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"Poker: Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats" Review

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TitlePoker: Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats
AuthorAl Alvarez
Skill Levelany
ProsPhotographic history of poker plus details of the 1994 World Series of Poker.
ConsFairly short book, especially given how much space is taken by photos.

Table of Contents
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8Introduction: Learning to Play
20Chapter 1: The American Game
30Chapter 2: Origins: From Gambling to Science
46Chapter 3: Character and Courage
58Chapter 4: Money: The Language of Poker
70Chapter 5: Bluff
84Chapter 6: Famous Hands and Bad Beats
98Chapter 7: The World Series, 1994
119Glossary of Poker Terms

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The New Yorker magazine paid Al Alvarez to return to the World Series of Poker Main Event in 1994,1 and his account of the tournament is one of the two sections of the coffee table book, Poker: Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats, published seven years later.

The other half of the book is basically a pictorial history of poker. Alvarez begins by explaining how to play the game and how he learned to play primarily from Herbert O. Yardley's 1957 book, The Education of a Poker Player.

While Las Vegas was the focus of his previous poker book, the rest of the country and other parts of the world get into the act here. Alvarez reproduces playing cards, postcards, paintings, posters, pages of books, and a panoply of other poker-related paraphernalia. Amongst the treasures are the illustrated Shakespeare on Poker, which attempts to link quotes from the Bard to the game.2

He then covers the history of poker, including the German game brag, the introduction of the 52-card deck (which added straights and flushes to the game in 1837), the first description of poker in a book (1844), jackpots, stud, Hold 'Em (which he dates back to the 19th century), and Omaha.

Among the many memorable quotes in the book are Amarillo Slim Preston's attitude toward playing the master of Five-Card Stud ("I'd rather catch frost on my winter peaches than play stud with Bill Boyd.")3 and Puggy Pearson's assessment of what a great poker player needs ("A gambler's ace is his ability to think clearly under stress. That's very important, because, you see, fear is the basis of all mankind.").

Alvarez claims he prepared to play in the World Series of Poker for about fifteen months, far longer than Colson Whitehead, at least.

Alvarez's own poker story recounts how he satellites into and plays two preliminary events ($1,500 Pot-Limit Hold 'Em and $2,500 No-Limit Hold 'Em) before entering the Main Event on his publisher's dime. The warm-ups do not help; he says he played bad, worse, and worst, mostly by being too tight-weak. But the show goes on without him, and the crowning of the champion ends up being quite a weighty topic. The book unfortunately doesn't include the wonderful caricature that accompanied the original New Yorker article. New world champion Russ Hamilton appears significantly bigger than his last two opponents, Hugh Vincent and John Spadavecchia, combined. Alvarez reported that the Horseshoe had prepared 300 pounds of silver ingots but were still 30 pounds short (for a bonus prize worth $28,512).

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