While Vince Van Patten may be
the sizzle of the World Poker Tour (WPT) commentating duo, there can be no argument that
Mike Sexton is definitely the “steak”. Undoubtedly the most
competent and insightful television poker analysts in the business, Sexton jumps onto the poker-book bandwagon with "Shuffle Up and Deal:
The Ultimate No Limit Texas Hold'em Guide."
In contrast to his brilliant, guru-like TV persona, much of Mike’s “learned in the trenches” poker knowledge seems unfortunately
misplaced in this literary version of the show. Too much of the material proffered merely reads like a “TV Rerun” that will only appeal
to the most die-hard World Poker Tour enthusiast. The tone of this effort seems out of sync with a targeted “newbie” audience that has long
since matured (poker-wise) since the WPT revolutionized poker exposure “way back” in 2003.
Subtitled “The Ultimate No Limit Texas Hold’em Guide”, Shuffle Up and Deal will only “ultimately guide” the most novice players who have
learned (of) the game from watching the WPT show on television. It almost seems as if publisher HarperCollins is counting on this niche
of built-in, “moldable” Sexton fans to cash in on its “piece of the (poker-book) pie”. While the poker advice within is certainly sound,
too much of it is simply recycled ingredients heard countless times before (on TV) and may be considered redundant even by neophyte
players dedicated to “Wednesday nights on the Travel Channel”. Simply put, anyone who has earned their poker stripes by learning from
the WPT program may feel like it’s “déjà vu all over again”.
One of the most interesting elements of “Shuffle Up” is its introduction by Steve Lipscomb. Recounting the history and formation of the
WPT and the unprecedented speed with which the project got off the ground, Lipscomb sets Sexton’s stage from a behind-the-scenes
firsthand view as the WPT’s president/founder/producer/director.
Sexton scores points and spares his readers by giving his blessing to skip the chapter covering the rules of the game for anyone who
knows the basics of playing No Limit Hold’em. After all, even beginners purchasing this book have already watched the infamous “it takes
a minute to learn and a lifetime to master” sermon so many times that it has even been eliminated from the show (finally!). Presumably,
this “Chapter 2” was treated as a 12-page “obligation”, and is sure to be “filler” material passed over by most readers.
There is no mistaking that Sexton succeeds in teaching concepts that are invaluable to the fledgling No-Limit Holdem tournament player.
He begins general discussion with the omnipresent poker-author mantra that “anyone can be a winning player”, and follows it up with a
conventional summary of concepts that separate winners from losers. Some examples include the importance of betting/aggression; putting
an opponent on a hand; the dangers in “chasing” pots; making game plans and good decisions; when to change gears, etc. He discusses
character traits helpful in furthering poker success; such as having
patience, avoiding superstitions and keeping criticism of others to oneself.
Technically, Sexton goes on to more specific strategic concepts and discusses the obligatory axioms such as: starting hand selection,
one’s position at the table, observing one’s opponents, understanding odds, betting the right amount, instincts in poker, maintaining
discipline, etc. Throughout almost every discussion, he relates his ideas to examples seen on the WPT TV broadcasts, and this is where
the monotonous, “rerun nature” of the lessons comes into play. By relating too much of what he is trying to explain to scenarios that
his intended reading audience has already presumably seen on TV, Sexton tends to “de-value” his own well-earned authority on the
subject. The teachings would have just as much impact, if not more, if taught from Sexton’s own experiences as a highly respected and
successful player in his own right. He comes across as too much of “an announcer”, and not as much as the “poker expert” he clearly is
when relating his ideas.
Along these lines, Mike’s own “Author’s Note” is a mere 4 pages at the very end of the book that highlights actor Ben Affleck’s poker
accomplishments more than Sexton’s own successes and history. There is no question that Lipscomb chose Sexton as the “new voice of
poker” for good reason. However these very reasons are sorely missing from what should have been a much-expanded autobiography of Mike’s
credentials and why he was “the chosen one”. There can be no doubt that the market for Sexton’s treatise would significantly increase if
a more personal side of its author was exposed and highlighted given his noteworthy poker accomplishments.
If one extracts the “WPT Final Table Players” biographies section (showcasing several of the most popular TV winners); the “WPT
Tournament Payouts” list (complete only up to its 2005 publishing); the “Glossary of
Poker Terms” (already explained 100 times each with TV
graphics); and the “Frequently Asked Questions” (most of which are previously addressed in earlier sections) – almost a third of the
book would disappear. The inclusion of so much extraneous material (in a book touted as “a guide to No Limit Hold’em”) may just leave
the astute reader or more experienced player wondering – “Where’s the beef?”
Also included with the book, but adding nothing new content-wise, is the “Poker Primer” DVD. This is the same exact WPT television
program aired long ago on the Travel Channel (circa 2nd season), hosted by actor Lou Diamond Phillips. Perhaps intended as an added
enticement on bookstore shelves, the DVD offers little added value to Shuffle Up and Deal. On the contrary, Shuffle Up and Deal comes
across as merely a text version of the different “introductory” poker lessons exhibited on the DVD program.
Written and illustrated in an intelligible manner, Shuffle Up and Deal is sure to serve new players well, in addition to providing a
nostalgic look at their poker beginnings. However, its material and peripheral sidebars may leave the more experienced No Limit player
feeling he has simply turned on his Tivo, or another Saturday night rerun of the WPT.
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