GarethChantler's Blog

May 14 2012

Product Review; Smashing Fewer Holes in Your Computer Desk: Written Insights on Modern Internet Poker


The Knowledge Fallout

In the aftermath of the explosion in poker education, it is difficult for one to predetermine the least inefficient route to becoming a better player. Not only has a desolation been overrun by a cavalcade, but everyone in the procession trumpets their particular offering's superlatives. No organizing, much less reputable, clerk is to be found. Former CardRunners instructor Jonathan Tannen is marketing, to my knowledge, something entirely unique. This isn't something completely different mind you, in the tradition of Python (though you wouldn't know it from its title), but rather a collection of materials bundled into a tidily cross-referenced package.

The wordy Smashing Fewer Holes in Your Computer Desk: Written Insights on Modern Internet Poker retails at 500USD and combines aspects of personal coaching sessions with hardcopy materials one would expect from a book. Smashing contains three student-narrated videos of play at 50nl, 100nl, and 200nl, all six-max. These are accompanied by three PDFs with Tannen's detailed, time-stamped analysis of the footage. The intensely scrutinized leak-finders constitute the bulk of the package's value, but are reinforced by ten stand-alone articles, whose topics range from playing exploitable versus game theory optimal poker, to conditions conducive to triple barreling.

While there are only two folders to download with material organized into subfolders, the nature of the medium means this is no book to be read front to back. Hence some degree of organization is left to the buyer, though the author has gone to lengths to make it accessible, including step by step instructions on the best way to proceed. Overall the material, thankfully, is not quite as unwieldy as its title. Tannen recommends printing out materials (or having them on a second monitor) while watching the video footage. Often the notes reference the strategy articles or previous spots. Our humble reviewer, lacking an accessible printer, first chose the alt-tab route. I can therefore by way of comparison conclude that, yes, printing out the articles and following the author's instructions will serve one well.

Tannen does scatter some attempts at humour through the materials. I was slightly worried all would be lost on me - but there is an uncannily redemptive quality to a Curb Your Enthusiasm reference.

Agglomerating Ideas

For the level of player Smashing is marketed towards, the great theoretical revelations are by and large past. It strikes me that leak-finding material does not have revolutionary aspirations, but is meant, by presenting the vicissitudes of real play, to spark inspiration in the student's game which might otherwise had been difficult for either the student or the teacher to locate. I would not abnegate this strength of the leak-finding format because it wasn't me playing -- the players in question got into instructive spots I would not have.

One pertinent example occurred when one hero did not three-bet pocket nines in blind versus blind where I would have comfortably three-bet in order to five-bet all-in on one hundred big blind stacks. As it happens I am acquainted with the small blind initial raiser from the CardRunners forums and having worked with him a little over Skype. The hero - with none of that shared history - decided to simply flat call. What resulted was a single raised pot I would have never found myself in.

I can tell you I spent over two hours analyzing this hand through a synthetic method I used for the entirety of the footage. I first watched the tape while listening to the hero's reasoning, then I typed up what I thought were the best decisions to make, after which I read Tannen's analysis, which led to me combining his thoughts with mine wherever they were not superseded entirely. In the case of the pocket nines hand, I talked out a couple points with a friend and further reflected on it during a train ride. Smashing provoked real contemplation.

No Pot Left Behind

The footage contains many forgotten pots that the author refreshingly gives full treatment. I imagine I am not unique among players in having a propensity to examine the big pots, or the spots that could lead to big pots. This is surely a disservice to the small pots who, with their wider and more variable ranges, are worthy of dissection by virtue of their accumulation. Multi-way pots, limped pots, small blind completions, and leading all received cogent analysis that was eye opening at times.

On the spectrum of defending three-bets out of position on 100bb stacks the author leans towards four-betting out of position as opposed to having a calling range (sizing dependent). On the question of three-bet/folding for value Tannen leans towards the opinion that very specific circumstances are needed to obtain for this play to be optimal. In a similar vein Tannen advocates four-bet/calling with AQ/AK over calling a three-bet in position, the overwhelming amount of the time. None of these are contrary to the current state of poker theory and knowledge regarding playing the button and the cut-off in 100bb six-max cash. But they are of a certain view in what is a running conversation. I think it is inevitable that one finds reason to disagree with some of the analyses made. What's important is that Tannen avoids common pitfalls, whether it be resting an argument on laurels, or presenting potentially specious reasoning in an obfuscating manner. Things are well reasoned. The reasons are provided in point or at great length in a referenced source.

The Full Package

Part and parcel are the ten articles Tannen has included in the package. One can purchase these articles as stand-alone products from his website for $75, but as mentioned, they reinforce the leak-finders by way of embedded reference. Articles perhaps isn't the best word to describe all ten, documents would often be superior. I am referring to the PDF on suggested HUD layout, for example, which is nothing more than a litany of stats. That is not to say these things aren't valuable. Surely players struggle with constructing their personal HUDs. Worth mentioning are the 2p2 posts to which Tannen hyperlinks in the PDFs, some of which are article-worthy themselves and formatted more or less as such. These are of course free resources available to anyone, but rooting around for first-rate 2p2 posts, suffice to say, can be a needle in a haystack affair.

A further inclusion in the package is a 30 minute Skype session with the author, whose subject matter is left entirely to the purchaser. I chose to spend this time picking Jon's brain on specific pre-flop and post-flop concepts. I had issue with his treatment of three-bet folding for value as well as four-bet calling a hand such as AQ. Jon acquitted himself quite well in the discussion and gave me good reason to believe I had been formulating the issues imprecisely.

As mentioned Tannen has included various humourous tidbits, easter eggs as it were, that provide a touch of personality to a collection of otherwise dry, sturdy documents. These may not add value for everyone, but probably don't detract value for anyone. During the weeks I have been working with Smashing, the author was available through email for the one point of technological assistance I had needed, a point that was resolved quickly and easily.

What's in a price?

At the least, more than a name, since the former can render the fragrant noxious quite proportionally. And certainly no one will mistake a 500USD price tag for olfactory ecstasy. I think it is reasonably unclear whether Smashing is well priced. One reason for this is that the market for this exact style of product did not formerly exist.

An argument has been loosely forwarded that, if independent, ebook type materials were of such value at the high prices they are offered then 2p2 publishing would lose substantial business. This is quite far from persuasive; the material 2p2 puts out is catered to an incomparably wider audience than Smashing. Moreover, it is not even a comparable product. Both running shoes and barbells improve your fitness when mixed with a little sweat, but no consumer buys one as opposed to the other. If the 2p2 books are walking tours, Smashing is a callisthenic routine. Purchasing a 2p2 title over Smashing is unlikely, despite a twenty fold reduction in price, by virtue of the fact that anyone buying a 2p2 no limit title is likely unsuited for Smashing and would presumably be dissuaded, if from no one but the author himself.

Whether the price is optimized for author revenue is unclear. But for the player looking to improve, the calculation is simply whether one's monetary and temporal investment in the materials is profitable when compared to other potential avenues of study. Your reviewer thought as much.

Dost thou attend me?

Who is Smashing designed for? In a conversation with Tannen he agreed that few, if any 10nl or 25nl players are likely at a level where they would be able to enjoy benefits from it. It is indeed made for a "niche market" of players eyeing success at the 200nl and 400nl levels.

The fact is that these materials are targeted towards players winning, or close to winning, at their current six-max stake, whether that stake is 50nl, 100nl, or 200nl, and who want to get incrementally better every day. That already excludes the vast majority of players. Tannen is offering a commodity that is scarce; highly detailed analysis from a winning player who has taken the time to make his thoughts accessible and lucid. With the pace of hold'em innovation the half-life of the product is anyone's guess. I am inclined to believe it will be relatively long, since Tannen's foundation is mathematical. Break even fold rates aren't going to vacillate over time.

Having purchased considerable personal coaching (think low four figures), watched hundreds of training videos, and read perhaps a dozen books, not to mention having consumed all the forum posts, articles, podcasts, and other free materials available on the web that I have, it seems to me that I am qualified to, at the least, not pass over the matter of the price in silence. It seems to me that is the responsibility of the customer to ensure that he or she gets sufficient value out of the package. It may very well be the case that someone purchases Smashing for $500 and receives $100 of value from it.

The good news is that one can, through diligence, make this an investment worth more than the retail price. That's the best type of poker material with which to expand one's game, the kind with value as a function of the labour one invests in absorbing it. As I stated I have spent two hours reviewing one hand played in the footage and I have come away with that analysis feeling much clearer on certain points with regards to no limit play. I think that in the hands of a motivated player, Smashing can pay for itself, but only given substantial personal investment.

Parting Thoughts

In a previous review, I may have been a bit harsh in my characterization of the author's writing as rough. Indeed it strikes me that writing well might be the last skill one should expect a poker player to naturally possess. So in that way Tannen should also receive praise, for his gravitation towards clear and organized prose. Holding a reader's attention is hard enough. Imparting new concepts is difficult. The points themselves are concise, but there are often a half dozen of them. And in the course of a few hours of footage, as is to be expected, numerous situations present themselves, making for lengthy analysis. Thus Tannen achieves concision without brevity. How enviable!

Though the mechanism of studying the materials is cumbersome at times, this is only by nature of working with assorted documents, not for a lack of organization by the author. While I cannot recommend the package to those with limited study time, whether due to a lack of commitment, or because of other commitments, I can recommend it to those who are looking to invest hours off the table to improve their game. What you'll find is lengthy concision, provoking points, new ideas, and clarifying arithmetic.

Whether this style of product catches on is fairly unclear, it gives up something to a book's linearity and something to a live coaching session's intimacy. I can see the less zealous buying it and letting it sit on their desktops unexamined or opening it up a couple times and leaving it unfinished. That's really the danger in investing in a product like this - it could become that dusty exercise apparatus, levers unpulled. But so is the way of all flesh; toil can reward.

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