There was a lot of buzz going around about the Ship It Holla Ballas book going around and I had actually added it to my Amazon Wish List planning on buying it. Fortunately the publisher mailed me a copy for review so I got to the book sooner than I probably would have on my own.

As I read the book I found myself trying to figure out if I liked it or not. As I turned each page I kept wanting to read about the much-hyped balla lifestyle. But it never quite got there.

While it’s a decent story of a bunch of kids who rode the internet poker roller coaster and mostly came out ahead of the game, if that’s what’s considered a balla lifestyle today, maybe I need to readjust my sense of what a balla is.

It’s funny because as I browsed other reviews on Amazon they focused on the huge amounts of money these guys made and how they partied like rock stars. So, I’m expecting some Motley Crue or Guns and Roses sort of stuff. But the book is filled with very un-balla moments like $300 a night hotel rooms in The Bahamas (relatively cheap for Paradise Island – that’s their base level room rate) and guys using their crazy cash to buy a Subaru. Subaru doesn’t even make a car worthy of being called balla transportation. The most expensive car they make lists at under $40K.

[simpleazon-image align=”left” asin=”1250006651″ locale=”us” height=”500″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51eAAJKzulL.jpg” width=”331″]In fact, I think the book would have been a much better read had they not hyped the balla lifestyle as much as they did. There’s no payoff unless you’re impressed by throwing billiard balls through your own windows and pouring goldfish crackers in the hot tub.

The stuff that happens to them is interesting and would have made an excellent story on its own merit. However, the constant promise of these guys doing balla stuff just never delivers.

Most of these guys are just kids who have too much money. Or, to be more accurate, being so young they think they have too much money.

For instance, there’s a bit in there about Good2CU trying to impress the ladies in a bar in Barcelona by telling that he’s rich because he made $100K last year. While $100K a year isn’t anything to sneeze at, it’s hardly rich. Heck, the median household income in the city I live in is $98,000 a year. For as smart as some of these guys are, making $100K a year in a regular job wouldn’t have been too difficult.

I felt it would have been a much better book if they focused the entire story on how these guys changed and evolved as they were forced to deal with the psychological pressures the game and easy money placed on them. And when the book does stick to that storyline, it’s a pretty good read.

Of course, their success at the poker tables is impressive and some of them do end up playing the biggest stakes games around and doing quite well in them. But, the cover of the book promises a much juicier story.

I mean, just last month they had a story in WPT Magazine about Dexter Koh dropping nearly $200,000 at a nightclub after a big night at the tables. Compared to that it’s hard to consider the Holla Balla crew dropping $40K between probably a dozen guys at a strip club in Vegas very balla.

I think Jon Katkin summed it up best when I was telling him about my impressions of the book, “It sounds like it was written five years too late.”

I also got the sense that the story was pieced together pulling from conflicting sources. For instance, one minute you’re reading about Good2CU pulling down $70K a month and then a few pages later he’s in Barcelona claiming he made $100K last year.

PAGE 167 (July 2006)

The idea had come to Good2CU while riding shotgun in Raptor’s race-ready Subaru: it’s time for an automotive upgrade. Past time, really. He’s still driving a ten-year-old Saturn that looks like it couldn’t even make it to the junkyard. Meanwhile, he’s won more than $70,000 in the past month, and there’s no reason to think the roll he’s on is going to end anytime soon.

PAGE 192 (September 2006)

“I’m so rich! I made $100,000 last year! Check out my Rolex! I’m a Ship It Holla Balla!” Even by the (low) standards of this turista bar – a sponge for young backpackers thanks to its proximity to the youth hostel next door – Good2CU is off-the-charts drunk. His earsplitting declarations of greatness can be heard from one end of the crowded room to the other.

Likewise, the authors mention that in discussing Good2CU’s decision to leave college with his father that he showed him how he won $70K the month before. Then he goes off and parties in Europe for a bit and when he comes back he’s invited to come hang out down in Texas and he says that he’s a little tapped because he just spent $4K on his European adventure.

Four thousand taps a guy who’s making $70K a month? Wait, $4K for a trip to Europe? I’ve had week-long business trips that cost more than that.

PAGE 112 (April 2006)

“Let me show you something.” Good2CU opens a file on his computer – a detailed spreadsheet chronicling his daily poker results – and points to a number at the bottom of the screen.

“You’ve made $70,000?”

“Yeah, last month.”

His father looks over the spreadsheet. It shows profit, often four figures, nearly every single day.

PAGE 123 (April 2006)

He’s home in Michigan less than three days when he gets a phone call from Apathy. “Road trip.”

“Can’t do it,” Good2CU protests. “I spent like four grand in Italy.”

There are just way too many places in the book where you read something and you stop and say, “Wait, how can that be?” The missing pieces are never filled in.

Bottom Line?

Ship It Holla Ballas is a pretty decent book though it has some flaws. It tells the story of online poker from the very earliest beginnings up to almost present day. If you want to take a trip down memory lane and relive the origins of things like Two Plus Two, Brandi Hawbacker, and the rise of Party Poker, Poker Stars, and Full Tilt, then it’s a fun read and very entertaining.

If you’re looking for tales of sick degeneracy or the balla lifestyle, uhm, maybe you should pick up the Motley Crew biography instead.

3 thoughts to “Ship It Holla Ballas!: How a Bunch of 19-Year-Old College Dropouts Used the Internet to Become Poker’s Loudest, Craziest, and Richest Crew

  • Andrei

    Too bad that there are these inconsistencies in content, this book had potential. I’ll read it anyway :)

  • Bill Rini

    Hey Ryan,

    It’s hard to say since they go back and forth quite a bit telling different parts of the story. For instance, it starts off pretty IrieGuy heavy but then he isn’t mentioned much until the end. Raptor gets a decent amount of coverage. Dwan tends to be mentioned when he shows up to hang out with everyone else or in historical context like his appearance on the Heads-Up showdown.

    But I think if you read the book you’ll definitely come away with the impression that this was a book mostly about Good2CU (Robl). His story is pretty much the only one told from beginning to end while everyone else’s sort of jumps around to highlights (and lowlights).

    Bill

  • Ryan

    Bill,

    Is Tom Dwan featured much in the book? From the review you wrote it seemed to mostly be the story of Andrew Robl. I’d love to read more about Raptor and Dwan and would consider picking it up if they were heavily featured.

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