I just got done reading a pre-release copy of Tri “Slowhabit” Nguyen’s “How I Made My First Million from Poker.” It’s definitely not your typical poker book and if you’ve read some of Nguyen’s previous books on poker strategy this is an entirely new look at the game.
In many ways it will remind you more of Barry Greenstein’s “Ace on the River” than it will “The Mathematics of Poker” by Bill Chen. In fact, Barry wrote the foreword for the Nguyen’s book.
Like “Ace on the River,” “How I Made My First Million from Poker” is less about what starting hands to play and more about avoiding the pitfalls of the poker lifestyle as a professional online poker player. Where Barry focused on the casino life Nguyen concentrates more on the new, younger breed of players who fire up 20 tables and grind out rakeback.
I’m unsure if the release of Nguyen’s book is fortunate or unfortunate with all that has been going on in the poker world recently but perhaps if we get a regulated US market soon his book will find its place with up and coming online poker grinders.
Nguyen’s nuggets of wisdom are invaluable and are obviously from someone who has been there. He talks about everything from how to keep yourself motivated to how to know when it’s time to walk away from poker entirely.
The parts I found most valuable though were sprinkled throughout the book on a topic he hits on repeatedly which is improving your game. He emphasizes over and over again that the game is constantly evolving and that a tricky line that works today is going to become a standard move tomorrow and if you want to stay ahead you have to keep working on exploiting weaknesses in your opponents.
It’s obvious that Nguyen comes from the new breed of poker players. These young, aggressive players that seem to give yesterday’s poker heroes so much trouble. A lot of his advice is geared toward this type of player. For example whereas Sklansky and some of the old-guard poker players talk about having X number of buy-ins or big bets in their bankroll Nguyen fully encourages you to take shots, risk your bankroll (intelligently), and play fearless.
For instance, in the chapter on Bankroll Management he says:
Another reason why you should try to move up as soon as possible is as you grow older, your willingness to gamble and take risk decreases tremendously. You have worked hard to get to where you are, making the risk of losing it all disheartening and even at times scary. You won’t want to deal with an enormous amount of stress anymore.
When you’re young, you don’t know any better, and that’s a good thing. You have a lot of hope and aspiration to be the best. You have that gamble in your blood. You want to play because you truly love the game. It’s exciting. The high when you win is comparable to the low when you lose. During this phase in your poker career, you should be as aggressive as you can with your bankroll. You have time and age on your side. If things go wrong, you can always rebuild.
That’s not the kind of advice you read very often.
If I could offer Tri some advice it would be to be a little more sensitive to those of us who are youth-challenged. There’s nothing like reading a 25 year old write about being old and the challenges he faces with younger poker players coming up behind him to make you really feel your age.
This is one of those books where if you just take away one useful lesson you’re sure to pay for the book many times over. And believe me, there are enough nuggets of gold strewn about that it’s almost impossible not to find something that you can take away from reading the book.
But make no mistake; this is not a book where Nguyen tells you which hands to play or when to raise. You won’t be able to read this book and walk away a better player. You need to follow up and actually follow his advice and do the assignments that he offers. Being a better player is hard work. There are no quick fixes. As Nguyen puts it:
When you watch high-level pros at the poker tables, it might seem that all you see are monster bluffs and huge pots. But you don’t see the behind-the-scene preparation. That is, you don’t see the endless instant message conversations, the forum postings, the Poker Stove analyses, the personal coaching sessions, the downswings, the depressions, the anxiety attacks, the broken keyboards, the smashed screens, or the flying mice. All you see is the performance when you are the table.
This is really the essence of the book. Nguyen gives you ideas and tools but then you need to go out there and act upon them. When he tells you to write down a description of the type of opponent you have problems playing against and to figure out how to eliminate your weaknesses and to find the weaknesses in your opponent, you actually have to do it. Just reading what he wrote won’t make you a better player but if you actually do the work there’s no doubt you’ll learn something new and hopefully improve your game.
I did have some constructive criticism though. First off is that the breadth of topics covered leaves one wanting more depth. I got to the end of several chapters and wanted more. Some topics should have been books unto themselves.
Also, while Nguyen is wise beyond his years, he’s still rather young. What I mean by that is that what is wise beyond one’s years when you’re in your mid-twenties might not seem wise at all for someone considerably older.
For instance, when talking about keeping in a positive mind set Nguyen talks about eliminating things from your life that bring you negative feelings.
Write down a list of people and/or things that annoy you. Proceed to avoid these people and things like the plague. Your life and poker game will be better than yesterday.
There’s nothing wrong with the advice but the better answer would be to figure out why those things or people annoy you in the first place and work on not being annoyed by them. For example, if your skin is exceptionally sensitive to the sun, one option might be to avoid the sun but the better answer would be to see a dermatologist who might be able to prescribe you some medication that either treats or cures your condition.
Likewise, Nguyen labels a chapter Mindfulness, but the chapter really isn’t about mindfulness in the sense that Buddhists, meditators, or psychologists define mindfulness. For instance, he says:
This is what being mindful is about. You make a conscious effort to go over your choices and how they will affect you.
But that’s not the definition of mindfulness I know. According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is:
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
These are really rather minor issues though. Avoiding things and people that annoy you is a perfectly reasonable way to avoid negative emotions. The more common use of the word mindfulness might not fit with Nguyen’s definition but the advice he does give is solid.
Besides, I felt I had to find something to correct just to show Nguyen that some of us old farts often pick up other kinds of wisdom along with our grey hairs. J
Overall it’s a solid and much needed book in the poker community. It’s not a book about whether to raise or fold or what starting hands to play. And that’s a good thing because what makes you money today can change tomorrow. If you’re just following a set of instructions on autopilot you won’t be able to grow as a player. When change happens you’ll have to wait for someone to write a new set of instructions for you to follow.
Nguyen’s book attempts to give you the tools so you don’t need someone else to give you the answers (though he does recommend coaching and surrounding yourself with other poker players as a tool to help you work through your game). It’s about finding a balanced lifestyle that allows you to become the best player you can be.
And what more could you want?