Every Hand Revealed
by Gus Hansen
This book is a hand-by-hand breakdown of his win of the Aussie Millions World Poker Tour tournament, where he waded through 747 players and won $1.2 million. The book doesn’t include every single hand, of course (not his boring pre-flop folds) but it’s pretty much every significant hand he played. And there are quite a lot of them, which makes sense if you are familiar with Gus’s style.
If you’re wondering how he was able to keep track of every hand he played, Gus says he left the table frequently and spoke notes into a handheld recorder. I myself can’t imagine doing such a thing, because I feel like it would impact my understanding of the game flow too much, not to mention that you might miss a few hands here and there. I’d be curious how extensive his note taking was, and how far away from the table he felt comfortable walking before talking into the recorder.
The book is a good one, and I recommend it. I recommend it not for learning any great secrets or strategy, although Gus’s play seemed pretty solid for the most part to me, but for a decent depiction of the ebb and flow of a long high-stakes tournament from the eventual winner. If Gus is to be believed about how he kept track of these hands, he’s probably the only man alive recording such long stints of play with such detail. The fact that he won this tournament while taking these notes allows us a unique perspective. Whether you think Gus is a genius or a lucky maniac, or something in-between, it’s still neat to be able to see all his hands and his thought processes. Whether or not you agree with his thought processes, it’s still damn interesting.
Gus seems pretty honest about his decision-making process, which is another reason it’s an interesting journey. He’ll go into a long complex mathematical analysis that shows why he decided a certain action, but then admit that there’s no way to take all of those factors into account while at the table, and that his action was more dependent on his feeling that it was probably the right move. Experienced poker players must frequently rely on their unconscious analysis of the math of a situation, and Gus seems refreshingly okay with admitting that this is often the case with him.
He also is not afraid to point out when he played a hand horribly. In a few hands, he runs through extensive logic that points to a play that is vastly superior, and then says that he made the opposite play. Say what you will about Gus (and people do), but you’ve got to admire the fact that he doesn’t pretend to know everything. I like him.
As far as his strategy, I found myself agreeing with his actions to a surprising degree. I would read his description of the situation, and then think of what I would do, and then read his actions, and I was kind of pleasantly surprised to find much overlap in reasoning. Not that I think Gus is a poker genius (I’ve heard many criticisms of his game), but I’m sure he’s much better than me, so it gave me a warm feeling inside to know that we might be thinking at least a little bit alike.
The most important thing I probably took from the book was his aggressive use of the all-in. He describes quite a few times where he thought an all-in was a superior play in situations where I think most good players would have made a standard raise. These were usually in spots against average or low stacks. While a lot of people are rightfully aggressive with short stacks, Gus gave some really good logical breakdowns of situations in which making a seemingly huge overbet of the pot can be correct, if there is a high likelihood that the player will not call and if the money in the pot is already significant.
I’m pretty aggressive, but I probably don’t take enough advantage of making overbets when I’m in a chip-lead situation. It’s something I’ll think more about, and it’s the best take-away I got from the book.
There were a couple funny things in the book. Gus was talking about continuation bets as if they had just been invented. He made it sound like he was employing a new strategy that was just catching on, whereas I thought this was a standard strategy in any form of poker since the dawn of time, even if it hadn’t always had a name. I mean, I was making continuation bets when I was playing nickel-dime-quarter when I was 15 years old. Considering that this book was written in 2007 (I had to double-check the date), I found all of that strange.
Also, Gus made it sound like he was the only one who understood the idea that when there are antes in addition to the blinds, you should play looser and more aggressive. I’d be very surprised if his opponents didn’t know this, but reading Gus’s account you get the impression that everyone else were playing like total nits, which maybe they were.
Two things will stand out to you about Gus’s account of this tournament:
1) His opponents were very passive.
2) His opponents did not seem to have very many hands.
Gus all but admits that these were the two factors that he could thank for his win. It was really surprising reading about how aggressive Gus was playing, and seeing how infrequently people would play back at him. There were so many times players just seemed to hand the pot to Gus, and so many times Gus raised pre-flop or bet on the flop and everyone folded.
There just weren’t many times there were people willing to take a stand against Gus, and I don’t know if that’s because of bad cards or bad play. In fact, there isn’t much you learn about anything besides Gus’s descriptions of specific hands. This points to what is perhaps a downside of the book:
1) Gus doesn’t talk much about the actions and hands surrounding the hands that he plays.
2) Gus talks about getting reads on player’s demeanors, but doesn’t describe what he notices to arrive at those reads.
When I play a tournament, many of my choices are based on what I’ve seen happen recently. I notice someone’s play change gears because of something that happened; someone gets looser and steamier after losing a big pot, or else tightens down considerably after losing a big pot, depending on their personality. I watch for interactions between specific players. I notice how other players’ perceptions of me shift based on circumstances I can’t control and on my own attempts to influence their perception. To me, a poker game is an ever-changing ebb and flow of perceptions and personalities.
You won’t find any of these types of game flow descriptions in Gus’s book. His hand descriptions are very cut-and-dried, and there isn’t much differentiation between his opponents or descriptions of their playing style, let alone their shifts in playing style.
I don’t know why this is; I find it hard to believe that Gus doesn’t have such thought processes. It’s possible the book would have been unmanageably complex if he tried to fit all of his observations in the book in addition to all the hands. (It’s already a pretty long book.) It’s also possible that his keeping extensive notes on his hands prevented him from keeping detailed track of the players he was playing with.
It’s the same with Gus’s reads of opponents. He frequently mentions how someone looked weak, or someone looked like they wanted action, but he doesn’t elaborate on what communicated that to him. That was kind of frustrating to me.
Again, I don’t know why he wouldn’t include that information, because I believe that he has reasons for his reads; I give him enough credit to assume he’s not acting purely on a feeling. It’s possible he doesn’t want to give away how he reads people. Then again, maybe it just wasn’t the focus of the book and would have made it too sprawling.
Anyway, these aren’t big complaints of mine. Just nit-picking on an otherwise interesting and informative book. As a record of a man’s journey from the start of a tournament all the way to winner, it succeeds greatly. And I think you’ll end up liking Gus, if you didn’t already.