From Small Stakes to Big Books: Interview with Sklansky Co-Author Ed Miller
Ed Miller is long past the point where anyone would label him an aspiring poker writer which is surprising as, not long ago, he was going in an altogether different direction after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000. He moved out west after landing a job at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. While he was there, he took up online poker as a hobby, and, by 2003, his skills had progressed to the point where he no longer needed to work at Microsoft. Eventually, he made the acquaintance of Mason Malmuth and David Sklansky who liked his ideas on poker and asked him to co-write a book which eventually became known as Small Stakes Hold 'em: Winning Big with Expert Play. Miller followed this up with Getting Started in Hold 'em. His latest release, No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice, came out during the summer of 2006. Currently, he is laboring over a new book which he describes in one of the answers below.
BC: Let me start out by asking you a global question. You're face isn't known to most fans who watch the big televised tournament events. Did having a lower profile make it more difficult to attain clout as a writer and instructor? Would you agree that teaching and being a superstar are not absolutely correlated?
EM: In my case, I got clout in a different way from the others. I became known by growing up organically, if you will, over the internet. The other players knew my name but not my face. Despite that, there was still room for me to have a niche of my own even without the instant recognition that television brings. Many of the great writers don't happen to be big name players at all. The name players are often too busy participating in tournaments to have the time to write a book. Books require too much sweat and blood. So, to answer your question, I don't think they're correlated. In fact, they might even have a negative correlation. Of course, there's no reason why it must be that way, but that's the way it is currently. Personally, I don't play tournaments very often. It's a rare occurrence for me. I have played in only two WSOP Events. I find that they just take too long. After four or five hours, I start getting tired. I just don't like the feeling of being locked in for that long. The variance issue is also a concern.
BC: Were you a little surprised by No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice's success? Did you expect it to sell as fast as it did? Is there anything you'd change about the book if you had the chance?
EM: I wasn't surprised this time around, but back when Small Stakes Hold 'em went off the charts I certainly was. That was my first book so I didn't know what to expect as the poker boom had just begun. Who knew it would become the cult classic it did? I had no idea people would make it their number one limit book.
BC: What do you say to those people who criticize it for describing loose games which are rarely found nowadays? Is it still pertinent?
EM: Oh absolutely. I think the book still applies even though the games are definitely tighter today. What is really important to remember is that they're mostly just tighter pre-flop. After that, many of the same lessons still apply. In the text, we focus on how to play after the flop which often leads to heads up play so its lessons still apply. Clearly, our post flop suggestions translate well to the current game style. Although, I've been thinking about writing an addendum or second edition for it to encompass the online game.
BC: Considering the tightness of the games, why should people continue to play limit with so all fish migrating to no limit?
EM: Well, the exodus of the great limit players to no limit has created a situation wherein it is possible to make good money at limit presently. In fact, almost every great limit pro that I used to play with has now switched to no limit. Yes, the dead money is now in no limit but so are the sharks. It's a pendulum. In time, I think it will swing back to limit and there will be serious action there again. People will trickle back. It's a different game and it offers players a different experience. Once poker matures then people will play whatever game they like the best. Some folks are going to like limit better which happens to be the case for me. By the time no limit became all the rage I was already pumping out books. With limit you can play more hands to the river. There's more play on each street which makes it more fun. In no limit, you must be more cautious. It's more of a psych out contest. You can make good money at both of them though.
BC: What about the aggressiveness of Small Stakes Hold 'em: Winning Big with Expert Play? Some may find the style rather reckless. Also, what makes playing at a lower limit substantially different from playing at a higher one? What would you say to those who argue it's the same game regardless of who is playing?
EM: Okay, well, I agree that it is the same game regardless of the limit, but we called it small stakes because we expected its readers to be just starting out. The book shows you how to play against loose players but not tough players. There is an important difference. With tough players you have to be more passive or you'll get checkraised all the time. The moral of Small Stakes Hold 'em is to keep betting until they stop you. At the high limits, those good players will stop you. Then you need to be more judicious.
BC: Both of your previously mentioned works were collaboratively written. How were the tasks fleshed out with a co-writer? Did you assign yourself certain sections and then expound on your preferred areas or did you write and proof side by side?
EM: The two books went very differently. With Small Stakes Hold 'em I was the principal writer and David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth went through and corrected, added, and subtracted from my initial draft. For No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice I put pen to paper for most of it, but David wrote out like 60 concepts he wanted covered, and the ideas were really his. He wrote me an outline for the concepts, we talked about them, and then I wrote it up. Although, that's not fully how it went, as I had a few sections of my own.
My new book is tentatively called Small Stakes No Limit Hold 'em. My co-writers are Matt Flynn and Sunny Mehta. I get third billing and some people know the other writers from their posts at the Two Plus Two forums. The text is example driven and very much the no limit counterpart to my first book. What it does is to teach people how to play in everyday tough situations that they find in the real world. It should be coming out in March of 2007. We're just about done with the first volume (there will be two). Everything should be finalized in the next month. I honestly think that our new book is going to totally blow people's minds. There are a couple of key ideas which will transform the game.
BC: Do you think that with each passing year, the game gets tougher and tougher due to poker players sharing all their secrets with readers?
EM: No. My sense is not that the games do not get harder and harder. What the instructional stuff does is keep the marginal players interested. Without the instructional literature, they'd be more likely to simply give up. You have to remember that not everyone learns how to play well by studying. Often, they'll try to apply proven concepts and then fail miserably. That is what keeps the games good.
BC: If you had to categorize the amount of skill required for the many variations of poker, which one involves the most luck and which one involves the least?
EM: Hmm, you mean which game can you win the most consistently at? Well, right now it's tough to say. I guess an easy answer would be pot limit Omaha eight or better. There are enough bad players playing where skill really can win out. If you're bad in that game then you're basically done for. You have no chance and you'll manage to get quartered in big pots continuously. There are a ton of situations in which you have to fold the nuts low or high in order to be a winning player and a lot of people just can't do that. Which one requires the least amount of skill? That's even harder to say. Let's say limit Omaha high for no really good reason.
BC: The other day I was wondering about the effect televised tournaments had on cash games. How much do you think the thousands of "Degree All In Moments" have helped stock the fish pond from which the sharks now feed? It seems like we're fabricating a lot of players who don't know the difference between tourneys and cash games or full ring and 5 max [no more than 5 players to a table].
EM: Absolutely we are. The effect is very simple. Television brings new players into the game and new players don't play so good. When all the coverage first started up, I began to see twenty-something kids come into the casino. They'd bring their shades, count their chips, and stare you down before each bet. We were like, "Dude, this is limit!" It was funny, and there's no question that television is what brought them to us.
BC: You've just recently relocated to New York from Las Vegas which is literally, and figuratively, thousands of miles from the poker Mecca of Sin City. Is this a reflection of your being disillusioned with poker at the present time? Has it moved down on your list of priorities?
EM: I moved to New York because I always wanted to live there, and this was a perfect time to do it. Yes, I am trying to broaden my career. After I started writing, my poker playing dropped down to only about 5 to 10 hours each week. I can still do that much here by traveling to Atlantic City. Since the move I haven't been playing much though. I am going down to Tunica in January. I really like writing though. I think that I'm going to try to make it in this world as a writer.
BC: Are you pessimistic about the impact that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) will have on the game? Do you think that it will blow over and we'll still be allowed to log in at US friendly sites in the future?
EM: Well, first off, the law's terrible. It's an awful piece of legislation. People are going to continue to play regardless. It doesn't go after players, it goes after money transfers. As far as those go, they'll always be someone somewhere who wants to transfer money to American players once the dust settles. The sites that shut us out are probably going to take us back though. I don't think this law is going to change very much.
BC: How about Two Plus Two forum? I know I speak for everybody there when I say that you're missed. Do you think you'll return any time soon? Many of us could use the advice.
EM: Um, yeah maybe, I stopped posting because I was spending too much time on the forums and I didn't have time for other things. That's why I started up my blog notedpokerauthority.com. Right now, I'm concentrating on making my blog a good strategic resource. I answer player questions about hands and post them on my blog. Maybe, I'll end up returning to the Two Plus Two forum in the future.
BC: Speaking of your website, how did you ever come up with the name, "Noted Poker Authority?" It seems to me there has to be some kind of story behind that one?
EM: [Laughs] Yes, there is. It came from my buddy, David Fromm, who was visiting me in Las Vegas. We went out on the town one night about a month before Small Stakes was due out. The whole time he kept riding me about my eminence. Well, as we were out playing blackjack we got drunk and he kept telling the dealer and waitress that they couldn't talk to me a certain way as I was a "noted poker authority." He then posted his travel report on the forum and the name kind of stuck after that.
BC: Allow me to ask you a final, non-poker related question. Your bio mentions that you appeared on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," where "the Fab Five transformed [you] into a hip, clean cut television personality with Buddy Holly glasses." I cannot help but ask, why would you do that show? Who cares about fashion and being trendy? It seems to me that with your physics background, work at Microsoft, poker, and voluminous publications you'd be a continent above that stuff.
EM: Well, first of all, it's a fact of life that how you look makes an impression on people. How they see you is important. I've always believed that in order to project a good professional image you have to dress well. Furthermore, reality TV is a part of our zeitgeist and I wanted to be a part of it. I found it invasive and don't really care to do it again, but I'm glad that I did it once. I found out how it worked and that was that.
BC: Thanks for your time, Mr. Miller.
Bernard Chapin is a writer, poker player, and psychologist from Chicago. He
is also the author of Escape from Gangsta Island.