I picked this up on a whim a bookstore one day. I thought it would be about harmless tricks to prank one's friends during a friendly game. I couldn't have been more wrong. See, the title is not accurate. This book isn't about "cheating" but "making money", it doesn't involve "friends" but "con marks" and it doesn't really have much to do with poker either. Poker just happens to be the medium that the first two work through. I would call this book "How to make money by scamming strangers who play poker".
Pen starts this book by talking about the book's supposed real author, "Dickie Richards" who is a professional poker con artist. Whether this is true or a literary agent hypothesis I do not know for sure but either way it definitely shows that Pen, who usually embraces controversial topics with enthusiasm, felt a need to distance himself from this book's subject matter. It is easy to see why.
The first section written by "Dickie Richards" is called " You Are Not Playing A Game". This is part of his refreshing frankness that is maintained through most of this book. There is no romanticism or rationalization in this first part and it sets the tone for the rest. This book is about stealing money from people through poker tricks. He calls himself a cheat, a crook, and other things. At one point, he even advises aspiring poker crooks that if they can steal the game's money box or a player's wallet then they shouldn't even bother playing; just grab the money and run.
This is likely why the book doesn't actually teach any poker tricks. Indeed, Dickie Richards refers those looking for the nuts and bolts of such tricks to another author. Instead, this guy talks about the other parts of his craft - how to find marks, how to get invited to their games, how to hide one's cheating, when to "burn a game" and what to do if caught in the act of cheating. However, this book is more than just instructions, it's also an exercise in ego stroking.
Dickie Richards brags about how much money he makes. He compares himself to a god in how he controls the poker table. He regularly reminds the player that he doesn't have to work a "real job" because he has poker cheating. He even brags about how he seduces the wives of the people he scams and then has the audacity to say he improved their marriage by making the wife feel guilty. I suppose this makes for more lively reading but it has its flaw. Namely, it is a contradiction of the real author's "I am a crook" frankness.
There are sections where he complains about people looking down on him because he cheats. He argues that controlling the table makes for more interesting hands, rewarding people who had bad days, punishing jerks, and generally making the evening more fun for everyone. He even says that taking someone's money teaches them a lesson about not playing with money they can't afford to lose, which is something he specifically debunked earlier in the book. This makes him sound like a hypocrite trying to have it both ways and thus also makes him sound pathetic.
One more thing: there is a section where he gives tips on how to make one's poker game cheat-proof. Then he says he included that section just to appease the publishers and goes on to say how all those tips are either useless or helpful to cheaters. Ironically, he does actually advise how to make one's game cheat-proof. He talks about how much work it is find games and get himself invited to them, and also how much time goes into practice to make his moves seamless. Because of these factors, he says that as much as 200 dollars "isn't worth bending over to pick up". Thus, the method to make your game cheat proof is simple; don't play for stakes. If you do, keep them low or make them something that a nomadic card shark can't use, like I.O.Us. Dickie Richards specifically said he doesn't like those.
Bottom line: treat it like a work of fiction (like it just might be anyway) and it is an entertaining read.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "How To Cheat Your Friends At Poker" an B+
Click here for the previous book review (also for fun): The Italian City Republics
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).