These days there are a lot of good books available that chronicle the events at a major poker tournament such as the World Series of Poker. The idea for this type of book isn't a new one, however.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/ Al Alvarez covered the world of high-stakes poker in the early 80s and broke ground as the father of contemporary poker literature. Many of those who have come to poker over the last few years may not be familiar with some of the finest in "old school" poker writing. Therefore, as we approach the 2005 World Series of Poker it is worth pointing out some of the great poker writing of years past.
Poker around 1980 was much different than it is now. This was two decades before multiple days of televised tournaments and hole card cameras. This was before bookstores were flooded with how-to books, celebrities flocked to poker tournaments, and people around the world were able to gain years of poker experience in just a few months by playing online 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Today's poker has become scientific and computerized, endlessly analyzed and sanitized for public consumption. The poker about which Alvarez writes was just emerging from carefully guarded back rooms where players faced the prospect of losing their bankrolls not just to better hands, but to cheats, bandits, or law enforcement. This milieu was inhabited by colorful characters who survived by their wits living on the fringes of civilized society.
No one in their right mind would deny that poker is far better off now than it was in those days. Still, memories of those days carry with them a romanticism that isn't found in poker today. Fortunately Alvarez was there to capture the spirit of the game of poker right at the end of an era. He does so through masterful use of the English language, demonstrating the ability to capture the soul of the events he witnesses. Alvarez provides a portrait that illustrates that essence of poker as skillfully as anyone who has ever made the attempt.
The Biggest Game in Town is a collection of poker stories. He interviews the people who at that time were the biggest names in the game and weaves them into a compelling narrative. These are people who were practically unknown at the time but whose names have taken on an almost mythic quality over the course of a single generation. Poker enthusiasts should be grateful that their thoughts have been captured for posterity, and especially grateful that the immortalization process has been done so eloquently.
This isn't a strategy book, and most of the advice and stories that Alvarez recounts have been repeated so many times over the years that they have become cliches. Reading this book won't provide an advantage over the green felt, but it is nonetheless a pillar of the poker literary canon. The author not only is capable of communicating the flavor of the events and people he has encountered, but he clearly has a deep understanding of poker that guides his writing. This is one of the most entertaining books ever written about poker, and I recommend it highly.
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