The Betfair Poker Interview: Lou Krieger
Lou Krieger is one of the most prolific and well-regarded poker authors around, having written or co-written 11 different books on poker and gambling as well as numerous columns for various publications over the last two decades. Krieger is also the editor of Poker Player Newspaper and hosts a weekly podcast called "Keep Flopping Aces."
Given his authorship of so many poker titles and his familiarity with the publishing industry, I thought Krieger would be an interesting person to talk to about the current status of poker books and how that status may have changed over the years. We ended up discussing a number of topics when I appeared on his podcast recently, but I'd like to share with you some excerpts from the part of our discussion that specifically dealt with poker books and publishing.
I began my questions of Krieger with one about an ad for an online poker site I recently saw that had something to say about poker books.
Short-Stacked Shamus: In the latest issue of Bluff Magazine one finds an ad for Full Tilt Poker. On the left-hand side of the ad there is a stack of books with the following written over them: "Books can tell you about the strategies, the common scenarios, the mathematics, odds and proven methods, and all the ways you are supposed to play the game." Then over on the right one sees a photo of Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, next to whom is written "But books don't play poker."
As someone who has written a lot of poker strategy books and has thought a lot about the purposes they serve, how do you respond to the ideas present in an ad like that?
Lou Krieger: First of all, I think it's a good ad, because it's compelling.
SSS: Yes, it is.
LK: Secondly, I think where it sort of leads you astray is that yes, you know, [the ad is right to say that] books can tell you things but they don't play poker... they certainly don't play poker at the level of Chris Ferguson. Anybody who thinks that his book will make somebody a poker player of the ability of Chris Ferguson is absolutely mad. It will not.
For me, I consciously said to myself when I sat down to write my books, "Who am I writing for? What's the audience?" I have always written pretty much for the beginning and moderate poker player because that audience is infinitely larger than a book I could write that will be helpful to somebody at Ferguson's level.
SSS: I guess in terms of achieving the widest possible audience, too, you might write a very useful and interesting book to the more experienced player, but you're destined to sell fewer copies of a book like that.
LK: Yes, absolutely. And that's the truth of almost any how-to book that you can imagine. All of the books on how to improve your golf or how to play tennis, they're not aimed at the pros. They are aimed at the players of limited ability like the vast majority of us are who are going to go out and buy those books.
SSS: You've written 11 books. The first one was Hold'em Excellence, yes?
LK: Right. That was written in 1995, I believe. Way before the poker boom started... it was a totally different universe.
I wrote Hold'em Excellence and More Hold'em Excellence, which was the follow up to it. Then I had a proposal to do Poker for Dummies. I really wanted to do a "For Dummies" book because I thought that, you know, there's a book that's a brand, and if I do a "For Dummies" poker book it really legitimizes me in terms of being a good poker writer and in the marketplace, because it's a big huge publisher and not a small self-published book.
[So I did] Poker for Dummies [with Richard D. Harroch], then the poker boom hit. It sounds like the dark ages, but it was less than a decade ago. Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker, and every publisher and his brother wanted a poker book written.
Since I already had books out and I'd written a "For Dummies" book I was a known quantity so they called me. I wound up writing about five or six books in four years. It was just nonstop writing, and I knew that I might as well do it now because this poker boom is going to be like hula hoops... it ain't lasting forever. So as long as they're sending me advances and asking me to write a book for them, I might as well say yes. And so I kept writing books. I think one year I had four books come out, which is just insane.
SSS: Tell me about your motives for writing poker books.
LK: I think the motivation for writing is twofold. Number one is I like to write. So I enjoy writing. And [number two,] the process of writing, of having to put words on paper, forces you to clarify your thoughts. You can't be ambivalent. You can't believe it's one way on Tuesday and another way on Wednesday. You have to take a position about something. You have to offer advice that's clear, concise, works, and holds up, so you have to think it through.
As a result, the act of writing, like the act of teaching... the person that often gets the most out of it is the writer or teacher himself. I've learned more from writing books than I could have gotten any other way I can think of.
SSS: So how has the poker publishing world changed from before the poker boom to after?
LK: [With those pre-boom titles] there was some [degree] of the market crying for [them]. Unfortunately that's not the case anymore. The market for poker books is pretty swamped. And during that same time [i.e., the mid-90s to today] the publishing industry at large has been undergoing incredible changes, shrinking and collapsing, etc. So you have that happening.
SSS: How about the very recent past -- the last year or two. It seems as if in the industry there is less buzz now about books. I'm really just speaking of the last year, maybe two years.... There is so much more to compete with books today. If you're a poker player and you want information, you can go online, you can go to the forums, you can go to training sites or forums... there are a lot more exciting ways to get that information than from books.
LK: There's also that phenomenon of how publishers are a lot more risk averse than they used to be. It used to be that 10-15 years ago they would take chances on a book if they liked it, if it was literate, if it had something going for it, whereas now they are looking for pretty much sure things.... More and more publishers are looking for "me too" kinds of books, whatever the subject matter is. And the general thinking in the publishing industry is that poker, at least for right now, has pretty much played out as an interesting topic for a book....
[You could say] the publishing industry is hunkering down. They are getting very conservative about what they release, and they're unwilling to take risks. They are only playing aces and kings. Whereas in the past they would take a flyer on a nine-eight suited.
SSS: Yeah, that's right.
LK: You know what's a very interesting phenomenon... when we talk about poker books being played out, we're really talking about hold'em books being overdone. Nobody's writing about the other forms of poker. In fact, Mark Tenner, who came in second in last year's WSOP Omaha/8 event, he and I wrote a book called Winning Omaha/8 Poker in 2003. And we are in the process now of doing a second edition, adding a substantial amount of new material.
But in the seven years since this book has come out there's not been another book written about Omaha. There have been a gazillion books written about hold'em, and Omaha at one time was called the game of the future. Yes, there's been one or two PLO books written...
SSS: Yes, Jeff Hwang has written a couple of PLO books that I like a lot. [Note: Hwang's first Omaha book, Pot-Limit Omaha Poker, does contain a section devoted to Omaha/8.] There probably is an Omaha/8 book [written since 2003] somewhere, but you guys are pretty much alone on the shelf there.
LK: Yeah, and so we're going to come out with a second edition. The publisher says he's getting interest from some people who want a new one, so we'll see what happens. But when we talk about the poker book business we're really talking about the no-limit Texas hold'em book business.
Much thanks to Lou Krieger for taking the time. If you are interested in hearing the full interview -- as well as Krieger asking me questions about my background and poker writing -- you can download and listen to the archived episode of "Keep Flopping Aces" over on the Rounders Radio site. Also, for more information about Krieger, his blog, and his books (including ways to order), visit his website at LouKrieger.com.
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