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The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King by Michael Craig

Release date: 07th October, 2009
Publisher: Little, Brown

List Price: £11.99
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The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King
By Michael Craig price: £ 6.92, saving 42% on rrp

When, in 2001, an unfamiliar face appeared in the Bellagio's high stakes poker area looking for a bigger challenge than he had been facing at the casino's standard tables, no one could have guessed that what was about to unfold would be one of the biggest poker games in history. Not even the stranger knew that.

The man in question was Andy Beal, a banker and property magnate from Texas who had somehow risen without trace. Starting his business exploits as a boy, buying broken TV sets for a dollar or two, repairing them and selling then for 30 or 40, Beal had progressed through a series of inspired entrepreneurial activities until he had become a billionaire without attracting any public profile.

Not only were none of the poker giants in Las Vegas that day able to place the face of the new boy in town, Andy could safely give them his name and profession without any fear of a even a glimmer of recognition alighting on them.

Probably as much to his own surprise as anyone else's (he had more or less wandered into the Bellagio to fritter some time away) Beal proved to have an almost insatiable appetite for pushing up the stakes at poker. If a game failed to defeat him, the former blackjack card-counter would just step up a level, until there were no more levels to step up.

To cut a long story short, Beal soon had an arrangement whereby he could play heads-up against the world's top players by allowing them to pool their money in a syndicate that became known as The Corporation. Between 2001 and 2004, The Banker and The Corporation played with millions on the table, setting a record for the highest known swing in a single day of poker, with more than $11m crossing the table.

After a bad run, Beal quit the game. But he was back in 2006, playing with as much as $20m on the table, and with even bigger swings of fortune, until he again pulled out. And now, it seems, he's back again. He was spotted in the Bellagio in the middle of January, and followers of 'nosebleed' poker are waiting with bated breath for an even bigger game to start up.

If all this comes as news to you, then the ideal place to start the story is back at the beginning. Writer Michael Craig was near enough on the spot when Andy Beal strolled into town in 2001. He quickly picked up on the rumours of what was going on in Bobby's Room, became fascinated and began to chronicle the story. It wasn't easy, because none of the details were, strictly speaking, public information, but Craig pursued the facts as relentlessly as Beal pursued the poker pros.

The resulting book is a fine piece of journalism in its own right - but the story is, even in the bizarre world of poker, simply mind-boggling. A thoroughly recommended read - but be prepared to groan 'WTF' out loud at least once every five pages!

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