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Bigger Deal

When I first started reading Anthony Holden's Bigger Deal I didn't know what to expect. I knew that Holden was the author of Big Deal, a seminal late-1980s look at the world of poker, but I didn't know much else. Hell, I hadn't even read Big Deal, but I received a free copy of Bigger Deal (that's my disclosure, people), so I thought I'd at least give the book a chance.

In the world of poker books, there are two basic models: (1) How To Guides, like Super/System and Harrington on Holdem, and (2) narratives, like Stuey Ungar biography One of A Kind and McManus' Positively Fifth Street. Between the two, I am a much bigger fan of the latter. How To guides are undoubtedly helpful, especially to newer players, but after a while, I've found them to be tedious. The narratives, however, are usually interesting. After all, its the life behind poker that I yearn to read about. The game is the game. There is only so many times you can read about playing AK.

That said, poker narratives often suffer from their own problems. First, there is usually always a chapter or more on the basics. I've read a good dozen poker narratives, and at least 8 of them went through the history of the WSOP (from the Binions Horseshoe promotion to its present form, complete with internal family and business strife). Bigger Deal had the chapter, and like most books, it was fairly early on, but once I was able to skim through it, I got to the book proper, and overall, I liked what there was to see.

Holden is a British mostly-freelance writer, and he's been covering poker for years, long before some of the Johnny-Come-Latelies now writing. The book covers the period of time between the 2004 and 2005 WSOPs (Greg Raymer's win and Joe Hachem's win), by traveling to all sorts of places in Holden's quest to re-enter the world of poker in earnest. As a result, the book comes off as a mix between a yearly recap/journal, and an interesting travel guide into some random poker places.

Holden's writing probably excels in two topics: (1) the atmosphere of tournament poker and (2) the generational change, specifically in reference to online poker.

When Holden writes about his experiences in large field tournaments, he does it in a way that really captures the experience. Between his descriptions of the players around him and the hands he played, I was able to get a real feel for the environments. His self-introspection following tournaments especially hit home, at times making him feel dejected, and at others like he was king of the world. As someone with limited big tournament experience (but ample small tournament experience), I could relate to a lot of his introspections while I soaked in the atmospheres he recreates with words.

Surprisingly, Holden also excels when it comes to writing about online poker and more generally the generation gap between the old school poker world and the new school. Of course, Holden goes through the history of online poker and the resulting Moneymaker boom, which can be tedious, but he also offers an interesting perspective. After the history lesson (another staple for poker narratives), his editorialized view of the shift in the poker world is what really hits home. He touches upon the change in play, the change in personalities, and the effects on poker in general and big events like the WSOP specifically. He even does a great job of discussing UK v. US laws on online gambling, and the recent threats to US online poker.

Overall, I'm giving Holden's book a top-pair, top-kicker in the lexicon of poker rankings. It's a good book, but its a bit typical. That said, if you are looking for a new poker read, you can do a lot worse. Holden is a fine writer and his book offers a lot of interesting views of the poker world. You just might have to skim over some of the more standard fare (seeming required-chapters for any poker book) to get to the meat of it all.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 9:13 AM,


At 11:43 AM, Blogger KajaPoker said...

I'm reading Bigger Deal right now and am not really impressed. I didn't read Big Deal, but heard it was good so I figured I would read the current version instead. I feel like I read better poker narratives in some of the blogs I read on a daily basis (this one definitely included) and to be honest I can't seem to get excited about Holden's story-telling. When he describes his tournaments, you either get a bad beat story or a double up. And then there's always the "oh, and I won that one" obscure tournament report.

On the flip side I am reading the FTP guide and boy, what a mess that one is. Each chapter is a total contradiction of the others and it feels like it is just all over the place.

I think I am done with poker books for a while. I might read Negraneau's book when it finally comes out. I guess it's taking a while because they have to re-edit it and take out all the Full Contact stuff to replace with PS plugs.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

I can recommend some great narratives, Kaja. Check out the biographies of Moneymaker, Ungar and Amarillo Slim. Each are great reads and offer a different insight into the poker world.

As I said, Holden's book is a bit typical. And I'll also agree that some of his tournament reports are vague, but its a different style than blogging. We are usually writing a day or at most a week after an event. I imagine Holden is looking back (maybe with notes) at these events, so you might not get individual hand history details, but parts about his play in the World Cup tournament and some of his ruminations following WSOP bustouts were well done and offered a different perspective.

At 3:54 PM, Blogger KajaPoker said...

damn, you make it sound better - now I have to finish the book.


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