Book Review: How I Made My First Million From Poker

My One Minute Recommendation: How I Made My First Million From Poker is all over the map. It’s a memoir, it’s a strategy book, it’s a poker lifestyle book. This jack of all trades is a master of none, though readers who can get past Tri Nguyen’s off-putting persona are likely to find enough helpful advice to warrant a modest sticker price of $47 for paperback or e-book. All in all it’s a 6/10.

Tri Nguyen’s How I Made My First Million From Poker is a catch-all advice book for professional poker players, covering everything from light poker strategy to choosing a coach to taking shots and dealing with variance. This makes it difficult to summarize or review, since it’s much stronger on some subjects than others. Unsurprisingly, it covers virtually none of these subjects in-depth, so while most readers will find an occasional gem, they’ll almost always be left wanting more.

Author Tri Nguyen draws almost entirely on his own experiences and those of a few students and close friends, which is one of the book’s biggest weaknesses. It speaks primarily to the young, multi-tabling, forum-browsing online poker set, and even as someone relatively close to the target audience, I found that alienating. Nguyen tends to take for granted that his readers are thoroughly immersed in the online poker world and versed in its jargon. He talks around complicated subjects like game theory and balance without ever explaining or defining them and sometimes acts as though earning at least a modest living from the game is trivially easy.

Even more of a turn-off are Nguyen’s repeated references to his own success. First Million is a very personal book, written in the first person and relating many stories from the author’s own career. Thus, it’s essential that the author’s persona be likeable, and Nguyen’s is not. He commits the autobiographical fallacy of assuming that anything that happened to him is interesting, and moreover many of his stories, like the title of his book, are thinly veiled brags.

Readers who can get past all of that, though, probably will benefit from Nguyen’s experience. He is, after all, a long-standing winner in high stakes NLHE and PLO cash games as well as (I assume) showing a solid profit in his many poker-related business ventures. He offers good advice about how to improve at poker, where to direct your study efforts, and how to make valuable connections with other players. The only failing here is that he doesn’t give these topics as much attention as they deserve- there’s no doubt that going about it the right way can fast-track your development as a player, and Nguyen has some great insights here that I haven’t seen expressed clearly anywhere else.

Personally I found his thoughts on other topics like relieving stress or choosing a coach cliched and self-evident. Then again these are areas where quite a few poker players make mistakes, so I guess they don’t always go without saying and some readers may find value here as well.

It would be hard for any poker professional to read How I Made My First Million From Poker without learning something valuable, though many will be halfway through the book before they find it. The only way to take nothing away from Nguyen’s book is to give up on it, which unfortunately the author’s persona will sorely tempt you to do.

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