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"Diary of a Mad Poker Player" Review

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TitleDiary of a Mad Poker Player: A Journey to the World Series of Poker
AuthorRichard Sparks
Skill Levelany
ProsWell-written mix of history (especially the early days of online poker and its legality), strategy, and personal anecdotes.
ConsToo much minutiae about the author, including poker chat transcripts, and not enough about the 2004 Main Event.

Table of Contents
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3Chips in the Night1
12The W.S.O.P.2
19How to Play Hold Em3
27Nice Hand4
34My First Million5
42Good Play, Bad Play6
51Will - and Testicles7
71Abuse and Self-Abuse9
82Hardly Cricket10
88A Happy Ending11
96Phil and Ernie and Ernest and "Rita"12
102Cocktails on One!13
112Gambling and the Lawyer14
122Mayday! Mayday!15
128This Way Up16
134Back to Reality17
139My Team18
148The Last Chance Saloon19
153The Walking Dead20
162Elephant Spotting21
168The Face of Poker22
178The Other Side of the Screen - Part I23
187You Can't Bet On It24
199The Man Who Bluffed Himself25
210The Other Side of the Screen - Part II26
219Merely Players27
231Farewell Granada28
238The Final Table That Isn't29
244Like a Bandit30

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Like a lot of us, Richard Sparks prefers to be playing poker instead of doing his actual job, which is writing. Struggling with what to write next, he plays online poker as a diversion when the big light bulb illuminates over his head, and he realizes that he can write about playing poker. Specifically, he'll document how he qualifies for and plays in the World Series of Poker Main Event1 over the next nine weeks.

Since Sparks isn't able to get an advance for the book, his online poker endeavor is funded from the money he already has in his accounts, his credit card, and even a transfer from his wife (who may actually be the best poker player in the family).

His journey is instructional (sometimes for what not to do), as he slips in a fair amount of strategy advice as he discusses hands of his own and from Chris Moneymaker, Sammy Farha, and other famous players. Unfortunately, just because he knows what to do doesn't mean he does it. His satellite attempts continue to be unsuccessful, and an attempt to build his bankroll through cash games does no better.

Even with his days dwindling, Sparks finds time to be a journalist, especially with his investigation of cheating in online poker. He interviews employees from the then-biggest online sites -- PartyPoker, ParadisePoker, and PokerStars in that order -- all of whom assure him that they have significant controls in place to detect the most likely form of cheating, collusion. Sparks even pulls it off himself, but since he does it at play money tables, he absolves the site for not catching him.2

Tap to show spoiler.

Still, Diary of a Mad Poker Player is an enjoyable read with many entertaining and educational side trips, another case where it really is about the journey, not the destination.

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