How do you define success?
That’s the first question poker journalist Lance Bradley asked during interviews with 50 professional poker players.
The result of those interviews: The Pursuit Of Poker Success, the latest offering from prolific poker book publisher D&B Poker.
In the introduction, Bradley states that the original goal was to find out why certain people were able to succeed in the cutthroat world of poker.
After reading the thoughts of 50 of the world’s best-known poker pros, it’s apparent that there is no right or wrong path to success, and like most poker-related inquiries, the best answer is: It depends.
What kind of book is this?
Poker books tend to come in three general varieties:
- Primers/Strategy books
The Pursuit of Poker Success doesn’t fit into any of those categories. It’s not an X’s and O’s strategy book, nor is it a biography or history book. It’s a series of interviews with a bit of all those things. And every conversation is born out of that single question: How do you define success?
The Pursuit of Poker Success isn’t laden with poker terminology or in-depth strategic discussion, but the nuggets of wisdom provided throughout will prove invaluable to pretty much anyone, poker player or non-poker player.
In that respect, The Pursuit of Poker Success is the rarest of rare, a poker book that will appeal to poker players, as well as people who don’t know if a flush beats a straight, since some of the advice/discussion is transferable to other walks of life.
A light touch from Lance Bradley
Bradley doesn’t try to rationalize or make sense of the answers the players give. There’s no recap of what he took away from each interview. Instead, he gently guides the conversation with pertinent follow-up questions, and lets the players do the talking.
No player is given preferential treatment.
The interviews are arranged alphabetically, and every player, from well-known players like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth, to names that will only be known to poker enthusiasts like Niall Farrell and Ben Tollerene, has a full-page intro/bio and four pages of text.
Additionally, there’s no big takeaway that ties the 50 interviews together in some overarching way. The book simply ends with the final interview with three-time WPT Champion and 2015 POY Anthony Zinno.
What I took away from The Pursuit of Poker Success
For anyone who’s spent time in the poker world, what isn’t said is even more interesting than what is said.
I also found Bradley’s interview subjects interesting and telling.
Of the 50 people interviewed, only four are what I would call pre-poker-boom players (players who’d established themselves as successful players before the poker boom):
- Jennifer Harman
- Phil Hellmuth
- Daniel Negreanu
- Erik Seidel
As a whole, I felt the poker boom era players Bradley spoke with understood the opportunity they were presented with. Still, I was surprised at how few spoke about luck. Not luck at the tables, but the fortune of being the right type of person in the right place at the right time.
Basically, falling within the 18-24 age bracket from around 2003-2006, and having a certain aptitude for poker.
Couple that opportunity with Ike Haxton’s belief that successful poker players tend to have a mix of uncommon personality traits (specifically mentioning an ability to be detached from results) and you start to see what this very diverse cast of 50 humans from all different backgrounds have in common.
There are some outliers, but by and large there is a common theme that goes unsaid throughout the text: a certain self-centeredness.
For the most part, all the players in The Pursuit of Poker Success looked inward, and talked about what they had done to make it in the poker world. For the players in the book that self-centeredness manifests as a competitive drive to improve regardless of the early results.
It’s a mindset very few people possess, and the variance of poker makes it all the more difficult to see the end goal when you’re getting your teeth kicked in.
Virtually every player profiled seems to have known very early on that they had found something special in poker. As Jennifer Harman said, she felt at home at a poker table. I would guess all of the players feel similarly, in that they’re comfortable in what is a very uncomfortable situation: at a poker table risking significant amounts of money.
But that was my takeaway from the book. Yours will likely be different.
Like the varied paths the interviewees took to poker success, what you get from the book may be something else entirely. That’s what makes The Pursuit of Poker Success such an interesting read, and makes it deserving of a place on any poker bookshelf.
Lead image taken by Antonio Abrego