Published by Simon & Schuster
Bigger Deal: A Year Inside The Poker Boom by Anthony Holden
When it comes to books about sports and competition, a lot of the most enjoyable ones are fictional. Along these lines, you may have seen a positive review for Alison Sommer’s Teammates: On Ice here before, and the truth is that this is just one of many great examples of engaging sports fiction. Just to name a few, people interested in this genre may also want to take a look at Chad Harbach’s The Art Of Fielding, John Grisham’s Bleachers, and Fredrik Backman’s Beartown (which was recently adapted for HBO in what Paste Magazine referred to as an “outstanding, unsparing series).
But while there are a lot of great fictional books about sports and competition, there are also some real-world stories well worth reading. And one such book is Bigger Deal: A Year Inside The Poker Boom by Anthony Holden.
Rather than jumping into what this book is and what makes it compelling, it’s best to dive into what led up to it. In 1992 — 15 years before Bigger Deal: A Year Inside The Poker Boom was published — Holden wrote the book Big Deal: A Year As A Professional Poker Player. The book chronicled a year Holden spent on the professional poker circuit, learning the ins and outs of how the pros operate and attempting to make a living through the game. Publishers Weekly characterized it as a tale infused with “literate sophistication and urban wit,” and framed it essentially as a comprehensive introduction to highly competitive poker. The book explored the psychology of the game, theories on gambling from famous individuals, the lives of pros, and the intricacies of individual games (and pots of money won and lost).
What’s fascinating in retrospect is what happened to professional poker in the aftermath of this introduction from Holden. Essentially, it blew up. In the late 1990s, two developments took poker to new heights: the film Rounders became a cult classic, and poker went online in a major way. Combined, these developments sparked a massive wave of amateur players aspiring to the pro level, which in turn boosted the attention paid to World Series of Poker events. These events, in the early 2000s, were televised on ESPN alongside major sports. And according to Poker.org, some of the best players from these evens (and pro poker in general) have since managed to rake in fortunes of tens of millions of dollars.
In short, the poker world Holden wrote about in 1992 was a sort of niche circuit — competitive to be sure, but little known. In the 10 years that followed however, the game exploded into an internationally prominent, televised spectacle with lucrative cash prizes and famous players at its core.
Consider this transformation, and the title of Holden’s follow-up — Bigger Deal — suddenly makes a great deal of sense. The second book is a rare, if not unprecedented instance in which an authority on an emerging professional game got to take a second look at the full-grown product. And the result is an insightful and frankly fascinating look into what Holden himself wrote in NYTimes.com was a “radically different world.”
For poker fans, it’s a fresh perspective on the oft-discussed “boom” that took poker to new heights. But even for those who don’t have an existing interest in the game, it’s an engaging examination of a once-in-a-lifetime cultural phenomenon.