The best poker biographies [Editorial]

The best poker biographies [Editorial]

Monday, 8 August 2011

If you’re anything like me, which in a poker sense of the word you likely are, then you enjoy living vicariously through others. That’s what makes the high stakes games so fun to watch; that’s what draws millions of spectators to ESPN when the World Series of Poker Main Event is broadcast; that’s what causes legions of fanboys to follow the every move of Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan and their stupid amounts of money.

I’ve spent a decent amount of time reviewing books for Bluff Europe but they’ve all been pure strategy. This time I want to give you something a little different in the shape of poker biographies.

Here is where I might be alone, because I’ve always enjoyed (auto)biographical publications, assuming they are well-written and interesting. Frank Skinner’s is one of my favourites but to the best of my knowledge he has never won an EPT event.

I have many favourite biographies in poker, here are my top four. Four, you say. That seems like a silly number to review. Well it just so happens to be the number of biographies that are poker-related and on my bookshelf so that’s that.

For Richer, For Poorer: My Love Affair With Poker by Victoria Coren.

Team PokerStars Pro and former EPT London champion Vicky Coren would be the first to admit that she is a writer first and poker player second, even after six-figure tournament victories and a sponsorship deal with PokerStars making her one of the most recognisable faces in UK poker.

That, plus the fact that it’s quite impossible to not fall at least a smidgen in love with her throughout the course of the book, makes For Richer, For Poorer an excellent read.

Detailing Coren’s introduction to poker, her early work in the more media-based side of the game and her personal friendships and relationships with British poker’s founding fathers, the book covers not only an interesting life but an interesting era in poker.

The introduction of the hole-card cam on the first season of soon-to-return Late Night Poker; the formation of The Hendon Mob and their grandiose (at the time) plans for poker sponsorship and the 2003 WSOP all feature in this book that not only charts Coren’s beginnings as a degenerate roulette player and her rise to EPT champion but also poker’s beginnings as a seedy backroom game and its rise to... well, the EPT.

Coren’s EPT final table – well, choice hands from it – are interspersed between chapters which is about all the poker strategy you will find in these pages. A must read for those who enjoy poker or Coren’s writing work, or both.

Devilfish: The Life And Times Of A Poker Legend by Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott.

Remember up in the intro when I cited Frank Skinner’s autobiography as one of my favourites? Comedians tend to have awesome autobiographies because... well, they’re funny. Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott is no comedian though some may argue that he missed his calling. Anyone who has ever heard Ulliott say anything knows that he has a seemingly infinite reserve of hilarious one-liners and they all feature here in a book that will have you wetting yourself from start to finish.

Not only that, but Ulliott is just pretty badass. Beginning as a hustler, sports bettor and safe-cracker on the mean streets of Hull, the book chronicles his turning to poker for income and then profession. The Omaha specialist goes back even further than Coren, meaning that you not only see the rise of the game but also its seedy underbelly. You don’t see Vicky pulling out a gun in a back alley after winning thousands from gangsters, do you?

The Godfather Of Poker by Doyle Brunson and Mike Cochran.

If you own a copy of Super/System (heh, “if”) then you’ve read a short summary of this book. The opening chapters of Brunson’s seminal work (hell, the seminal work) tell of a promising track and basketball athlete whose dreams (and leg) were crushed in an industrial accident. After his recovery, at his next job, he won a months’ wages in an hour on a lunch break playing Seven Card Stud. A legend was born.

This book is the book of poker biographies. Every single big name in poker history (close to no exaggeration) features in this story with Brunson having been The Godfather Of Poker for more than half a century. Name a poker pro or industry bigwig in the past fifty years and I’ll bet even money that their name crops up in this book.

In short, this book is not only a history of Brunson’s life but a history of poker – the two are somewhat synonymous.

The Professor, The Banker And The Suicide King by Michael Craig.

Strictly speaking, not a biography, though it does give background information on billionaire Andy Beal as well as such poker luminaries as Jennifer Harman, Howard Lederer, Chip Reese, both Brunsons and more besides.

This book, superbly written by venerable author Michael Craig, documents the biggest poker game ever played between billionaire Limit Hold ‘em heads-up specialist Andy Beal and a team of poker pros known as The Corporation who pooled their bankrolls to the tune of $20,000,0000 in order to take on Beal.

Essentially, it’s what would have happened had Guy LaLiberte been awesome at poker.

Without spoiling the events of the book, it features heads-up Limit Hold ‘em games as high as $100,000/$200,000 and eight-figure victories – and thus eight-figure losses. If you thought the high stakes poker world was close to going bankrupt when Tom “durrrr” Dwan was heads-up for a bracelet in 2010, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Tags: Doyle Brunson, Victoria Coren, Dave Ulliott, Michael Craig, Andy Beal