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"Big Deal" Review

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TitleBig Deal
AuthorAnthony Holden
Skill LevelAny
ProsEntertaining stories from a year of poker.
ConsVery little educational value. Anticlimactic ending.

Table of Contents
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1Living Right1
18The Big One2
44Shut Up and Deal3
61Read 'Em and Weep4
82On Tilt5
103The Hall of Fame6
133Enter the Shrink7
156Amarillo Slim's Super Bowl8
191An Earful of Cider9
215Run Out of Town10
244Cruising for a Bruising11
269The End of the Road12
287Appendix A: The Ranking of Hands
289Appendix B: Select Bibliography
293Appendix C: Acknowledgments
297Appendix D: Glossary of Poker Terms

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Very few poker books have a protagonist, a plot, and an unpredictable conclusion. Big Deal by journalist, author,1 and budding poker player Anthony Holden, provides all of that. In poker, all of your opponents are villains, and you're always the hero, whether you're making hero calls or not.

Introduced to the Tuesday Night Game by writer Al Alvarez, Holden became a regular in the weekly poker event way back in 1978. That same year, he was sent to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker as a reporter and returned almost every year as an observer except for playing in the WSOP Media Tournament. But at the 1988 WSOP, Holden used his recent blackjack and poker winnings to take a flyer on a $1,000 Main Event satellite, and he managed to win the seat, becoming the only Brit in a field of 167 players competing for a $700,000 first prize and 35 other pieces of a $1,670,000 prize pool.

Encouraged by his result, his wife, affectionately referred to as the Moll, gives him the idea of playing poker for a "year", so he doesn't even need to ask for permission. Although the subtitle of the book promises "A Year as a Professional Poker Player", very little poker happens during the half year between the 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event and November 1988. Fortunately, Holden has more than enough material from his six months of actual poker playing.

Along the way, he regales you with playing card and poker history and stories about the Nick Dandolos-Johnny Moss marathon,2 Titanic Thompson's prop bets, and several of Amarillo Slim's adventures, including his Super Bowl of Poker. But Holden's own personal poker stories don't pale by comparison. He travels around the world, faces many top players such as Johnny Moss and Bobby Baldwin. The aspiring player even flies all the way to New Orleans to play in an illegal poker festival and never gets to play a hand. The story concludes with the 1989 WSOP Main Event, where his starting table includes Stu Ungar and Telly Savalas. Not to spoil the ending, but you know he didn't win that one either...

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