Game Type: Texas Hold'em

Barry Greenstein, Ace on the River. An Advanced Poker Guide, Last Knight Publishing 2005


Click here to buy the book!When Ace on the River came out it created some controversy. Mason Malmuth praised it to the skies, others were more critical by pointing out that it contains a lot of pictures but was light on content. As it is often the case the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Barry Greenstein is a successful high limit player. Doyle Brunson asked him to write a chapter for his book Super System 2. As Barry says in the book, “I told him I could write about how to make money at poker as I felt this would be a good complement to the technical material of the book. Doyle wanted about twenty pages, but my manuscript escalated to over one hundred. I asked him which part he would like to use, and he replied, ‘It’s all good. I wouldn’t want to cut out any of it.’ He gave me a choice: either write a shortened version or make a book out of it for myself. As I had already spent a lot of time on this project, I decided to choose the latter. This book is the result.” (p. 30)

The book starts strong. Greenstein tells the reader his personal story how he began playing poker at the age of twelve, became a professional poker player, moved up the limits until he started playing in the highest poker games at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He does away with the legend that he could afford to play the ultra high stakes games because he made millions while working for the software company Symantec. His starting salary was only $40,000 a year and in Aces and Kings Greenstein says during the years at Symantec while often working day and night he earned less than 1 million dollars. It shows Barry Greenstein’s honesty that he not only mentions the ups of his poker career but the downs as well. He admits that he was broke several times, had a bad spending habit and lost 1,5 million dollars playing Chinese poker with Ted Forrest.
Barry Greenstein doesn’t give the reader any intellectual or philosophical reasons why he plays poker; he plays because he can make money, plain and simple. Though he likes to spend money he gives a lot of his winnings to charity. He wants to help people in need and give back something to the community. In fact he donates all his tournament winnings though he has to pay taxes for it (“Actually, the government allows only 25% of one’s income to be declared as charity. Consequently, if I don’t make any other money, I have to pay taxes on 75% of the tournament winnings even though I have given that money away”, p. 29). No wonder Doyle Brunson calls Barry Greenstein the “Robin Hood of poker”. The first two parts of the book are titled “The Poker World” and “Philosophy”. In these two parts Greenstein treats a lot of topics, some you haven’t seen in print before like “Poker and Your Family” and “Poker and Your Sexuality”.
Some information is interesting (e. g. the top 25 list he gives about what character qualities separate winners from losers), others are worthless (e. g. he gives a scholarly discussion about how the brain works: “There are several neurotransmitters. The main ones are noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonine, and GABA …”, p. 81).
All of these chapters are short, usually between two and four pages, pictures not counted. Often you would like to see more in-depth treatment of a topic and sometimes Greenstein uses a whole chapter for what can be expressed in one sentence. E. g. hardly anybody would refute that you should get a good education even if you intend to become a poker player. This is just common sense and no need to waste a whole chapter for it without presenting new insight. Here is another example: The title of the chapter “The Best Poker Player in the World” sounds interesting. Didn’t you always wanted to know who the best poker player is and who could be more qualified to answer this question than Barry Greenstein? But don’t hold your breath, Greenstein doesn’t come up with a name as you might have expected, instead he writes: “The answer is: No one. Nobody plays his or her best every day.” (p. 131) Ok, this might be his honest opinion but it can be said in one sentence and there is no need to make a lot of fuss about it. By the way I think Greenstein’s answer is lame. If you accept his reasoning no one is the best in any sports. Even Bobby Fischer or Gary Kasparov in their prime were not the best chess players in the world. I don’t think many chess players would accept that conclusion.

The third part of the book titled “Advanced Play” is by far the best. Here Greenstein shows hands from ring games and tournaments he played. As you might expect from a player like Barry Greenstein the discussion is excellent. One warning however. This book won’t help you much to learn a specific poker game. Even studying the eight examples he gives in the “Tournaments” section will not turn you from a beginner into an expert tournament player. This is no criticism about the book because the subtitle “An Advanced Poker Guide” makes it clear that it wasn’t Greenstein’s intention to write a primer that gives you the basics and fundamentals of the game. To really profit from his explanations you should already have a pretty good understanding of poker in general. The hand examples are so good I wished he had included more of them and are easily worth the price of the book.

This is one of the best produced books I have ever seen. It uses a large format, is printed on high quality glossy paper, has an excellent layout and contains about 200 pictures. I would have happily spent an additional 10 bucks for a hardbound edition. I give an extra point for the lovingly designed layout.

(Tristan Steiger)

Buy the Greenstein book!