Wednesday, June 28, 2006
When I first heard word of this book, I got a horrible sinking feeling. My gut reaction, based purely on the title, was 'poker boom cash-in'.
As it happens, I needn't have worried. A glowing back-page testimonial from friend-of-the-author Anthony Holden set my mind at rest, and within a few pages I was hooked.
The title in itself is slightly misleading. This book is not purely about The Devilfish, though he does merit several chapters to himself. Which effectively comprise a concise biography of his life from larcenous teenage years through to his current luxurious lifestyle as a poker personality, as well as player.
Instead what the reader is treated to is a series of mini-biographies of many of the old timers from the UK and Ireland scene - who blazed a trail on Late Night Poker, and who are collectively labelled The Usual Suspects by the author.
Players such as Dave Colclough, Simon Trumper, Lucy Rokach, and The Hendon Mob are covered in detail.
Newer arrivals on the scene, such as Andrew Black and Paul Jackson, are also given their due.
It is one of the strengths of the book that each story is told predominantly in the words of the subject. The author, Des Wilson, spent a lot of time with the players and clearly gained their confidence.
The narrative thread which brings these biographies together is a history of the UK poker scene covering casino venues such as The Vic in London; the underground 'spielers', where poker really was played behind reinforced doors in run down buildings; and more recently the quasi-legal poker rooms such as Gutshot and The Western; and the online exploits of both old and new generations.
Wilson also examines the dark side of life on the poker circuit. The strange hours, bad eating habits, financial strains, and destructive effect on family life which the lifestyle can impose on the full-time pros.
He investigates the way some spieler games were built around a solitary 'star'. Not a great player, but a weak one. Usually a rich amateur on whom the pros feasted.
The biggest strength of this book is the honesty of the players to whom Wilson has gained access.
While they clearly love the game, they do not shirk from their woes - be they going broke, a compulsion to gamble winnings away on craps, or in some cases, brushes with the law which have led to jail time.
The difference between cash and tournament poker is explained, and the author offers his own thoughts on the future of the game - which you may, or may not, agree with.
This book is a great behind-the-scenes insight into the life of the pros. Less glamorous than one might expect, and laden with pitfalls.
Personally, I was amazed by the diabolical bankroll management skills some pros exhibit, but in awe of their ability to bounce back, and envious of their freewheeling approach to life.
There is, however, a note of caution for those who idealise the poker pro lifestyle, as several of the older players confess to having no financial planning in place for their retirement, and instead foresee their playing career extending well into their elderly years.
My one criticism would be on the production side.
While the book is well written, it would have benefited from a more scrupulous proof reading by someone who knew the poker scene well.
Several irritating mistakes on things such as the spelling of player names, and sudden switches between $ and £ signs disrupted my concentration on the narrative.
Still these are relatively trivial complaints. On the whole this is a compelling read, and a worthy addition to any poker library.