Modern Small Stakes by Nathan Williams (BlackRain79)- BluffMeAllIn's Book Review
I was approached via Nathan Williams “BlackRain79” recently to see if I would be willing to do a review of his newest book, “Modern Small Stakes” (MSS), to post up on the CardsChat forum. Although I have never written a review of a book before, and certainly hope I will do it justice in my approach, I didn’t have to give it much thought before saying I would. I had been looking forward to him completing his book since I found, purchased and read his “Crushing the Microstakes” (CTM) book last year and found out he would be writing another.
My approach to the review is somewhat of an overview of the various items discussed within, specifically some quotes from the book itself in such sections accompanied with my thoughts throughout but more so are my concluding thoughts at the end. I hope that my review will provide the forum members some insights into the new book. Also as Nathan had indicated to me in doing the review, to be honest and say so if I hated it, I ask the same of you in your feedback on my review of the book.
Nathan’s MSS book covers a variety of topics that any player currently at those stakes (10/25/50/100NL) or still grinding micros (2/5NL) and looking to move-up would find beneficial, especially those new to the low end spectrum of the small stakes.
To kick things off he provides some thoughts and information on general fundamentals that although would be the most beneficial to an unfamiliar beginner entering into these stakes, should certainly serve as a refresher to the more experienced of players. This section alone would certainly answer many of the questions we see from newer members of the forum, and even those experienced who are starting to get more involved with making use of a HUD. Such topics include Game Selection, Volume, Long run & Short run, BRM & Moving up, HUD setup & the Popup Display, and Player Types.
To play or not to play preflop!
Having now sat to a table we have cards in our hand, what do we do? The section on preflop is the first step into various streets of play discussed within the book, and so provides the first insights into play within the small stake limits.
It begins with some very important information on balancing your range and of course positional opening ranges for both 6-max and full-ring vs. unknowns, as well as custom opening ranges when we have some information that could call for specific adjustments. It dives further in and discusses 3-bet and flatting ranges in the same manner of a general unknown opponent and making adjustments when we have information that indicates we should do so.
Furthermore it discusses some guidelines in regards to how to react when facing a 3-bet or 4-bet and of course constructing a 4/5-bet range which is based even more on an individual opponent than having a general approach. More to the fact of making adjustments based on information on hand the topic of having History with an opponent is also brought to light and how it can play into making adjustments on the actions taken.
Throughout the book in addition to the strategy and guidelines provided, there are many example hands in both 6-max and full-ring. Reviewing his insight and thought process for these hands in relation to the information that was provided is certainly something I truly enjoyed in the book. They are truly beneficial as in some cases even similar situations there are different correct actions either because of a different player type we are facing or a difference in a particular stat on the same player type…..it truly is eye opening and further proof as to why it is important to have a plan and adjust it on a case by case basis.
Almost half of the book has been covered bringing us to the end of the preflop play, which although may seem like a large portion, considering the importance of postflop play at these stakes, I believe Nathan states it best when he says “…it is the foundation for everything I am going to talk about now” and if there is anything we have heard before and know to be true is that a solid foundation is key to everything (education, construction, etc.).
May the flop be with you!
As Nathan indicates at the start of his postflop section, “The most important point to remember after the flop is that usually nobody has anything at all.”
This is where the first post-flop topic in the book will be of great importance, perceived ranges and board texture. These are fundamentals because of their importance in determining if a flop has connected with you or your opponents range and of course follows suit into the very important post-flop action (as well as narrowing this range as we reach further streets). To C-Bet or not to C-bet!
In the postflop strategy section of the book, as is done with turn and river as well, the approach is to determine your action/line to take depending on the preflop action as it can certainly change what plan you have for the hand on the flop and later streets depending on the previous streets actions. Nathan does an excellent job in providing information to guide you in how to proceed on the flop based on if you were the preflop raiser, caller, 3beter, c-bet gets raised, you get donked into etc. and of course the c-bet and sizing in general.
Floating to the Turn?
So action has continued to the turn, but when it comes to small stakes cash games this isn’t always going to define your opponent’s exact range and in fact may not define it at all. As indicated at the start of the turn section, “At the stakes discussed in this book however there are plenty of weak regs who will hang around on the flop but give you credit when you can follow it up on the turn. There are also plenty more regs at these stakes who are willing to fire the 2nd shell themselves with weaker holdings. So there is a lot more to discuss.”
The turn strategy section of the book follows similar suit to the situations discussed in the postflop section, however now having an additional street of information to work with it can assist in making decisions go forward. As with the postflop section a multitude of situations are discussed and further explained with hand examples vs. different player types and provides insights from the author to guide you in making the correct decisions for such situation based on current and previous actions in the hand as well as the all useful HUD and popup information.
Ranging on the River…
As Nathan indicates at the start of his river section, “The river is perhaps the most important street in today’s small stakes cash games.”
All cards are in play at this point, and now we should have a more narrowed range on our opponent, but of course this would be the same in regards to the range they have us on as well. On the river we must end the story of the hand and final actions will determine the outcome (are we ahead, do we go for value, how can we get max value? Are we behind, do we shut down or can we make the opponent fold by continuing our bluff etc.?). These are the things that are discussed in this section in similar suit to previous sections based on the actions that took us to the river and information we have on our opponents.
This is certainly by far an important street not only because it is the end of the story but also because the river will often see the most amounts of money going into the pot in comparison to earlier streets, so we don’t want to get it in just hoping they will fold if we are behind and want to get the max value when we are ahead. The strategy section provides guidelines on how to approach doing just this based on how the previous streets went and of course with many examples and insight on them from the author it can paint a picture in doing so effectively.
In addition to providing some great insight into playing the game from pre-flop to post-flop Nathan has also taken the time at the end of his book to discuss two very important topics related to poker and more importantly success in poker. These are studying the game and the mental game.
Studying the game lays focus on making use of your tracking database to analyze individual hand history’s but also you’re game in its entirety from statistics point of view. As well it touches on how to use your database to review the game of other players who you could learn things from and the approach you can take in testing such possible changes to your game to determine if they are beneficial.
In the Mental game section it touches on the very important fact of how having a strong mental game is necessary to be successful, and as indicated when touching on tilt in CTM entire books can be written regarding dealing with tilt and mental game issues, but the section does provide some interesting points on putting your opponents on tilt.
As anyone who has read and studied Nathan’s previous book, CTM, knows it to be well organized and structured in a fashion that allows the reader to study the materials on a street by street basis and of course this same structure is adopted in his new book and IMO extremely effective in providing individual topics to review and study. His ambition for the readers of the new MSS book is to guide them in how to play and improve in today’s small stakes cash games, but specifically important is the point I have quoted below:
“If there is one thing that I want you to take away from this it is that at the small stakes you need to approach each opponent differently”.
Not only is this the thing he wishes the reader to take away from his book but having read the book, and certainly a reason for everyone to do so, it provides the strategies and tips in regards to making use of the HUD and its popups to provide the building blocks of how you can use the information at hand along with the outlined strategies to be able to recognize the differences between opponents and not only because of the different player types but even to be able to pick up on the differences on an individual basis within those groups. Also not to be considered specifically an asset for online players just because of the emphasis on the HUD, but the strategies contained within would also play in live games where it is much easier to mentally store such information because of the slower pace of the game.
We all know that a generic response to most questions in poker can be answered with “It Depends”, well in the MSS book Nathan does a great job of providing various responses to certain actions as well as a great foundation in giving you the knowledge to determine how to react correctly in those situations where the correct action to take depends on previous actions or HUD information. The examples especially throughout provide his insight and analysis to prove that all situations are different, and in deed we must make use of all the information we have available to make the best decision we can.
MSS is not a walkthrough on how to crush small stakes, as CTM was for micro stakes, which is to be expected considering at the small stakes you will face more regs who are thinking at least some level beyond just the cards that they hold as well as in general the increased aggression that exists. However, it provides the knowledge and information to enable its readers to become thinking players who can analyze and rationalize the best decisions for themselves. It does of course cover many scenarios through the guidelines and examples it explores but most importantly builds a foundation so that as we embark into the small stakes limits of NLHE we can be thinking players of the game and therefore outthink and outplay the competition.
I would certainly recommend this book, specifically for anyone looking to improve and move up through the cash stakes from the micros but also for those who are currently playing within the small stakes looking to advance through the various limits and of course improve their win rates. I am sure that regardless of being new to the small stakes or being well experienced that we could all find some gems of information from this book to help us think more efficiently and improve our game, I know I have.