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Big Deal by Anthony Holden

Release date: 05th August, 2002
Publisher: Abacus

List Price: £8.99
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Ever wondered what it would be like to be a professional poker player? - even if you just did it for a year, wellÖ you needn't wonder any longer as 'Big Deal', which is subtitled as 'one year as a professional poker player' is the mesmerising story of a the time spent by best selling biographer Anthony Holden in the mysterious world of professional poker.

From Las Vegas to Malta to Morocco from cruise ships to dingy card rooms mingling with the greats and not-so greats of the game and perfecting his own poker skills, Holden talks us through his experiences, the ups and downs of life playing poker for a living. He reveals what he learnt about this enigmatic world of cards and gambling and what home truths he learnt about himself along the way. Holden insists throughout this book that poker isn't really gambling; it is in fact a paradigm of life at its most intense, a kind of gladiatorial contest that can bring out the best and worst emotions in people and the pages of the book are packed full of examples to back this up. The author recounts tales of the eccentric characters he meets on his twelve-month long journey along with all the detailed action of the exciting games he ends up playing along the way. This is a truly fantastic read and has to be my favourite poker book of all time.

'Big Deal' is something of an iconic book in the world of poker and gambling; it has achieved rave reviews from a variety of poker authorities and has been praised as a classic by many enthusiasts of the game. Holden writes with great wit and passion, which serves to further engage the interest of the reader. Although the author is more widely famous for his biographies on people such as; Tchaikovsky, Laurence Olivier and Prince Charles, his real love is for the game of poker, a love which resonates throughout the pages of this captivating book.

A quick glance at the amusing and enticing chapter titles on the contents page is all one needs for a whetted appetite and motivation to read on and once the reader gets within the pages of these tantalizingly entitled chapters there is a feeling that you are reading something that one day you will definitely want to read again.

Holden sets the scene early by describing his plan of action to the reader. He has finished his final journalism job and from the £20k he has earned from doing it, he arms himself with a $20k bank roll and sets about the task in hand - to be a poker professional for twelve months. Out of this initial $20k bank roll, it is decreed that he must pay all travel expenses and incidentals in relation to his new 'career' and he must 'earn' his $10k entry fee to the World Series main event. He describes how his challenge during the period from one World Series to the next will be two-fold, in that he must finish the year in profit and improve his world ranking.

From the start, it becomes apparent to the reader that although Big Deal is fundamentally a poker book, it is not wholly about the beautiful game, it is more about the author's experiences, the psychological warfare that exists when living off the game and the author's perceptions and experiences of life as a 'professional' poker player. It is so different to much of the dry and egotistical literature that is currently available on poker; although there are a few hints and tips, the odd instructional / mathematical table of probabilities and the occasional hand history, any hand or situation he does describe is done with humour, wit and a kind of self deprecation that is present as a key undertone to the book, which makes every word of every chapter so readable. This is in short, a novel about a man's truly interesting and enchanting life trying to make his way as a professional poker player.

For the amateur and serious poker enthusiast, this book serves as a real tempter to want to emulate the author. Right from the outset, Holden sets an exciting scene for the reader and manages to generate a real feeling of being right there alongside him whilst he plays and recounts details of the exciting games and enthralling situations he finds himself in. Early on in the adventure, the excitement for the author's voyage to poker professionalism is set when he manages to qualify for the main event of the WSOP ('the big one') and the happiness you feel for him as a reader and someone who has been in that situation before of wanting to play but never having the means to do it really gets you in the mood to read on and follow the incredible journey that you know is going to unfold in the next 300 or so pages.

Big Deal, although mainly about Holden and his life and time as a 'pro' is also littered with humorous accounts of when he met, played with and interviewed the legends and stars of the game such as Amarillo Slim, Stu Unger and Doyle Brunson to name just a few. This produces some amusing tales and some entertaining anecdotes, which punctuate the general themes of each chapter and serve as a reminder that this book is real, it isn't some made up fantasy of what might have happened using false characters and made up players, this is an actual account using real players that we have all seen and heard of in real games where the author was a key part of the action, this is what makes the book so special - the realness of it.

Although there is a real feel-good factor about this book and the author is generally positive and chirpy (if a little self defamatory) throughout, we are reminded by him of the harsh reality that poker can be a brutal game at times and that even after a year's hard work and emotional instability you may only have a marginal profit or even a loss to show for it. Holden's aim in this book is not to dress up the game and romanticise it, nor is it his mission to encourage every young aspiring player to take up the game professionally, he is simply giving his amusing account of his year as a 'professional', telling us what he went through - the good, the bad, the ugly and the outright strange. It is honest, well written, funny and a truly excellent book, where each chapter ends with an exciting finish, which is a kind of prelude to the next and eventually it becomes a book that is quite simply 'unputdownable'.

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