Review of When to Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em

I’ve read many poker books by many authors who have made extreme claims about their own qualifications as an author and to the benefit that might be realized by reading their book. None of them have made the sorts of claims that self described “genius extraordinaire” William Barnes has made about his book, When to Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em. In his own words, “Expect to discover more Hold ‘Em Poker information and enlightenment in this book than in all the bookstores and libraries of the world.” An extreme claim to be sure. Can this book live up to its own promotion?

The book consists of three parts. The first part consists of letters Barnes has sent to various luminaries correcting articles they have written. Mostly, these letters correct some luminary’s incorrect use of some term describing statistical measure such as “odds” or “probability”. Sometimes, the target of Barnes’ friendly barbs has made some other misstatement or fallen victim to some simple logical fallacy. I believe most people would consider these corrective missives to be pedantic, but with some effort I can bring myself to understand why Mr. Barnes would feel compelled to send them. What I can’t figure out is why he would think anyone would care about the letters he sent?

The second section, and the bulk of the book, is a set of quizzes on various Hold’em related math problems. Some of them are interesting but most cover situations that are covered in other books, such as calculating the probability of hitting a runner-runner flush if one has three cards to a flush on the flop. It’s useful for a Hold’em player to be able to come up with reasonable answers to questions like these, but being able to calculate odds precisely at the table is by no means the most important poker skill one needs to be a winning player.

The third section is titled “Miscellanea” and contains even less relevant material. Included here are essays on defining intelligence versus knowledge, some thoughts on chess, and a few poems the author has written. Like the first section, I couldn’t find anything either significant or entertaining here.

In truth, there is essentially no information in this book about how to play poker well. Barnes does provide some information on how to calculate odds of various outcomes during the course of a hand, but this is hardly what I would expect from a Slot Gacor book that claims it will “… expand your thinking exponentially… .” In fact, if one is interested in learning about calculating hand outcomes I’d recommend either my favorite book on the mathematics of gambling, Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic by Epstein or Hold’em’s Odd(s) by Petriv rather than this book.

If it weren’t for the hyperbolic comments that the author made about himself and his book, I might dismiss it as just another mediocre effort and mildly recommend it to those who wanted a simple puzzle book with a Hold’em theme. The author makes the claim that his reason for the grand set-up is so that we “… will read this book with an investigative passion.” Sorry, instead the author has managed to make me feel lied to and cheated. The author may indeed be as smart as he claims. His forte (the “e” is silent, as the author points out) certainly isn’t in writing poker books. Save your money and your time and avoid this book.


If someone is looking for relatively simple quizzes about the odds of various events happening in Hold’em (e.g. given a pair, the odds of flopping a set), this book fits the bill. For any other purpose I can imagine reading When To Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em doesn’t make much sense. Don’t be fooled by this book’s grandiose claims. Very little in its pages will either entertain the reader or make them a better poker player, so I see cannot recommend this book.



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