Review: Poker’s 1% by Ed Miller

Some good poker books are ones I’m glad I’ve read; others are ones I think my opponents would benefit from reading. Those categories don’t always overlap: I got better by working to understand the examples from Mathematics of Poker, but I don’t spend much time worrying that my opponents will have read it. Meanwhile, the various Harrington books were probably valuable to other players, but only the first tournament book affected my game much.

Ed Miller’s Poker’s 1% fits both categories. I think I’m already a better player for having read it, and working through the book’s suggested training regimen will certainly help much more. Meanwhile, I can easily think of dozens of friends and opponents whom I think would benefit even more than I have.

With that said, this is one of the most unusual poker books I’ve ever read, and working with it will for most readers require a leap of faith. The book can be read as an extended argument for structuring your thinking about poker in a certain way. Ed’s approach is roughly this:

(1) Identify a property of ideal poker strategies: namely, that they obey certain principles about bluffing frequencies and street-to-street folding (and not-folding) frequencies;

(2) Estimate these frequencies with a combination of Mathematics of Poker-style theory, informal argument, and good old-fashioned guesswork (that’s where the leap of faith needs to come);

(3) Explain how one goes about instantiating this strategy and identifying exceptions to it;

(4) Give lots of examples of the strategy.

The result might be Ed’s best book, and that’s saying something. It is, I think, his most epistemically explicit: he is admirably clear about what is deduction, what is guesswork, and what is approximation. And the book would have been much worse otherwise. Though Ed has obviously done his theoretical homework, which equally obviously informs his frequency recommendations, not much is proven. It is to Ed’s credit that he makes it clear that, however theoretically motivated his recommendations are, only some of them are given airtight arguments. That doesn’t stop Poker’s 1% from being a very good book, although Ed’s most motivated readers will want to read it in tandem with Mathematics of Poker in order to solidify their theoretical understanding of such subjects as street-to-street folding frequencies.

Much excellent work in mathematics and philosophy (and indeed every other subject with which I’m familiar) begins with a fairly simple, easily justified claim and gets as much mileage out of that claim as possible. This book can be read in the same way. It’s informative and fun to let Ed begin with something every student of the game already believes–once you’re in the pot, you can’t give up too often–and draw out consequence after consequence of that claim. You probably know that “fit or fold” is a bad way to play, but Ed will show you just how bad it is, and how to take a broader and more useful view of “fitting” a board. You probably know that elite players look “hyper-aggressive” and “sticky,” and you’ll get a better sense of why they play that way. You probably know that when the board hasn’t been particularly helpful to either player, both players have to fight for it, but Ed will help you figure out how much to fight, and how hard.

The examples Ed gives deserve careful study. They are thoroughly explained, usefully surprising, and accompanied by nice graphics. If you read the book you might be tempted to skip them to get on to the next surprising bit of general advice. Resist that temptation.

Although Poker’s 1% has plenty to say about how to continue in a hand, it focuses more on how often to continue in a hand. I found myself wanting more material on check-calling vs. double-barreling, raising vs. calling, and so on. A book can only contain so much, though, and what Ed says on these subjects is more than enough to give me a nice extra advantage against my usual $2-5 and $5-10 opponents.

I imagine some of my opponents will get much better by reading this book, but others might get worse. I think this book will be widely misread, mostly by people who skim it once, never do the requisite study the book recommends, and interpret Ed as advocating maniacal play. Others will, I think, feel out of control at the table, not knowing when to replace basic methods of hand-reading with “frequency-based” considerations. Others will have trouble dividing up their “continuing” ranges (as I mentioned in the paragraph above). Still others face the risk of playing more big pots than they’re used to and giving off tells in them (due to nerves and situation-specific inexperience).

Though readers will risk being led astray, careful ones will benefit. I agree with Ed that this book contains a basic plan for reorienting oneself to the game and adopting patterns of thought like those of the best players. Time and careful study will bring me to a more refined view of just how good Ed’s various approximations are, of whether Ed does enough to describe exceptions to his various rules, and so on. Even now, however, it’s clear that Ed has produced a unique, exciting, and thoroughly readable book that will reward its most careful students tremendously (much more than the $50 on the sticker). It might be the anti-Ace on the River: Barry Greenstein claimed that his book would help any player move up one level, and I suspect that the readers of Poker’s 1% will–depending on their aptitude and the care with which they read and study–improve either not at all or a whole lot.

11 thoughts on “Review: Poker’s 1% by Ed Miller

  1. Nate,

    Enjoyed the review. I’m only approximately about one third through the book. I’m reading slowly, as I do not have a hard-core math background. (I am familiar with “basic poker math” and probability and statistics, but really want to digest this book — I’ve already ordered a copy of MoP.)

    When I began to read the book, my second thought (I won’t share my first) was “I hope no one else ever reads this.” But as I continue to read (slowly), it occurs to me that I don’t really care if anyone else reads it, because most people are not going to put in any of the work that I think will be required to take advantage of the ideas Miller presents.

    As he noted on your podcast, these ideas do exist in the poker environment, but I don’t know that anyone has done as good a job as Miller as coherently and cohesively arranging and explaining them.

    I am glad to have the book, my only fear is that I will not have the time I would like to work through the ideas in it — not that others may read it.

    • Yes, you’re probably right. There’s enough excellent material out there that one good book isn’t likely to make a generation of poker players get that much better.

      Me, I’ll be tempted to write a bunch of software to help myself do the work, and thus run the risk of getting so caught up with the coding that I never get around to the poker analysis…

      • Thoroughly enjoyed the interview with Ed and the book review. Patiently waiting for my copy of the book.
        I wanted to ask a question that the interview with Ed prompted. I feel like I should already understand this, but I don’t. Can you suggest resources and or processes to create hand ranges that are balanced? Ed mentioned this in the interview and said it was not in the new book. I’m guessing I missed the process in a previous book. Any help is appreciated and thanks for the great podcast. Looking forward to buying the premium content. Keep it coming.

  2. Scott: this is a good question. The most general sort of discussion of that subject is not in Ed’s book, but the examples he gives are excellent case studies in creating balanced ranges. One place to start is to realize that there are several ways in which a range can be unbalanced: it can have too many or too few bluffs and very strong hands, or it can have too many or too few hands of a certain *type*. A simple example of the latter kind of imbalance is playing all your flush draws the same way on the flop when stacks are deep.
    So, if you’re already reading Ed’s book, the first resource I’d recommend is his hand examples. I learned a lot about this subject from Krantz and WiltOnTilt’s videos at DeucesCracked. I remember that we also touched on these subjects with Ben Wilinofsky in an early interview (still one of my favorite strategy segments).

    • Nate. Thank you for the response. I appreciate the suggestions for the videos and I will give a new listen to the podcast episode with Ben. I just got Ed’s book tonight and will begin the exercises Ed suggests. Thanks again. I feel like I know so little about the game but I can begin to see a little light on the horizon.

      • I listened to Episode 75 this morning and heard you discussing a python script for range analysis using a process inspired by Ed Miller’s book. This is the wrong forum to volunteer but if you would like a beta tester I would enjoy being involved. I’m an enthusiastic amateur who wants to learn correctly but has a profession that allows for few hours to dedicate to poker. I feel I could help test interface options at a minimum and offer potentially unexpected questions that might help. The great advantage is I have little to no chance of ever being a competitor on the felt. I am doing a process that I’m guessing is vastly less sophisticated than what you are setting up. Love to help if you feel I can offer the help you might need. Hopefully you can see my email address so we can move this type of conversation off your blog.

      • Thanks for the note, and sorry for my delay responding. I’ll certainly make a note of this for when the project gets to the point when not-me users would be useful!

  3. Hi Nate – playing catchup with the podcasts at the moment and listened to the Ed Miller cast on my way home from work, was just wondering if his book is mainly for cash players or if it it still worth the investment for an MTT grinder?

    I’m a member of TPE and am working through the videos, though I probably play too much on the 4 nights a week I can play instead of studying so working through the videos is taking me some time. I’ve had some decent results of late but often struggle between finding the right balance between playing too tight post flop and blowing off too many chips when I’m beat – something I am determined to improve upon but I don’t want to invest in Ed’s book if it has cash related strategies that don’t easily apply to varying stacks and blind levels of MTTs.

    When you get a chance if you could let me know your thoughts that would be great.

    Thanks. Al.

    • Al: I’d say that the book is in theory roughly equally applicable to tournaments and to cash games. If I recall, he does spend some time explicitly discussing tournaments. That said, many of the examples involve 100BB+ stacks, and I’d probably be more eager to recommend it to a cash game player than to a tournament player–though I do imagine you’ll get significantly better at tournaments if you study the book carefully. On the show Ed mentioned that the book is really about poker very generally and would probably help even non-hold’em players.

      • Thanks Nate – I’ve stuck in an order for it on Amazon + TMOP for some bedtime reading. Cheers. Al.

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