Review of Building a Bankroll
: Full Ring Edition
, by Pawel Nazarewicz
Disclosure: I do not know the author. I'm sure I have seen some of his posts in the forums, but before he contacted me about his book, I had never had any interaction with him that I can recall. Pawel shot me a PM a while back asking me if I would read and review his book, and I agreed to do so. Other than the advance copy of the book he sent me to read, I haven't received anything from Pawel for writing this review, and all that he asked was that I write honestly and in detail.
When I learned that the title was Building a Bankroll
, I expected to be wading through a lot of the intricacies of bank roll management, calculating risk of ruin, strategies for scouring the online poker world for freeroll tournaments and that sort of thing—you know, a book on building a bankroll.
This isn't that. In fact, the book is a solid strategy guide to playing and beating the micros and lower level small stakes. It is not a pure strategy or theory book, as it delves into related subjects that are necessary to building a bankroll, such as the mental aspects of poker and dealing with variance. But at the end of the day, this book is a solid strategy guide with what to me is a disappointingly deceptive name.
I wish that this book had been titled more accurately to reflect what it actually is: a good introduction into what I have recently taken to calling ABCD poker. It goes beyond the basics and touches on some topics that I would describe as “intermediate” level poker. If I were looking for a study guide to accompany me on the rise up through the stakes from NL $10 to NL $100, I'm not sure I could find a better single volume than Building a Bankroll.
My objection to the title aside, I understand why Pawel chose this name for his book: because it is not just a strategy guide. It is goal-oriented. The object of this book seems to be to provide a fully rounded approach to moving up through the stakes, and it discusses everything necessary to do so. In fact, I think there is a lot of value in Pawel's approach to trying to develop a systematic approach to moving up that incorporates elements other than poker theory. As technical proficiency filters down ever lower through the micro stakes, it will increasingly become the case that we will derive our edge less from understanding the game better than our opponents, and more from implementing that understanding better than they do.
Building a Bankroll addresses both aspects—it will both improve your understanding of the game, and it will help you focus on more perfectly implementing your understanding, by which I simply mean playing your A game more often. So Building a Bankroll is the end goal Pawel wants you to focus on achieving, and the two means Pawel wants you to employ are to improve your A game, and to play it more often.
To help you improve your A game, Pawel devotes the bulk of the book to discussing a solid strategy for playing micro and midstakes poker. Overall, I think this section is good. It covers the basics, and introduces concepts that I consider to be intermediate level concepts, such as correct donk betting and betting for pot control. His chapter on playing the turn and the river is, in my mind, the real stand-out in the book, and probably worth the cover price in and of itself.
However, I don't think he got everything right. I think the opening ranges he recommends are not as well designed for the low micros as they could be. I think playing the ranges in the book would get a lot of micro grinders into a lot of trouble. He has hands listed in the opening ranges that, in my experience analyzing their databases, most micro players cannot profitably play in the situations he recommends playing them. Just as an example, Pawel lists Ajs, Ats and Qjs as UTG and UTG+1 opens in a full ring game. The vast, and by vast I mean frikkin' huge majority of players playing $10 and $25 who try to open these hands get creamed doing so. At the same time, Pawel has players at these stakes folding 55-22 UTG, when these hands can easily be raised first in for a profit at the micro stakes. Conversely, players at the upper end of the stakes Pawel wrote for, mainly NL $100 grinders, will look at his opening ranges (justifiably) as being too tight. As an example of this claim, Pawel does not list T9s and T8s as in our MP1 and MP2 opening range, and does not list J9s or T8s as in our hijack opening range. I believe I would turn in my Tag membership card if I wasn't opening these hands from these positions, especially since they were profitable opens for me UTG in a big sample at NL $200 last year (except J9s). In the end, I think the ranges are off for pretty much everybody, and would not recommend the ranges be played as listed at any level.
I consider the starting hands criticism a nit pick—a minor flaw (in my opinion) in an otherwise solid work that is studded throughout with real gems. I hope Pawel does not think that I am stealing his thunder by quoting and emphasizing what to me, was one of the most valuable pearls of wisdom he laces throughout the book:
Triple barrel bluffing, by default, is spew.
In today's games, where we are taught aggression, aggression, aggression, this one sentence of restraint, properly heeded, will pay for the book many times over. I see the triple barrel bug infect all sorts of players in all sorts of situations, and Pawel is absolutely correct to point out to up and coming grinders that it is usually a bad idea.
Where this book really stands out as unique is in its devotion to helping people improve. Most poker books are written based on the implicit assertion that “If you read this book, you'll crush your game.” Pawel doesn't write from this perspective. Pawel's thesis is: If you read this book, constantly struggle to control your mental state, and study your ass off when you're not grinding, you'll beat your game.
In this regard, the book is sort of the P90X of the poker literature world, because it provides you the tools to help you work your ass off. At the end of the book, Pawel spends a lot of time talking about how and when to do session reviews, what to look for when you're doing them and how to derive the maximum benefit from them. He also explains some basic leak finding that people can do for themselves that is an excellent second type of homework that most players don't know how to do.
I have to say I really liked this part of the book. I spent years stagnating as a player because I didn't know what to do next in terms of studying poker. I really like that Pawel has devoted a section of the book to teaching you what is the right poker homework to be doing, and how to do it. This subject has been essentially ignored in every other book written based on the conceit that reading that book was all you needed to do to win. I'm trying to draw a distinction I am not sure I am making—most poker books purport to teach you how to play or think about poker. Pawel's does this, too, but it also teaches you how to learn to improve in this section on poker homework.
In short, the book goes like this:
Our goal is to build a bankroll.
To build a bankroll, we need to do three things: 1. Play solid; 2. consistently control our emotions so we can play our best as often as possible; and 3. constantly strive to improve on what our best is. Pawel introduces, and in some areas goes into detail of, methods for doing all three of these things.
I would strongly recommend this book for anyone who is playing NL $50 or below. If you play $100, a lot of the strategy advice will be familiar, but you'll probably pick up a few tidbits that are new. If you are stagnating at $100, I think you'll get as much from this book as somebody playing lower, mainly due to the hand histories in the strategy section and from the session review discussion that teaches how to study effectively away from the tables. If you're beating $200 or above, this last section on poker homework will most likely be the most valuable part of the book.
I was a marginal winner at $200 before Black Friday, and I'm glad I read the book. I plan to reread it and study it more closely several more times, with an eye toward having it help me remove that “marginal” caveat from my description of my results.