The following are my picks for the top ten non-poker books for low-limit players. Though this list is far from comprehensive, I’ve tried to include all the books that have had a major impact on my approach to the game and the lifestyle I try to lead to support my development as a poker player. I’d love to hear what books have impacted your game and life or what books you think I should read next. Please leave a comment below and let me know!
10) You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney
This book came out of McRaney’s extremely popular blog. In it he argues that as humans we are constantly deluding ourselves and that we are not nearly as rational or logical as we like to think. As a poker player, I pride myself on my ability to think logically and rationally at the table (and off the table as well) but this book was a real eye-opener on how my thoughts are constructed and more importantly, how my opponents’ ideas and assumptions are constructed. Reading this book will give you great insight into why certain things may not be working in your life – things like forming healthy habits or overcoming incorrect first impressions – and how you can begin to construct a more effective mindset.
9) Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers
I’m not a Luddite; in fact, I love technology. I’ve got a blog, I play online poker daily, I utilize social media, I have an iPhone and an extremely loving relationship with my iPad that sometimes makes my wife jealous. But I do think that we as a culture are taking our daily use of tech a little too far and maybe losing something by having our face stuck in screens all day, usually consuming a lot of pointless content. This can be especially detrimental to serious poker players. How many times do you catch either yourself or your opponents completely consumed by their phone and not paying attention to the game? Or how often do you plan on putting in some serious study time, only to find that you’ve wasted it on Facebook or Twitter or mindlessly surfing the internet? I’m guilty of all of these. William Powers discusses the history of our love / hate relationship with technology, how it both negatively and positively impacts our lives, and what we can do to utilize technology in a more effective and healthy way.
8) Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
If you’re reading this blog, you probably have a desire to find success in poker. Outliers is a fascinating look into the different components that make up a successful person. Some of the factors Gladwell explores that are important to one’s success – genetic makeup, where we’re born or what our family income or status is – we cannot control. But many of the things Gladwell discusses are well within our control. This book can serve as a great starting point for creating a blueprint for a successful poker career, or in any endeavor we pursue.
7) Thinking, Fast and Slow By Daniel Kahneman
I’m currently reading this book and even though I’m not finished with it, I can already see that it’s having an impact on how I think about thinking (I can almost hear my wife saying, “How meta!”). I heard people talking a lot about this book around the time it came out but just never got around to reading it. But I recently heard Andrew Brokos on the Thinking Poker Podcast mention it as an important book for thinking poker players and figured I’d better give it a read. Brokos was right. There’s a ton of valuable information here on the two systems that drive the way we think. The first is the fast, emotional system of thinking and the second is the slow, deliberate, logical system of thinking. It should be pretty clear on why understanding how our thinking mind works might have a huge impact on our approach to playing and learning about poker.
6) Getting Things Done by David Allen
Being well-organized is an often neglected aspect of many poker players’ lives, much to the detriment of their game. Having a viable organizational plan can impact the management and growth of your bankroll, increase your ability to find and efficiently use your study time, help make the most of the time you have to play, or find ways to increase your volume. Allen gives a great blueprint here for creating a simple but effective means for organizing your life. I use a ton of tips and techniques from Allen’s book everyday and think you’ll find plenty of great stuff here too.
These are both great introductions to the world of minimalism and both have been a huge inspiration for me. They’ve even inspired me to start making major changes in my lifestyle that I hope will impact my ability to play great poker. As a low-limit player, it’s doubtful that I will ever see great amounts of money fall my way (come on, bad-beat jackpot!), but one way I can increase the value of the money that does come is by adjusting my lifestyle to one that requires less income but provides more happiness. I think a life utilizing these tenets will do just that. The really cool thing about minimalism is that you can adjust it to fit the lifestyle you want to lead. There are no requirements. You take from it exactly what you need to live a valuable, deliberate, purposeful life, whatever that means to you.
4) The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris
I recently heard Alexander Fitzgerald (Assassinato) talking on The Smart Poker Study podcast about how this book has had a profound influence on his mindset. It was recommended to him by the same person who recommended it to me, Dr. Tricia Cardner. Cardner was impressed by the ACT system that Harris promotes in the book and I have to say that after reading it, I am too. Harris gives real insight into how the mind works and, more importantly, how we can use this knowledge to live a happier, less anxiety-filled life. This book has helped me in so many ways but especially in dealing with anxiety and panic and the negative thoughts I sometimes have about my abilities at the table.
3) The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner
The discipline to create healthy habits and the ability to practice deliberately is everything. Want to have a better life? Discipline yourself into creating good habits and practice more deliberately. Think about it. Want to eat better? First you must be disciplined in creating healthy eating habits. Want to meditate? First you need to discipline yourself into creating a habit of practicing daily. Want to simply keep your day job? You better discipline yourself into creating a habit of showing up on time. Once you’ve created the habit, it’s deliberate practice that is going to lead you to great achievement. Anybody can practice, but it’s this kind of focused, deliberate, structured practice that actually separates the best from everyone else. If you want to learn how to harness your discipline into an unstoppable habit-forming machine and learn to practice more deliberately so you can crush the competition, this book is the place to start. In this short but powerful book, Sterner explains how he achieved his success in life through his discoveries in how to practice deliberately and remain focused in a distraction-laden environment. This is one of my favorite books and I recommend it constantly for not just poker players but to anyone trying to achieve excellence in their field. This book is of course especially powerful for poker players. Deliberate, focused practice is especially lacking in the average low-limit poker player’s study arsenal (if they’re studying at all) and I think most players would see incredible results if they adopted the strategies Sterner outlines in this wonderful book.
2) The One Thing by Gary Keller
This is another book I heard about on the Smart Poker Study podcast, this time recommended by the host himself, Sky Matsuhashi. I cannot overestimate the impact this book had and continues to have on my life. From small but impactful things, like how I construct my daily to-do list, to completely changing the way I think about success and how it is most effectively achieved. It’s an easy read, but don’t let that fool you. To me this book is both inspiring and revolutionary and can be a real catalyst for bringing about great change in your life. I know it has in mine.
1) Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
My number one pick was easy. Of all the books I’ve read, this one continues to have the biggest influence on how I approach the study of poker, and how I approach any new endeavor, including this blog. The system that Newport outlines in Deep Work is a difficult one to achieve, one that I’ve never even come close to living up to, but one that I never stop striving to reach. As Newport demonstrates, we live in a distracted world, one in which deep, focused, thoughtful work is becoming less and less common. Here’s Newport’s description of the Deep Work Hypothesis:
The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
Deep work seems to make up a large portion of the ever-expanding gap between those achieving excellence and those trapped in mediocrity. Like I said, developing a practice of deep work like Newport has achieved is challenging to say the least. But it has a huge payoff. It’s through this kind of focused work that great leaps are made. Want to accomplish a lot in a short time? Try the kind of deep work Newport advocates. It’s this kind of work that is going to take me from the lowest limits into the more profitable middle limits in a shorter time with better results than I would otherwise see. It’s deep work that is going to provide my path to excellence in this field.
Look for my next top ten post where I’ll give you my top poker book picks for low-limit players.