Harrington on Hold’em Vol.1 – Book Review

Expert Strategy for No-Limit Tournaments

Volume I – Strategic Play

Harrington on Hold’em is one of the books that revolutionized the game of poker back in its day and its influence can only be compared to what Doyle Brunson’s Super System did a few decades earlier.


“Action” Dan Harrington is one of the most successful players of the late 80’s until the early 2000’s. He’s won several major poker tournaments, including the European Poker Championship, the $2,500 NLH event of the WSOP, and the Four Queens No-Limit Championship. Back in his day, “Action” Dan was regarded as one of the most solid players out there, his style allowing him deeps runs in a lot of large-field tournaments.

When you compare good players to extraordinary ones, it all comes down to one thing: consistency. Thousands of poker players have reached final tables or won multi-day tournaments, but there’s only a handful of them that went out and did it again and again. Action Dan is one of them, having played thirteen WSOP main events and having reached the final table in four of them. That, my friends, is performance.


Harrington begins by warning the reader that the book is not intended for beginner players, but then goes on and writes a small glossary with terms such as Big Blind or Hole Cards. Don’t get tricked by that. Some things described in there might seem mundane to us now, but back in 2004 this knowledge wasn’t that common and information wasn’t pouring on the reader from half a dozen different media sources. Expert Strategy for No-Limit Tournaments is packed with great info and is a good starting point for every poker player.

There’s plenty inside for chewing: styles of play (advocating for a solid-aggressive style, a mixture between what we would call today TAG and Nit styles), tournament types, odds and outs, the elements of a hand, a brief overview of tells and betting patterns, and of course, pre and post-flop plays. Although a squeeze might seem like a routine play nowadays, it was “Action” Dan that first wrote about it and made it popular.

I always thought that reading books on poker in order to improve your play is somehow like watching NASCAR and hoping to improve your driving skills. All good and well, but if you don’t get out there and practice, you won’t improve. One of the best things about this book are the concise hand examples that Harrington gives at the end of each chapter. Every piece of information you need to dissect a hand is there: tournament stage and type, stack sizes and positions, player styles, blind levels. I strongly recommend you to take them seriously and try to solve them as if you have to pass an exam, instead of jumping directly to the answer or skipping them altogether. Harrington’s recommendations are solid and there is surely something you can pick up on and include in your arsenal.

Suppose you’re in the middle stages of a live tournament, you’re first to act, and you wake up with Q♥Q♣. What do you do? Raise? Go all-in? There’s a section dedicated to pre-flop play which shows exactly this situation, explaining why shoving is incorrect when the blinds are small, and at which level going all-in pre-flop touches the breakeven point. In fact, this was one of the first books along with David Sklansky’s works that approached Texas Hold’em from a mathematical point of view.

It might be true that some things in there don’t apply anymore, or better said, they’re out of fashion. His nitty style gave way to a more LAGgy approach in the recent years, but I believe it can still deliver and it’s a great starting point for players wanting to make their game more solid.

One quick example. In the post-flop play chapter, the author gives you several starting hands and analyses play on different flop textures. You raise K♦K♣ in third position and get two callers behind. The flop comes A♠Q♦T♥. Harrington says:

A dangerous flop, although it does give you an inside straight draw. It’s essential here to define your hand in one stroke. Lead out with a good-sized bet, perhaps two thirds of the pot. Checking here is out of the question, because it will leave you with no idea where you stand if the pot eventually gets bet.

I’d personally never do such a play in a cash game. If you bet your kingaroos on this flop, you’re basically turning your hand–the second best starting hand in Texas Hold’em– into a bluff. You’re telling your opponent you have at least two pair (holding things like AQ or AT) or a set, or maybe, in the worst case scenario, TPTK. If your opponent doesn’t have AK or better himself, he’ll almost always fold to your bet. That means the only hands that call you on this flop are hands that beat you, so if you don’t improve to a straight on the turn, you’re done with the hand.

In a cash game, I’d never bet in this spot and force my opponent to fold all his trash; betting here acts like a filter: Villain is folding all worse hands, and coming along only with hands that beat us. Instead, I’d always check-call, allowing him to bluff at the pot with holdings such as 99, KQ, or JT. In a cash game you’re happy check-calling this hand because, although you’ll lose in some occasions when he has an ace or better, you’ll make a profit on the long run. In a tournament however, you’ll rarely find yourself 100BB deep, so protecting your stack is your top priority. “Action” Dan knows better.


Although intended as an advanced book, given how the general knowledge in the poker world improved since the book was written, I’d say it addresses more the beginner and intermediate players.


Harrington on Hold’em encouraged the explosion of poker back in 2004 and 2005 and it’s an important read that should be mandatory in any respectable poker school. This is that rare kind of instruction-manual-type of book that you read, understand, and at which you should come back every now and again to refresh your memory.

Harrington on Hold’em Vol. 1 was the first book on poker I ever read and it opened the door for me to a completely new approach to poker–a logically and mathematically sound one I never even suspected exists. In fact, skimming through the book once again for this review made me want to go back for more. I recommend you do it, too.


What do you think about this book? I’d love to hear about it so make sure to leave a comment. If you don’t have it yet, you can use the link below.

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Filed under Book Review, NLH

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