“The Education of a Poker Player” Review

[LL] “The oldest poker book I’ve read is older than I am”, Leroy the Lion claimed.

[RR] “Super System isn’t nearly as old as you are”, Roderick the Rock countered.

[LL] “That was only the second oldest. Near the end of his life in 1957, cryptologist Herbert O. Yardley penned a classic poker book that has been called ‘the poker bible before Doyle published Super System‘. The Education of a Poker Player2 chronicles two main times in Yardley’s life when he played poker: as a young adult at a local tavern and later in life as a code-breaker in China.”

[RR] “Whoa, a poker book set in China?”

[LL] “Indeed, and one of the main characters is the author’s Chinese translator whom he teaches what he learned in the first part of the book.

Yardley’s book is entertaining enough to be read solely for its stories as most of the poker instruction is separated out in between the plot. But if you want to learn how to play various old types of poker — Five-Card Draw (with and without wild cards), Five-Card Draw Low, Five-Card Stud, and Seven-Card Stud (High, Low, and High-Low) — you could skip the story and focus on the poker. Then you’d miss what makes this one of the most readable poker books though; it’s even a bit raunchy at times.”

[RR] “An R-rated poker book?”

[LL] “Closer to PG-13, but still pretty out there for 1957. As are some of the poker variations in the third part of the book: Five-Card Stud with the Joker, Six-Card Stud (which gone the way of the B battery), and several Seven-Card Stud variations: Betty Hutton (9s and 5s wild), Doctor Pepper (2s, 4s, and Tens wild), Razz, HIgh Hand with the Joker, Low Hand with the Joker, Hi-Lo with the Joker, Baseball (3s and 9s wild with 4s giving an extra down card), Football (ditto but with 4s, 6s, and 2s), Low Spade-High Hand (a.k.a. Chicago), Low Hole Card Wild; and Five-Card Draw with the Joker, Low Ball with the Joker, and Spit in the Ocean (Five-Card Draw with Deuces Wild and a fifth, wild card shared by everyone.

Overall, Yardley’s instruction is a bit basic and a bit tight but can still be useful if you find yourself in dealer’s choice games with old school players as it mostly covers games that are no longer played in casinos.”

Title The Education of a Poker Player
Author Herbert O. Yardley
Year 1957
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Well-written with poker instruction interwoven into an interesting non-fiction plot.
Cons Dated (albeit mostly with regards to the poker varieties played) and extremely tight play.
Rating 2.5


  1. Jon Pill’s review also goes into detail on Yardley’s career.
  2. Yardley’s book is not to be confused with James McManus’s 2015 novel by the same name. The poker author unabashedly borrowed the title from the older book because his young male protagonist Vincent Killeen occasionally plays poker and learns his skills from Yardley’s book. McManus’s story is well-written and worth reading if you like coming-of-age novels but decidedly not much of a poker book.