Fly to Las Vegas to report on the final event of the World Series of Poker, expenses paid of course, win a satellite, and wind up finishing beyond expectations in this most prestigious of poker events.Nick Christenson is widely regarded as one of the best gambling book reviewers publishing today. He is a contributor for Poker Player magazine, and has published in Full-Tilt and Gambling Times. He is also the editor of the very funny 'Casino Death Watch,' which chronicles the comings and goings of casinos in Las Vegas. He is an avid poker and blackjack player. Nick's website is www.jetcafe.org/~npc/ Jim McManus chronicled this story in his fine book, Positively Fifth Street, but Tony Holden performed the same feat more than a decade previously. As of 2002, Holden's Big Deal is finally back in print. In his book, Holden tells the story of his tournament followed by a year traveling the globe trying to make a living as a poker professional.
Holden's story begins and ends at the WSOP in successive years. In between, Holden, a resident of London, plays poker in Malta, California, Morocco, and Louisiana among other locales. He criss-crosses the globe possessed of a meager bankroll looking for a soft game. The author takes time away from his career in an attempt to fulfill a dream, and in this book he chronicles the ups and downs that a player faces trying to make a living at a demanding vocation. Along the way the reader is treated to colorful characters, improbable events, and exotic locations. These are events that have to be real. It would be too hard to make this stuff up.
Like his friend before him, Al Alvarez, author of the classic The Biggest Game in Town and McManus, Holden is an author first and a poker player second. To most of the world he is better known as a London newspaper columnist and a biographer of the likes of Shakespeare, Sir Laurence Olivier, and the British royal family. This should be sufficient evidence by itself of Holden's writing prowess, but it takes no more than a few pages for the author to demonstrate his manifest skill to his audience. Big Deal is skillfully written to an extent to which most of us who are mere poker hacks can only dream.
In addition to the storytelling, Holden both explains the game of poker and provides insights into the strategy behind it. I have to say, though, that it's clear to me that his skill as a writer far outstrips his skill as a poker player. A great deal of what he says describing the nature and history of the game is excellent, but some of the plays he makes elicit grimaces from this reader. Big Deal does a fantastic job of evoking the spirit of the game, but as a strategy guide, it falls short.
This should not be taken as a criticism of this fine book. There are plenty of other good books to read for strategy, but few that can be counted as true poker literature. Big Deal is absolutely one of them. Reading this book will probably not improve the reader's game much, although at least Holden gives us a multitude of interesting poker situations one can think about, but through its narrative it provides a glimpse of the true nature of poker. This is an elusive quarry, but the soul of poker is as well illuminated in this book as it has been anywhere.
This is a story about a man's love affair with the game of poker. Those poker players who have no need for a philosophical inquiry into the deeper meaning of poker as a spiritual phenomenon can probably skip this book. Those who are interested only in information they can use to improve their game won't find what they're looking for here. However, I am certain that those who believe that there is something magical about the game of poker and who love a well-told story will be completely won over by Big Deal. I highly recommend this book as one of the finest examples of poker literature ever written.
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