Aces and Kings is a collection of fifteen mini-biographies of some of the most famous and colorful poker professionals. Most of these pieces focus on a single person although some deal with multipleNick 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/ luminaries as a group. These stories are arranged roughly in chronological order, starting with old school road gamblers such as Puggy Pearson, Amarillo Slim Preston, and Doyle Brunson and finishing up with young stars such as Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, and Erick Lindgren.
Many of the subjects of Aces and Kings have been covered in depth in other places. Of course, by now the life stories of Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim Preston will be very familiar to any well-read poker player. Stu Ungar's life is chronicled in greater detail in the recently released book, One of a Kind. Most others have been profiled in some form or fashion in other books or magazines.
For me, the most interesting parts of this book are the pieces covering players whose stories are less familiar. The narrations by Kaplan and Reagan concerning Erik Seidel, Men Nguyen, David "Devilfish" Ulliott, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, and Barry Greenstein are the ones that most held my attention, and that's entirely because I was less familiar with many elements of their backgrounds than some of the other players who have historically received more ink.
It is my opinion that each of these players has lived an interesting enough life to warrant much more coverage than they receive here. In fact, one could easily pen an entire book dedicated to most of the subjects of this book. Consequently, some of the time I felt that Aces and Kings would leave a story just as I was really getting into it. I expect that sacrificing some level of detail in order to cover more subjects will appeal to the majority of this book's audience, and even those thoroughly familiar with the people who inhabit the world of poker will still be entertained by this book.
There are a few places where the writing feels inauthentic to me. Early in the book cross-references between different biographies don't weave together as well as they might. Also, the authors occasionally get some minor details incorrect and sometimes miss a subtle poker nuance, but these slip-ups are rare, and only a hyper-critical poker junkie like myself is likely to be bothered by these missteps. It's clear that the authors spent considerable time researching their subjects, and they are more than capable of competently spinning the facts they have accumulated into compelling narratives.
Because of their brevity, the vignettes in Aces and Kings won't be the ultimate word on the poker players that Kaplan and Reagan have chosen to present. However, the stories that are here are well-chosen and well-constructed enough to make this a worthwhile read for those who are interested in these poker personalities. Some of the material here will be repetitive for those with extensive poker libraries, but even so, there's enough that's new here to make this book worth reading. There isn't any poker strategy here, but the authors do a good job of providing some insight into these poker champions. The bottom line is that Aces and Kings is entertaining, so I recommend it on that basis.
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