08/01/2006 11:00PM

What people want to know when you pen a poker book


This week marks an important moment in poker for me. And no, I'm not talking about the ongoing main event of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. I declined to give up a week of Saratoga and risk my bankroll to play in that storied event. I'm talking about the release of my new poker book, "Winning Secrets of Poker." But don't get me wrong, the purpose of this column is not to shill for myself - though that may be a happy byproduct - but to answer the questions that everyone seems to ask me every time they hear about the book.

The first thing people want to know was why in the world these top-level players - such experts as Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Jennifer Harman, and Ted Forrest - would want to give away potentially valuable information about their games for inclusion in a book. I think the answer is that in poker, as in horse racing or sports betting, there are no simple answers, no easy formulas that can be plugged in and - presto! - you're a winning player. The secrets of the book are more different ways of looking at the game itself, trying to find a way to negotiate individuals answers to each and every different situation. Sure, there are games where the A-B-C logic will make you a winning player, but top-level players aren't worried about having success in those games because they're on another level. After all, as my friend Greg Dinkin (second in the seven stud high-low 8 or better event last week) likes to say, "The answer in poker is always, 'It depends.' "

The second thing they want to know is what it was actually like speaking with these now famous folks. Were any of them on any noticeable celebrity or ego trip? Well I don't know whether it's just that the profession of poker pro now requires an extra degree of media savvy or if these are just friendly people, but nearly every interaction I had with the players was extremely pleasant. They went out of their way to be giving with information and time - particularly Phil Hellmuth. So I don't want to hear anybody badmouth any of them to me. I did catch one player whom I won't name in a dyspeptic mood, and he threatened to do bad things to me if I misquoted him, but we quickly moved past that. And I made sure he got a copy of the interview before I sent it in.

The third question I've been asked often is who was my favorite person to talk with in the group. The answer was surprising to me. As cool as it was talking to the famous names, I think the two players I enjoyed talking with the most are names that are relatively unknown, at least in this country. Padraig Parkinson, champion on the British television show "Late Night Poker," regaled me with tales of learning the game at Trinity College and going on to play at the Eccentric Club in Dublin. Alan Boston seems to have seen it all from the catbird seat out in Vegas, from talking over gin rummy problems with Stuey Ungar to his issues with what you might call the new breed of player out there. I felt like both Alan and Padraig have fresh voices that poker fans will enjoy hearing.

Not as often as those first three questions, I've been asked: "Have you become a better player by talking to all these professionals?"

The answer is yes. I don't think you could help but become better by hearing the words and listening to the insights of a group of people who are further along than you, no matter what profession you're talking about. That said, the key thing is still to take the concepts and turn them into practice - something I know I still struggle with from time to time.

The last thing people say to me is something along the lines of, "If you ever do a sequel, you should talk to my gardner's nephew/boss's niece/cousin's guitar teacher. He/she is making a fortune playing poker online!"

That may be the case, or it may not be, but to tell the truth, I'm still not interested. The players I chose to speak with - some famous, many not - were chosen for specific reasons based on the recommendations of people in the poker world whom I trust with impunity. So no offense to the gardner's nephew, but I have too many players on my list to talk to already.

Peter Thomas Fornatale is co-author of "Six Secrets of Successful Bettors" (DRF Press).