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Swimming with the Devilfish

"Swimming with the Devilfish," authored by Des Wilson, offers an inside look at British professional poker. In this way, the book seeks to find a niche within the poker book market. While it has some success, the book falls short in several ways.

For the sake of disclosure, I received a copy of the book from the book's PR or publisher. Lest anyone think that this will effect my review, just keep reading.

"Devilfish" is less about Dave "Devilfish" Ulliot and more about British poker in general. The book starts off at a virtual stand-still. Des Wilson does a terrible job of introducing poker and its history to the reader. It's essentially the same as how every poker television show starts with a prefunctory explanation of hand rankings. However, instead of this, you get an explanation of the poker boom, followed by some brief WSOP history when Wilson goes to the WSOP to chronicle the "Usual Suspects'" (Wilson's terribly fabricated term for the British pros) run, about midway through the book.

Surprisingly, however, with a little bit of editing, the book wouldn't be too bad. In fact, once you get past the history lessons, complete with over generalizations, the book's insight into the British players is fairly interesting, less so because they are British, but rather because they are poker players. Wilson treats each pro with two to six pages, with some players popping up again later in the book. The result is a very varied look at life as a pro. Devilfish himself is mentioned only briefly and given the same treatment as the rest of the pros, but likely makes the title and cover because of his crossover appeal. Andrew "the Monk" Black gets a nice write-up, along with some insight into his crying episode at the WSOP. The Hendon Mob are probably the most interesting of the bunch, mostly because of their ability to admit that they aren't the best players, but still strive to improve their game while being well marketed. (FYI, they are now part of Team Full Tilt, after leaving their affiliation with one of the UK sites).

Basically, the book serves as a great survey of the variety of attitudes and backgrounds in the poker community. Whatever the case, Des Wilson seems to hold American poker up on a pedestal in a way that really minimizes the accomplishments and skills of the UK players. One of my favorite quotes regards UK professional poker player Donnacha O'Dea: "A charming man, Donnacha...Except that he's been winning for thirty years and he's sat down with Brunson and Co. in the big game in Vegas and came out alive." CAME OUT ALIVE?! Sure, "Brunson and Co." are legends. But to treat them like this just makes the UK players seem like small potatoes. Of course, as an American, I was pleased. But if I was a Brit, I'd be sneering with my yellow crooked teeth.

Ultimately, Des Wilson just doesn't seem to get it. His history of the poker boom is the first hint. His treatment of the players as pros, but not American quality pros is another. And finally, his ultimate determination that poker is a game that is evil at its core, preying on the weak (although tournament poker is apparently just good ole fun) is the straw that breaks the camel's back. What he does well, though, is interview and retell the stories of the pros.

Should you buy the book? If you are looking to improve your game, No. If you are looking to get some insight into the world of professionals, though, go right ahead. Just skip the introductory paragraphs and take it for what it is.

In a hand ranking scale system, Swimming with the Devilfish is simple pair. It'll do the job in a pinch, but it's not a hand you strive to reach.

posted by Jordan @ 6:59 PM,


At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope you don't live on the upper east side.

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

No, Kip, but I work just a few blocks away. It was the talk of the morning, with everything looking out the window at the smoke.

More interestingly, AC Casinos were shut down after July 4th due to NJ's failure to decide on a budget (the AC Casinos have NJ gov't overwatching them, so no budget = no watchdogs = order to shut down casinos).


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