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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 [Hardcover]

Jonathan Grotenstein , Storms Reback
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Jan. 15 2013

Who were the Ship It Holla Ballas? 

Arguably the most successful poker crew of all time, they took advantage of the online poker boom to win tens of millions of dollars before most of them were old enough to set foot inside a casino. Then they did what any red-blooded teenagers with mountains of cash and no responsibilities would do: They partied like rock stars, transforming themselves from Internet nerds with zero life skills into legends, at least in their own minds.

In Ship It Holla Ballas!, Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback trace the rise and fall of Internet poker through the eyes of its most unlikely stars: A group of teenage college dropouts, united by social media, who bluffed their way to the top of the game.


Frequently Bought Together

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 + Straight Flush: The True Story of Five College Kids Who Dealt Their Way to a Billion-Dollar Empire-and How It All Came Crashing Down . . .
Price For Both: CDN$ 42.79


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Review

“In Ship It Holla Ballas!, Grotenstein and Reback share the lives and games of the incredibly young, ridiculously successful superstars of the Online Poker Era. The authors handle the fast pace, shadowy lives, and multiple players and locations with the skill and dexterity of Good2cu, Raptor, or durrrr 20-tabling.”
—Michael Craig, New York Times bestselling author of The Professor, The Banker, and the Suicide King

"The loud narcissism and adolescent degeneracy of these talented 'ballas' ain't pretty, but the testosterroneous world of high-stakes online poker in America before Black Friday, in all its doomed glory, steadily throbs in Grotenstein and Reback's swift prose."
—James McManus, New York Times bestselling author of Positively Fifth Street

"An infectious tale, told with the speed of a rocket sled, Ship It Holla Ballas! puts us in with a gang of under-age poker geniuses as they turn Las Vegas on its ear, making off with the gelt as well as the girls." —Bruce Porter, New York Times bestselling author of Blow

About the Author

JONATHAN GROTENSTEIN is a former professional poker player and the author or co-author of eight books. His first book, Poker: The Real Deal (with Phil Gordon), remains one of the bestselling poker books of all-time.

STORMS REBACK is a former professional poker player and the co-author of two books, including All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker (with Jonathan Grotenstein).


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting bit of sociology Dec 30 2013
By Rob Slaven TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
As usual I received this book from GoodReads as part of a giveaway. Also as usual, despite the very kind and generous consideration of getting a free book, I give my candid opinions below.

The subtitle really sums it up pretty nicely. A group of kids from different parts of the country get hooked on online poker, do nothing but play all day for years and make a ton of money doing it. They live decadent lifestyles, learn some key life lessons (or don't) and finally end up happy (or not). Think bildungsroman with computers, gambling and lots of illegal mind-altering substances.

The writing in this little bit of non-fiction is merely sufficient; it's readable and can be consumed in a handful of determined hours. There's nothing particularly gripping about the whole thing except the anticipation of some explosive failure on the part of our protagonists as you either cheer for their success or their comeuppance. The book provides us with a view of a subculture we'd normally not get to see and paints an intimate enough portrait to keep the reader engaged.

I will spare my own reader the rather obvious and easily anticipated rant that I could go into about children gambling illegally and engaging in all manner of idiotic behavior, though as an adult it's hard not to have one's mind wander there. There is quite a bit of anthropological value to be found in these pages to be sure but it sets a rather poor example.

Pondering to whom I could recommend this book, I do have some difficulty finding a target for it. Most adults will doubtless be rather put off by the various irresponsible shenanigans demonstrated and I would be terrified for any teenager who reads it for fear that they will view this as an example to be emulated.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  73 reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than Bringing Down the House and much different from the descriptions Feb. 5 2013
By Aaron C. Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I did not expect to like this book. The back cover seemed to promise a retelling of Bringing Down the House with some teenage poker players instead of MIT blackjack team members. That is not what happened to the Holla Ballas. Then I saw the authors' note, "some names and details have changed." That might mean minor characters had names and minor details changed to protect their privacy, or it could be an out-and-out fictionalization with composite characters, the story changed to make it more exciting, with some made up stuff as well.

The only reason I opened it at all is the back cover features three of my favorite writers in what might be loosely categorized as this genre, James McManus, Michael Craig and Bruce Porter. While Grotenstein and Reback are not in the class of those three as non-fiction stylists, they got hold of a great story and have told it with honesty and insight. I don't know what they changed, I witnessed a few things in the book and heard about others, all seem to be described with as much accuracy as sincere recollection by the participants can give.

Contrary to the hype, this is not a story of kids "partying like rock stars." They party like middle-American conventioneers in Las Vegas, or like nerdy frat boys who came into a small windfall. They don't even party that much (adjusted for age and profession). Almost all their energy goes into a very demanding activity. They did not "bluff" their way to the top of the game, and they were certainly not the "loudest, craziest, richest" crew in poker. They were louder than most, less crazy than average and pretty darn rich--especially if you add up each player at his peak--for kids under 25 without inherited money or jobs, but there are a lot of far richer people. What distinguished them were quiet activities for which sanity is essential: playing careful, thoughtful, high-frequency poker and building on-line identities that grew into important networks.

Fifteen years ago poker was legal in only a few places in the US, casinos hated the game (someone in the building was losing money, and the casino wasn't getting it), the World Series of Poker was a casino publicity stunt, few people could name a professional poker player, the popular poker books were written by bridge players or mathematicians with little understanding of the game and the only Internet poker was the IRC Usenet group for play money stakes. That was all about to change, with enormous social repercussions.

This book has carved out an important thread of the story of the poker boom, which was in part an Internet and social networking boom. Some rootless kids found they had spectacular skills in the strange new world of on-line poker, skills that had not been obvious in their prior lives. They had to learn to navigate this world and exploit those skills without the ballast of maturity or much in the way of experienced guides. How they did it, where they went right and wrong, and what older parts of the poker world proved relevant makes fascinating reading.

This book has obvious appeal for anyone interested in the development of poker in the 21st century, but I also recommend it for anyone interested in human nature. The pace of social change will only increase and more and more talented people will form their adult identities far from adult supervision. This book might give a little insight into the possible consequences of that. It's a pleasant, easy read, and a much deeper topic than it seems.
24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Characters Without Character Dec 3 2012
By Ogr8ys1 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
First off the book is an easy read and is written for the internet generation specifically those weaned on online poker. Here is the crux of the book:

Half a dozen people discover online poker and take their math skills to a level that other players don't even know exist. They make obscene amounts of money however how this money is made so easily is never described (the reader is left out of those conversations), but instead discussed among themselves either personally or posted on a website that will be familiar with those who have played for a living or at least took the time to play in more than a cursory way. (twoplustwo.com)

It is a fun easy read, but if you think you are going to learn anything about the game you are sadly mistaken. This is more of a study on how a bunch of underage kids achieved their wealth (it is impressive) and spent it on booze, weed and hookers, before the end offers redemption for most of those that inhabit these pages. Over the 300 pages the same story is told over and over again and I felt like I was trapped like a player seeing mundane hand after hand being dealt on a computer screen while reading observations that could have been made in 50 pages.

Real names are not used,only poker handles are bandied about and I am sure with a little research I could figure out who Good2cu, Raptor, and Durrrr, are in real life, but frankly by the end I knew who they "were" and really see no need to see who they are now. A few of them are very successful and they do seem wiser at 25 than at 18 and when online gambling becomes legal again in the near future there will be another group ready to replace these "dinosaurs" of the poker world.

Every subject is only glossed upon and no revelations are made and it is my opinion that those that this book is written about prefer it that way, for to remove the curtain will show the Wizard of Oz and who they really are, and that would be like showing their hole cards removing all mystery to an only somewhat interesting book. Shame, the subject done correctly could have produced something special. This is not it. It is an AQ off hoping to improve on the flop.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic! Jan. 18 2013
By e.b. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read a lot of nonfiction and biography. Favorite authors include Michael Lewis, Clay Shirky, Chris Anderson, Malcolm Gladwell, Rick Atkinson, Robert Caro, and Bob Woodward.

Great nonfiction doesn't just tell a gripping story populated with vivid characters; it captures the texture of what it all felt like as it was happening. "Ship It Holla Ballas" does that. It's riveting to read about Good2CU, Raptor, Apathy, Durrrr (my favorite name), and their friends -- kids who suddenly find themselves making sick amounts of money gambling online and don't really know what to do next. Not surprisingly, they go a little nuts: strippers, Cristal, expensive cars, XBox360s in every room of the house, etc.

That stuff all makes for a rollicking, fun, at times cringe-inducing read. But don't write this off as a story about hedonistic kids. It's about something much bigger, something that's reshaping our society from top to bottom: applied statistics. In the same way that Billy Beane and his brethren rewrote the rules of baseball by using player performance metrics with greater predictive power, in the same way that Nate Silver rewrote the rules of political analysis by dumping "gut" in favor of hardcore analysis, the Ballas made fortunes and earned a seat at the table with poker's top pros (in some cases, taking their money) by developing a deeper understanding of the math of the game than the generation that came before them.

If that sounds dry the way I describe it, in the book it's anything but. From bad beats to quad-monitor configurations for playing 8 simultaneous sit 'n gos, the authors render the technical aspects of poker with such simplicity and clarity that you almost feel like you're an expert poker player yourself. And they never lose sight of the fact that this is a human story fueled by poker play, not the other way around.

Last thing I'll say is that even if your life is nothing like this (mine isn't -- which is A-OK with me), there's something universal about this story. The Ballas grew up in a world where everything they said and did played out in public. Like it or not, that's our world now. Privacy is a thing of the past. In addition to being a great yarn about poker, this is a story about what it's like to come of age in a time when even regular people have to make their mistakes and figure out who they are under the constant scrutiny of everyone around them -- and even people who aren't around them.

I highly recommend this book. Durrrr.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome book that shows the lives of young poker players. Jan. 18 2013
By Jonathan Little - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It should be noted that I am one of the minor characters in the book, so my review may be a bit biased.
I received the book at 8am on its official release day and finished it 14 hours later. I was drawn into the book by excellent writing and amazing stories. If I was not present for most of the stories, I would think the book is a work of fiction. I can confirm all stories in the book are accurate and perhaps even a little toned down for the book. If you want to see what happens to a bunch of kids when you give them too much money and free time, this is the book for you.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lots About the Balla Lifestyle of the Boom. Lacking in Poker, Politics, and Writing. Aug. 30 2014
By mirasreviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
There has yet to be a book written about the Poker Boom that the United States experienced from 2003, when amateur Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event, until the Justice Department closed the major US-facing online poker rooms in 2011. With the boom came high stakes poker games on television, a surge of interest in tournament poker, enormous prize pools, slouchy hoodied young people in casinos, and legends of “balla” lifestyles enjoyed by the online poker prodigies who propelled poker strategy forward as much in one decade as poker had experienced in the previous century. “Ship It Holla Ballas!” covers the lifestyle. Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback have good access to some of the biggest and youngest names of the poker boom, young men who dropped out of college to pursue fortunes on the felt and largely succeeded. This is how they lived during the poker heyday.

They spent long hours sitting in front of monitors clicking across multiple poker tables, then more hours analyzing the hands they played. Then they drank as much alcohol, downed the best drugs, had the most sex, and spent as much money they could at the most expensive hotels and nightclubs that they could find. There is no denying that these guys worked hard. But they partied harder. The authors describe them as “college dropouts who have struck it rich playing online poker and enjoy spending their newfound wealth conspicuously.” The story begins as Irieguy (Dave Elliott), a medical school graduate, becomes interested in online poker in 2001. Mason Malmuth and David Sklansky found TwoPlusTwo, poker’s biggest online forum. Then Raptor (David Benefield), still in high school, suffers an injury that ends his fledgling baseball career and turns his attention to online poker. Good2cu (Andrew Robl) watches Moneymaker win the Main Event in 2003 with his father.

The bulk of the book takes place 2006-2009, after those two men have dropped out of college to become online poker pros –Robl dropping out twice for good measure. Poker players are always referred to by the online handles under which they became famous, never by their legal names. The most featured players are Good2cu and Raptor. Irieguy and Apathy (Peter Jetten) are also featured generously. Some other names that feature frequently in the narrative are TheUsher (Alan Sass), Inyaface (Max Greenwood), durrrr (Tom Dwan), Jman (Phil Galfond), Traheho (Alec Torelli), Bonafone (Kevin Boudreau), TravestyFund (Travis Rice), and FieryJustice (Jonathan Little). The “Ship It Holla Ballas” were a self-branded group of seven or eight these players who shared a house in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker each summer and posted their adventures in poker and in life on a dedicated web site run by Robl.

The book lays bare the experiences of these men during those times. It is written at what I would describe as a junior-high-school level and uses a lot of youthful slang. It glorifies the hedonistic lifestyle these young men enjoyed in their off hours, which seems a little odd -not because it is hedonistic, but because it is no longer a possibility for the young people who are this book’s market. Online poker with international player pools is gone from the United States. And the games are much tougher for those outside the US. Poker pro is not a viable option for someone starting out these days. But the authors give the reader a taste of a certain extravagant subculture. In fairness, it’s not all partying. The authors follow these individuals as they mature, move on to other things, change their images, or shift focus to other forms of poker.

What the authors don’t do is explain the politics that ended online poker in the United States. They briefly explain UIGEA, the 2006 federal legislation that made it a crime for banks to transfer money to or from an online gaming sites and chased many recreational players away. Black Friday, which actually closed the poker sites in 2011, is mentioned without explanation, even though it shook the poker economy and ended the boom. I didn’t expect blow-by-blow accounts of games, but it is sometimes not even clear what game the men are playing, and ignoring the evolution of strategy doesn’t do these men justice. The poker boom will be remembered for its rapid evolution of strategy across many games, driven primarily by the influx of bright, ambitious, young players. They made a real and constructive contribution, and I would have liked the authors to occasionally place their subjects in that context. “Ship It Holla Ballas!” gives us a nice window on the lifestyle, but I found it lacking in some areas, and the dumbed-down prose style got on my nerves.
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