why. The best poker players already know most of what the book offers, even if they don't know it in an indexed, categorical fashion. Many great poker players play by feel, but their intuition is still grounded in acute observation.

If you're thinking that a review like this should examine all the "tells" and list a few of them out, then guess what? You've missed the point of the book. Those tells are there, all right, and they're sorted in several ways, from positive and negative tells to examining each body area and understanding its importance to its owner's real intent. Good enough. That's the nuts and bolts. But, surprise: This turns out to be an A-B-C book with the hidden agenda of trying to teach people to not think in A-B-C manner, or at least to examine the way in these visual cues appear; a-b-c, you see, is different from A-B-C.

It's not a perfect book, of course. The first 20 pages or so are an excrutiating attempt to resell you and congratulate you on your decision to buy the thing, and the book is almost as airy as, well, Caro's Book of Poker Tells itself. Nor does this book quite come up to the Caro book's standard of dopey, overwrought, "tell" poses and photos, though darned if it doesn't give it a good shot. (Yes, the photos have to be over-obvious to hammer home the point. It doesn't make them any less funny.) And of course, there's always the Hellmuth thing, referring to he who gets his name on the front cover in letters twice the size of those devoted to book author Navarro himself. Hellmuth does contribute an intro and some anecdotes to the book, it should be noted.

One other structural weakness exists. Because the book attempts to be all things to all readers, communicating to several different levels of poker skill, it ends up not doing a truly satisfying job for any segment of its audience. The more advanced one is as a poker player, the more tedious the early portions of the book will be. On the flip side, newer players might be able to recognize some of the subtleties detailed later on, even if they're not necessarily able to fully make use of that knowledge at the present time. No book can ever be all things to all people, it seems. Read 'Em and Reap also left this reader curiously aware that a few key tells likely didn't make it into the book, simply because a truly complete book would leave Navarro bereft of new teaching material for his poker seminars.

But that's okay. For $18.95 plus shipping --- or a bit less if one hunts for a better price --- this should be a worthy addition to almost any serious player's poker library. I give it a B+, and I'm a pretty tough grader.

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