Review of Super System

Title: Super System
Author: Doyle Brunson, et. al.
Publisher: B & G Publishing Co., Inc.
Date: 1979
ISBN: 0-931444-01-4
Pages: 605

Reviewed by Nick Christenson, npc@jetcafe.org

February 7, 2002

Along with David Sklansky's Hold'em Poker, Doyle Brunson's Super/System, originally titled How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker, heralds the beginning of what I would call the "modern age" of poker. More than anything else, I believe that the rise in poker's popularity over the last 25 years is due to the amount of good information that has been made available about the game, and Super/System is preeminent among the information sources that brought about this surge in popularity. However, it may be asked, how does this classic stand up more than 20 years after its initial publication?

The book begins with some introductory remarks, including an abbreviated history of Brunson's poker career, before the author launches into some general strategies for winning poker. This is all stuff that today's well-read poker player will take for granted: keep emotional control, carefully watch the competition, play patiently, etc., but it's pretty much all good advice. I can't say I completely agree with Brunson's feelings about ESP, but the information he provides isn't damaging.

Then, for the bulk of the book, Brunson has someone he considers to be a true expert in a given poker game lay out their advice on how to be a consistent winner. He assigned draw poker to Mike Caro, 7 card stud to Chip Reese, the various forms of lowball to Joey Hawthorne, 7 card stud high-low split to David Sklansky, and Bobby Baldwin and Brunson himself tackle limit and no-limit Texas hold'em, respectively. This is as solid a lineup of poker players as has ever been assembled. The book concludes with a glossary and a compendium of poker numbers and charts compiled by Mike Caro, explaining the various possibilities of various occurrences in the games covered in the book.

Many of the games considered in Super/System have undergone considerable change since the book was written. When the book was published limit Hold'em structures were quite different than one would typically find today. It would be very difficult to find a draw high game spread in a card room today, and even lowball, once the core of the California poker scene, is rarely spread any more. This limits the applicability of some of the advice given in the book. The section that's probably still most relevant is Brunson's own no-limit advice, and I believe this book is still required reading to play this game at the highest level.

Don't get me wrong, this book is filled with good advice. However, much of it is about games that aren't played any more or are played differently these days. Along with structural changes, the players in these games have changed themselves, and winning strategies have had to adjust to keep up. I believe I can name a better single book on each one of the games covered in Super/System, but by no means does that mean it isn't worth reading. I also don't believe there were any books available that were better references on any of the games covered at the time Super/System was originally published. Moreover, even if the strategies presented in this book were completely outdated, which they're not, the book would still be entertaining to read and have considerable historical value. I still believe that all serious poker players should have this book in their libraries. It's just no longer the bible that it once was.

Capsule:

In much the same way that Beat the Dealer is associated with the game of blackjack, Super System is a poker classic that has more historical benefit these days than value as a poker text book. Many of the games it mentions aren't played or play very differently in card rooms today. Nonetheless, there are still many real gems of advice in its pages, especially regarding No-Limit Holdem, and the book is well worth reading. These days the book is more revered than it probably ought to be, but it will continue to belong on the shelf of every serious poker library for some time to come.

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