Book Review: Kill Everyone

Kill Everyone: Advanced Strategies for No-limit Hold ’em Poker Tournaments and Sit-n-go’s
by Lee Nelson, Tysen Streib, and Kim Lee

My One Minute Recommendation: Kill Everyone is one of the better tournament books on the market. It will be most useful for those interested in big live tournaments, but the excellent section of the math of late game situations is enough to make the book worth buying for any tournament player. But hurry! Much of the focus is on exploiting current trends in poker tournaments, so the fish may wise up eventually.

According to their introduction, the authors of Kill Everyone set out “to marry poker math with real-time experiences to provide a sound approach to recurring situations you’ll encounter as you accumulate chips and approach the money” in poker tournaments. Although the book does contain a healthy mix of math and tactics, I can’t agree that the two are married. In fact, they are rather bifurcated: Lee Nelson writes largely about the latter in two sections of the book, while Tysen Streib focuses on the former in his “Endgame Strategy” section.

The Streib section is fantastic, easily some of the best poker writing I’ve seen and well worth the cover price in its own right. Nelson’s material is more hit-or-miss. He explains a lot of concepts and plays well, though many will be familiar to successful internet players already, and at times his presentation is distracting or downright misleading. On the whole, Kill Everyone is a solid tournament book, and even the “bonus” short-handed cash game section by Mark Vos is pretty strong.

Not only is Streib’s contribution excellent, it’s also especially valuable because it focuses on late game and final table play, where the stakes are at their highest. Central to Streib’s analysis are some concepts he calls CPR (cost-per-round, or the sum of the blinds and antes), CSI (chip status index, which, like Harrington’s M, tells you how many more rounds you can survive without winning a pot), and the bubble factor (a measure of the non-linear value of chips based on stack sizes and payout structure). His explanation of this non-linearity and quantification of how it ought to affect decision making is the most convincing and helpful material I’ve seen on the subject.

A wide variety of charts and graphs elucidate these concepts and demonstrate how to put them into practice. Because late game tournament play sees short stacks moving all in pre-flop, Streib is able to solve optimal strategies for shoving, folding, and calling that take the bubble factor into account. The techniques he employs, called Independent Chip Modeling (ICM) are extremely important for tournament players to understand.

Naturally, this material is of special interest to sit-and-players, and Streib’s section even includes a hand-for-hand analysis of an actual sit-and-go played by Juanda, Ulliot, Ferguson, and Ivey. I suppose there’s something to be said for the name recognition, but as good as these players are, none of them is actually a sit-and-go expert. Still, Streib uses their mistakes as much as their correct plays to illustrate important concepts.

Perhaps the most innovative portion of Streib’s work are shove/fold/call charts that incorporate empirical data on how small stakes sit-and-go players actually play. In other words, he details not only the game theoretically optimal solutions but also the best way to exploit opponents who do not themselves understand or implement optimal play.

Nelson’s material is more scattershot. It ranges from tight-aggressive (TAG) play to loose-aggressive (LAG) play to picking up tells to what to eat and when to sleep before and during a tournament. There’s some good stuff in there, but it’s not presented in an especially thorough or methodical way. Rather, tactics and “pointers” are blended with anecdotes and disparaging comments about “online players”.

Nelson’s first section is about accumulating chips in the early stages of a tournament. His overviews of TAG and LAG play are good, and he offers some helpful explanations such as why it’s worth raising speculative hands even when blind stealing is not an important consideration.

Key concepts here are Fold Equity and Fear Equity. The former should be familiar to most poker players, but it’s important enough to warrant discussion anyway. Nelson does give it thorough consideration, including an explanation of why and how fold equity matters even when you have the best hand.

Fear Equity is a way of getting Fold Equity. It refers to building an image of a tough, aggressive player whom other players will want to avoid. Later in a tournament, this is important for stealing blinds pre-flop and picking up pots with continuation bets.

Though much of this material will be useful online, Nelson is a live pro and his work generally assumes that context. For the most part, he is good about explaining the assumptions that underlie his plays, such as the important observation that on the contemporary tournament scene, all-in bets are often perceived as weaker than smaller bets. However, he also has an annoying tendency to make disparaging asides about “online players” as a group.

Unlike Streib’s heavily mathematical material, Nelson’s is grounded primarily in experience and anecdote. The author’s insistence on sharing these stories is generally more distracting and results oriented than it is entertaining or enlightening. When he does touch on math, he doesn’t always get it right. For instance, his consideration of the “5-10 Rule” (you can call with speculative hands for 5-10% of the effective stacks) is superficial and misleading. The rule rests on a lot of assumptions about an opponent’s range and tendencies that Nelson does not consider and that probably do not hold in his examples.

I do appreciate that Nelson references other poker authors both to support his arguments and to explain how and why his views differ from theirs. It’s unfortunate that so much poker literature insists on either reinventing the wheel or contradicting other well-respected works without explanation. This can leave inexperienced readers bored or confused. Hopefully more authors will take Kill Everyone’s lead and begin dialoguing with each other rather than pretending that they write in a vacuum.

Nelson, a retired doctor, also addresses a grab bag of other topics such as how to deal with jet lag, how to relieve stress and clear your mind, what to eat to keep your mind sharp during a tournament, etc. Those who appreciated Tommy Angelo’s Elements of Poker will find this material helpful, as Nelson is a lot more concrete in his recommendations and even offers some pharmaceutical and technological shortcuts.

The final section, penned by guest author Mark Vos, is surprisingly good. I say “surprisingly” because it’s all about playing with 100BB+ stacks, and Vos is notorious for short stacking the big NLHE games on Full Tilt Poker, where he’s a sponsored player. But he provides a competent, concise introduction to short-handed cash game play.

In particular, he offers some helpful tidbits that will orient tournament players unaccustomed to seeing a lot of turns and rivers. These streets are the trickiest for cash game beginners, but also the most important. Vos doesn’t have room to address them thoroughly, but the tips he does give should plug some common leaks.

Unfortunately, this section is much better on the 5-10 Rule than was Nelson’s. Though Vos recognizes that, “If the player is tight aggressive and skilled post-flop, speculative holdings lose a lot of value, because the skilled players seldom pay you off by losing their entire stacks,” he still claims that implied odds of 10-1 are good enough to call a reraise with a suited connector. It also would’ve been nice to see a more thorough discussion of board texture and how it affects what kinds of plays you try to make.

Though not particularly well integrated with each other, the contributions of each author are overwhelmingly good, and on the whole Kill Everyone is one of the better tournament books on the market. The biggest “weakness” of the book is that a good chunk of it focuses on exploiting currently popular trends and plays, so it may become dated at some point. But that’s all the more reason to buy it soon!

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