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"The Kaizen of Poker" shows how to improve improving your game

14 December 2018

The organizing concept at the heart of this book is kaizen, a concept taken from Japanese management theory.

The organizing concept at the heart of this book is kaizen, a concept taken from Japanese management theory.

I've been a bit lax in my reading of poker books this year, which pairs nicely with my also being a bit lax in actually playing poker this year. Which is why I've only just finished reading a rather excellent new addition to the poker study canon, Sheree Bykofsky's The Kaizen of Poker: How to Continuously Improve Your Hold'em Game, which was published in June.

This book is not about how to play poker. It is specifically about how to get better at playing poker, which might sound like a distinction without a difference, until you start reading it.

Unlike a lot of the Poker 101 books I've read, this book doesn't give you an overview of the rules or starting hands charts or anything like that. (There are a few pot odds charts and the like, but they are near the end.) Some of this is because it is not really a Poker 101 book, although neither is it an advanced poker book. It's meant to help players at any level learn how to efficiently improve from wherever they are, although in practice this means that sometimes there's both very basic and more advanced concepts in it, and the reader will just have to figure out which to pay attention to.

The organizing concept at the heart of this book is kaizen, a concept taken from Japanese management theory. (For once, it is not any kind of ancient spiritual concept being yoinked here for Western audiences — it's the Japanese word for "improvement," and the management theory version is fairly modern. It's Japanese because the Japanese have spent the last 30 years developing their business culture to be more efficient and productive, while Western management thought leaders have been coming up with genius ideas like "To improve morale, lay people off, then lay more people off" and "Have a ping-pong table instead of an HR department!")

The very short version of kaizen is that it is a principle of continuous improvement, and enacting this principle means developing systems for constant learning, acquiring and responding to feedback, and rewarding improvement, across the entire company. In poker, the reward for improvement is winning more money, but the desire to win more money isn't the same thing as having a plan. Also, in poker, you're not a company, you're only one person. But the principle still applies because there are a lot of different aspects to the game, so there's absolutely a major difference between approaching the game holistically and deciding that only one or a few aspects are the "real" or important ones, probably the ones with math, which would be a stereotypically Western approach.

The Kaizen of Poker is split into two parts. Part One is called "The Morning-After Checklist," which takes up at least three-quarters of the book. Part Two is called "Continuously Improving — The Basics," and is the part that looks most like a poker strategy book (this is where the pot odds charts are). The first part is, in essence, all the things that you should review after you play a game to spot where your leaks are. There are a lot of things, hence the length of this section — the idea here is to break down the whole experience of playing poker into its constituent pieces and examine each of them individually. Therefore, the list includes health and wellness/mental game items, starting with showing up to the game well rested and mentally alert, and continues into the nuts and bolts of position, discipline, aggression, and reading and responding to other players.

Many of the checklist items would be fairly useless without some explanation of how to apply them. "Get a good night's sleep" might be fairly self-explanatory, but "Don't fold too much" would be tautological without a discussion of how to determine what is "too much." (Also, the book would be really short.) The two to four pages of explanation of each point that Bykofsky provides are clear, accessible, and occasionally humorous, and focus on how to reason through what the optimal play should be in a given situation. They're also broken down into tons of small, digestible bits of information: tips, bullet-pointed lists, numbered "kaizen resolutions," proverbs, and callout boxes with illustrative anecdotes, all pleasingly arranged on the page with plenty of white space for readers who like to do their own marking up. A good number of the concepts discussed herein are also quite transferable to other areas of your life (although if you're really trying to hash out a solid plan for advancing your career or getting in shape or becoming a contestant on The Great British Bake-Off, you might want to pick up a book on kaizen practices generally and not spend a lot of time reverse-engineering the idea from poker).

While applying the concepts covered in this book may still certainly be challenging — poker is hard, and honestly owning your mistakes can be even harder — the book's ease of use is impressive, and the light-on-math approach is especially well suited for newer players and . . . well, players who aren't great at math (hi). At some point, if you're really going to become an elite player, you will need to learn a lot more math than what's here (fortunately, there are a lot of other books for that). Frankly, the idea that this book is suited for players of any level is probably its weakest claim: The better a player you are, the more of this stuff you will already know. If you're a strong player and you're plateauing, you could do worse than scour this volume for something you might be missing — but overall, it's pretty squarely aimed at beginner and intermediate players, regardless of how little a pro may know about Japanese management theory.

I don't say this as necessarily a bad thing, it's just a bit of marketing fluff. The majority of poker players are either beginner or intermediate — some folks seem to remain beginner-level players indefinitely, playing just for fun and not really trying to get better, which I personally find a bit baffling, but hey, it takes all kinds. If you are not one of those people and have some interest in improving, even if you're new to the poker scene, this book should be an excellent help in going about it.
"The Kaizen of Poker" shows how to improve improving your game is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
Clare Fitzgerald

As Casino City's copy editor, Clare diligently proofs articles, columns and press releases posted on the Casino City family of websites, as well as the entire library of print publications produced by Casino City Press. She has editorial experience in several industries, but gaming is the most fun so far. She graduated from Clark University in 2010 with a degree in English and Creative Writing.
Clare Fitzgerald
As Casino City's copy editor, Clare diligently proofs articles, columns and press releases posted on the Casino City family of websites, as well as the entire library of print publications produced by Casino City Press. She has editorial experience in several industries, but gaming is the most fun so far. She graduated from Clark University in 2010 with a degree in English and Creative Writing.