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Poker Book Review: The Biggest Game in Town

Poker Book Review: The Biggest Game in Town
by Chad Holloway of

Long before the poker boom of 2003, there existed the "good old days" of poker, which included the days of the road gambler and the rise of the World Series of Poker. Al Alvarez's The Biggest Game in Town delves into these days by documenting the world of high-stakes poker in Las Vegas in the late 1970s and early 1980s; more specifically, Alvarez explores the annual decent of top poker professionals on the W.S.O.P. The Biggest Game in Town, which was written in 1983, has become a cult classic and is what London's Evening Star has called "probably the best book on poker ever written."


In the book, Alvarez interviewed the big names in poker as they prepared to compete in the 1981 W.S.O.P. These players are not your run of the mill poker stars of today like Negreanu or Ivey, but rather the old school players who helped pave the way for the rise of poker. Poker legends such as Jack "Treetop" Strauss and "Grand Old Man" (Johnny Moss); Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson and Eric Drache; Stuey "The Kid" Ungar and Mickey Appleman; along with many others. The book is full of stories, conversations, and histories about these players and why they do what they do. On top of this, the book explains why Las Vegas is ideal for poker and could be the only stage for the W.S.O.P., describing gambling and Vegas as a sort of romance. Jonathan Storm of the Philadelphia Inquirer said it best: "[Alvarez's] observations of Las Vegas . . . often rise to the poetic. The book conveys an understanding of the gamblers and their milieu that can appeal to someone who has never seen a casino or doesn't care to." The excellent structure and delicate writing style make the book an easy and engaging read; in fact, I found myself having trouble even putting it down.

My favorite part about The Biggest Game in Town was how applicable it was to poker today, even though it was written so long ago. The same excitement and risk that is prevalent in poker today is captured on the pages of a book written almost three decades ago. The Biggest Game in Town is without a doubt one of the top five poker books I have ever read. It is a must read for anyone remotely interested in the people, places, and events that helped shape poker history. At 188 pages and a $15.95 price tag, Alvarez's work is simply a steal, and this doesn't take into consideration that you can probably pick up a copy at a used book store for much less!



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