Poker Book Report Wars: Arnold Snyder Challenges David Sklansky

Arnold Snyder is not new to gambling, but he is a new writing force in the world of poker. Having recently written a ground breaking tournament poker manual, he has ignited a debate of old school verses new school, aggression versus conceding, and blunt force betting verses the fear of losing. With the publication of The Poker Tournament Formula, Snyder has captured a loyal and expanding audience of strategy-hungry tournament players that contribute to Snyder’s online forum like packs of wolves, frequently taking frisky bites at the old school tournament thinkers.

Collectively, those thinkers are represented (at least ideologically) by David Sklansky the resident professor and writer of Tournament Poker for Advanced Players. This book, now several years since its first publication, and before the boom, put into motion the tight-early and tight-aggressive strategy that simply made common sense of hold’em tournaments. This strategy is guided in nature by the Gap Concept described in Sklansky’s book as “you need a better hand to play against someone who has already opened the betting, than you would need to open yourself”. Even modern superstar writers like Dan Harrington and Phil Gordon use this in their strategies as well, so you know it has to have some merit. As such, it is not unusual to find that squeaky, tight-aggressive player at numerous final tables that has got enough playable cards during the tournament to have survived to the final table.

Survived is the key word here, as he (insert any Sklansky drone) is rarely among the chip leaders. Further, rarely does the player return to a final table, because the basic tight strategy of relying on enough quality hands also has to be fused with having them actually win pots, and hold up throughout the tournament. As Snyder points out with much experience, it is those “quality” hands he gets kicked out of tournaments playing, as opposed to position plays with weak holdings.

Where Snyder feels The Gap is a completely misguided concept is in the smaller buy-in tournaments that many players participate daily, in local casinos, regional events and online poker sites. Snyder feels that this is a lucrative segment, as many players may never have a bankroll big enough for $10,000 and $15,000 entry fees for the WPT and WSOP. However, if you play these smaller tourneys the way Snyder plays them, you will soon enough be able to pay for a $10,000 entry fee!

Snyder breaks these smaller tournaments down, and categorizes them into a skill level based on the chip and blind structure combined with the amount of entries. Depending on the skill level and patience factor of the tournament, your strategy is going to be radically different than anything Sklansky would recommend. The underlining of that strategy is based largely on position play, and pressuring your opponents, who have likely missed the flop as much as you have. This is executed in spite of your hole cards, not because of them. Snyder’s wolves say this strategy works it sheer numbers in large part because of the Sklansky type tournament opponents who know nothing more than to fold out of position or out of flop weakness.

Both writers have forums and both have supporters, and it is interesting to hear some of the challenges put forth from the Snyder Wolves – “specific mistakes in Sklansky’s and Malmuth’s advice”, “I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the “Gap Concept” and why it’s wrong.”, “Waiting for Sklansky to speak”, ” The burden of proof was Sklansky’s, and all he did was add to his errors”, “Sklansky’s “proof” is a perfect example of his incompetence at poker logic” and on and on. This is juicy stuff!

All I can say is, between the two of them, someone has got to know what is going on here! All we want to know is how to win a bloody tournament! It seems to me that elements of both strategies are needed to win tournaments. Take a look at players like Daniel Negreneau, Erick Lindgren, Gus Hansen, Greg Raymer or Gavin Smith. They have often made some amazing lay downs to aggressive opponents, but I more often see them playing stuff like QJos, 57s, KTs and even more rubbish hands to not just one raiser, but two! These guys truly understand, like Arnold Snyder, that if you laid down like Sklansky does, you are just not going to see many final tables. By the way, have you seen David Sklansky at a final table recently?

All of the above tournament players, who are definitely more tuned into Snyder’s slant have won big, and won often. Yes, I want some of that.