John Feeney is a poker columnist for Poker Digest magazine who also holds a PhD in clinical psychology. Besides being a skilled poker player, this also gives him valuable insight into his own mind as a poker player, as well as the minds of his opponents. In Inside the Poker Mind we have a collection of essays which relate Feeney’s thoughts about poker and the folks who play it.
This book is divided into five sections. After some introductory material, Part One begins covering what Feeney calls “Technical Points”. These essays cover a variety of subjects, and I don’t really know what the section title refers to. Some of the topics covered are why people play too many hands and what that costs them, playing Ace-Queen in Hold’em, and some thoughts on tells. Most of the advice here seems pretty good to me, but occasionally, Feeney states some things in more of a straightforward manner than I believe is warranted. For example, in his essay titled “Do You Pass the Ace-Queen Test?”, he states, “Do you always play it, usually by calling the two bets cold? Then get into my game please.” While I agree that in many games, especially tougher games, that always cold-calling with AQoff is unwise, there are some games, such as the nearly ubiquitous loose low-limit games where nearly everyone plays poorly, where always playing AQoff for two bets probably isn’t very wrong. it’s true that Feeney says, “Of course it depends on the situation…,” but this dispenses with what sort of game one is in far too quickly for my tastes.
Part Two is titled “General Poker Concepts”, and it covers luck, short handed play, and learning the game of poker. I really like most of these essays, and I think this section is the strongest one in the book. The third section, “Strategic Thinking in Hold’em”, covers what Feeney calls “The Strategic Moment”, how to play against maniacs, playing against a good card reader, and other strategies. Overall, most of the essays here are good, but less inspired in my opinion than those in Part Two.
The next section, “Poker and Emotion”, is the one where we expect the author to really shine, as he mixes his poker knowledge with his background in psychology. He discusses having a professional attitude, tilt, and the benefits of therapy for poker players. I was a bit disappointed here, but I’m not sure I’m being fair. I have been doing a lot of thinking myself about what the “professional attitude” looks like and how it should affect one’s game, so it’s not surprising that I found Feeney’s general remarks on the subject to be simpler than what I was hoping for, and the details of some of his discussions sometimes emphasize different issues than what I think is most important. However, for the poker player that hasn’t given this much thought, the author’s analysis is almost certainly useful. Similarly, Feeney’s definition of “tilt” is different than what I tend to use, and I believe that most of the benefit a serious player could derive from psychotherapy can be gained much less expensively from discussing their experiences with other thoughtful players, especially if one can’t find a therapist who can beat the local 15-30 game.
The fifth section covers miscellaneous topics, including Feeney’s thoughts on tournaments, general risk/reward ratios in life, and his thoughts on the effects of poker literature on the quality of games. I found his essays on tournaments to be interesting, but they won’t help one’s game. His consideration of risk/reward in life is well thought out and should be considered by everyone on the planet, but several books, like True Odds: How Risk Affects Your Everyday Life by James Walsh, already cover this topic more thoroughly. I do, though, think he’s right on the money when it comes to the effect of poker literature on the quality of games. The book ends with a conclusion and a welcome addition to recently published Two Plus Two books, a comprehensive index.
While I think the book has its downsides, overall, I think it is pretty good, although not great. Instead of picking a true focus, Qiu Qiu Online strategy or psychology, Feeney dabbles in each, and consequently no great advances are made in either direction. However, I think most of the strategy is quite good and will help most poker players, especially those with intermediate skills, improve their game. Also, most serious players will probably also benefit from it, but they needn’t rush the book to the top of their “must read” list.
Inside the Poker Mind is a good but not great book covering a little bit of strategy and a little bit of psychology in playing poker. Best suited to improving the game of the studious, but intermediate player, Feeney’s book will likely be useful as well to the advanced player, even though its depth is limited and, in my opinion, some of its points debatable. It’s recommended, but not a classic.