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"Fast Company" Review

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TitleFast Company: How Six Master Gamblers Defy the Odds - and Always Win
AuthorJon Bradshaw
Skill Levelany
ProsGreat stories from two old-time poker players and even more outrageous tales from four other gamblers.
ConsOnly two of the six gamblers were poker players, making up a third of the book.

Table of Contents
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9Pug Pearson
31Bobby Riggs
79Minnesota Fats
127Tim Holland
145Johnny Moss
197Titanic Thompson

The Riggs chapter is missing from the actual Table of Contents. Page numbers are from the 2003 edition.

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For Fast Company: How Six Master Gamblers Defy the Odds - and Always Win Jon Bradshaw interviewed poker players Puggy Pearson and Johnny Moss, tennis player Bobby Riggs, pool player Minnesota Fats, backgammon player Tim Holland, and general hustler Titanic Thompson, who were united by their desire to have the better end of every bet they made.

Thompson is actually considered to be a poker player, but could only be considered a professional at poker cheating.1

His biggest claim to poker fame was that he helped con Arnold Rothstein in a Five-Card Stud game; the collection of that debt ended up in Rothstein's murder by George McManus.

While Tim Holland's chapter may only be of interest to backgammon players, although it is the shortest of the six. He originally excelled at golf before he discovered backgammon and used his math skills to quickly become good.

Rudolf Walter Wanderone, Jr. was a good pool player who called himself New York Fats. When the pool movie, The Hustler, came out in 1961, he initially wanted to sue the production company because Jackie Gleason played a somewhat similar pool shark named "Minnesota Fats". But instead, he adopted the name for himself and instantly became much more famous. He too played in the 1970 World Series of Poker because Benny Binion was collecting the top poker players and gamblers and was also not asked back because his illiteracy was considered to reflect badly on the Horseshoe and the WSOP.2

Bobby Riggs is by far the most famous of the six men outside of the poker community. He was one of the best few tennis players in the world in his prime. His chapter includes many of his greatest hustles as well as the "Battle of the Sexes" with Margaret Court, the number one female player in the world at the time, and Billie Jean King, a former and future number one. Rumor has it that the latter was also a hustle as Riggs bet against himself. The match aired live on national television and was still relevant nearly half a century later when it was made into a movie starring Steve Carell and Emma Stone.

Puggy Pearson's chapter is the second shortest in the book and talks almost as much about golf as it does about poker. It mostly covers his half-dozen years as a road gambler from 1951 to 1957, which included the expected cheating and hijackings. To save the bulk of his bankroll, he would hide it on the ground by driving his car tire over it.

Johnny Moss's chapter is the longest in the book and may be the original source of much of the myth about his marathon match with Nick "The Greek" Dandolos, which is placed in 1951. Moss claims to have been up playing poker for four straight days when Benny Binion summoned him to Las Vegas. They played Five-Card Stud for two months; Seven-Card Stud Hi/Lo, Deuce-to-Seven Draw, and Kansas City Lowball for two to three weeks, Five-Card Draw for half a week, and Ace-to-Five Draw for the rest of the time. The book accounts for a little under $700,000 in winnings for Moss over the course of four to five months, including $200,000 in Five-Card Stud despite the huge pot he lost when Dandolos sucked out on fifth street by pairing his hole Jack. The Greek's parting words are given as "Well, I guess I got to let you go, Mr. Moss."3

The first three years of the World Series of Poker get some ink, but a detailed recap of the 1973 Main Event is the highlight of the book, spreading across twenty-four pages. The 1974 Main Event, which Moss won, gets a tiny addendum at the end of the chapter.

Overall, Fast Company provides a great look at five of the more colorful gamblers of the 1970s and earlier, along with one misplaced backgammon player who doesn't even consider himself a gambler. Although less than half of the book is about poker, almost all of it is entertaining.

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