Poker book review: Gus Hansen’s Every Hand Revealed

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By Mike Fasso

Who knew Gus Hansen was such a math guy? His reputation as a wild gambler has been incubated on television, where big bluffs with no pair, no draw make for great theater. What television rarely highlights is the methodical, calculating, selectively aggressive Hansen. That’s the poker player readers meet in the entertaining and instructive Every Hand Revealed, an account of Hansen’s march to victory, hand-by-hand, at the 2007 Aussie Millions no-limit hold ’em main event championship.

This type of book, providing a ticket inside the head of a great player as he makes thousands of decisions about hundreds of hands, is all too rare on the groaning shelf of fluffy, self-promoting poker titles. There are no personal anecdotes or biographical filler here — just pure poker. For each hand, Hansen gives his chip count, table position and the blind/ante level.

Two factors are stressed repeatedly: aggression and adjusting to changing conditions. The tournament didn’t start well for Hansen, who drew a table that included Phil Ivey, Evelyn Ng and Kathy Liebert. After losing nearly half his 20K stack by Level 2, Hansen is grateful to get a table change and for the start of Level 3, which adds antes. The ante structure might seem like a small thing, but Hansen takes full advantage when the antes get high in relation to the blinds. At blinds of 200-400 with a 50 ante, a raise to 1,200 has the chance of winning 1,050 chips uncontested. Hansen doggedly goes after those chips in the middle and even more relentlessly defends his blinds. An example: At the 200-400/50 level, Hansen holds 5-4 offsuit in the big blind when a player in third position raises to 1,200. The small blind calls and Hansen calls, too. “I only have to call 800 more to win 3,200. Even if I am up against KK and AT I get the right price.”

He flops two pair and wins the hand. In another hand at this level, Hansen reraises in the big blind with K7 offsuit after the cutoff opens for 1,300. Late-position raises get little respect, and in this case the raiser folds. Later, playing six-handed: “Everybody folds to my button and with two fairly tight players in the small and big blind I am going for the steal just about 100 percent of the time.” His hand? Seven-three offsuit. In this case one of the blinds doesn’t oblige and goes all-in, forcing a fold.

As these examples show, Hansen’s raises and reraises are not dependent on having premium hands. Of the 850 hands he was dealt, only 22 were top-notch. But Hansen entered pots anyway, sometimes with “napkins,” and took what the table would give him. In all, he won an amazing 55 hands in the tournament uncontested.

The strategy carried through to post-flop play, where his aggression was based on simple math. Hansen knows most hands will not connect with the flop. He’ll likely win when his hand does connect. If his opponent connects and he doesn’t, he’ll likely lose. If both connect, there may be fireworks. But in the key fourth possibility, when neither connects, Hansen is likely to be the aggressor, showing that “nothing” is good enough if you’re willing to go after the pot.

It is the contested pots, however, that give the deepest look into the player’s thinking. Hansen helpfully indexes 21 crucial hands on his way to the championship. In one at the 6K-12K/2K level, starting with 807K chips, he open-raises with A6 offsuit to 39K and is called by Paul Wasicka in the big blind. On a flop of 8-7-5 rainbow, Wasicka checks, Hansen bets 52K and Wasicka raises all-in for 386K. Hansen goes to work breaking it down: “532,000 in the middle — 334,000 to call — 38.6 percent winning chance is what I need!” He then runs through 12 possible scenarios and calculates his winning chances against all of them. Needless to say, this kind of detailed analysis is not possible at the table, but as Hansen points out, making rough estimates on the fly is essential to winning poker. He puts Wasicka on everything from a set to a gutshot semi-bluff, calculating his winning chances at from 25 to 74 percent. In the end, he admits he has no clue what his opponent is holding, “but if I fold this hand and Mr. Wasicka shows me a total airball, I will definitely lose some momentum.” Hansen makes the call, and Wasicka flips over … well, I won’t spoil it.

Hansen’s run isn’t error-free, and he’s tough on himself when he goes wrong. There are missed bets, missed raises, bad reads, even one case where he didn’t realize he had the nut flush and nearly mucked his hand.

Through it all, he writes with a clear, casual style that threads the line between overly technical and overly chatty. The book closes with a section of statistics, including this stunner: Hansen limped only 19 times, a number he considers high. He also fired out continuation bets at just about his target rate, 80 percent. And he had all his chips in the middle only four times. The junk hands Hansen played (89 to be exact) are grouped in the category, “Don’t Try This at Home,” but the average player could do a lot worse than to pattern his play after one of the most thoughtful and successful tournament players around.