Gary Carson’s “Casino Poker” occupies that niche of books aimed at the crowd who learned how to play poker with pennies on the kitchen table and are smart enough to know they need a bit more understanding before they take it to the casino.
The experienced player will already know much of what Carson is imparting, except perhaps for the 5-dimensional model of poker personalities, which I found to be the book’s best material.
Beginners who read this book won’t automatically be turned into poker-ninjas. However, if they’re heading down to Vegas with a thousand bucks and wild eyes, they will be in substantially better position to defend their holiday poker-roll capsa. They will also be far more likely to recognize their own limitations, spot a soft game, and try their fortunes with a few decent tools on the belt. If you are that beginner, this book will save you its cost of purchase ($14.95 US/$20.95 CAN) and probably allow you to scoop a big pot or two for bragging rights back home.
Carson emphasizes basics of sound poker: position, aggression, basic odds, and tells. He also devotes brief chapters to the rules and basic strategies of hold’em, 7-stud, and Omaha (high and split).
The book’s unique contribution to poker literature is Carson’s 5-dimensional model of poker players. Just about everyone who plays poker is aware of Alan Schoonmaker’s tight-loose and passive-aggressive dimensions. Carson finds these two dimensions insufficient, and he adds three more of his own: weak-tenacious, rational-irrational, and tricky-straightforward. The weak-tenacious dimension, for instance, refers to whether players hang in a hand or fold to stiff betting – something you can’t easily discern simply from knowing if your villain is tight and aggressive. The rational-irrational dimension describes whether a player is in the game for money (rational) or to meet other emotional needs (irrational). The tricky-straightforward dimension is an assessment of tendencies to bluff or slowplay. I do wish Carson had elaborated these dimensions further. He clearly possesses a deep knowledge of poker players’ styles, and the material deserves at least a chapter of its own, rather than the few pages he gives it.
The book also has a few disadvantages. Since it is specifically aimed at live cardroom play, online players will find little in here which discusses unique aspects of online play. The hand and play examples are primarily derived from limit hold’em, which was the game most frequently spread by live casinos in 2004. How times have changed in three short years. Players with an interest in limit will do well by this book, but the NLH masses are out in the cold, except for the general advice of using position and preferring aggression.
The book’s chief weakness is its chapter on tournament play, a skimpy 11 pages. However, in 2004, live cardroom poker tournaments were seldom seen outside of Vegas until they exploded into prominence on television. A certain 3 volume series by Dan Harrington was still two years in the future, so tournaments probably did look like obscure creatures.
In summary, Carson is clearly a man who knows his game, and he knows his players. He had the misfortune of introducing a book just before no limit hold’em and tournament style poker took off into the extraordinary popularity which currently shows no signs of abating. If you are a limit player, and if you would like to avoid being fleeced at the big casino, this book is still of relevance to you. Otherwise, the rest of us should hope that Gary Carson decides to publish an update, so we can enjoy his wisdom in the vastly altered poker landscape of 2007.