“Big Deal” Review

[LL] “Very few poker books have a protagonist, a plot, and an unpredictable conclusion”, Leroy the Lion claimed. “Big Deal by journalist, author,1 and budding poker player Anthony Holden, provides all of that.”

[SS] “Who’s the villain?” Stan the Stat wondered.

[LL] “In poker, all of your opponents are villains.”

[RR] “And you’re always the hero, whether you’re making hero calls or not”, Roderick the Rock added.

[LL] “Introduced to the Tuesday Night Game by writer Al Alvarez, Holden became a regular in the weekly poker event way back in 1978. That same year, he was sent to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker as a reporter and returned almost every year as an observer except for playing in the WSOP Media Tournament. But at the 1988 WSOP, Holden used his recent blackjack and poker winnings to take a flyer on a $1,000 Main Event satellite, and he managed to win the seat, becoming the only Brit in a field of 167 players competing for a $700,000 first prize and 35 other pieces of a $1,670,000 prize pool.

Encouraged by his result, his wife, affectionately referred to as the Moll, gives him the idea of playing poker for a ‘year’, so he doesn’t even need to ask for permission. Although the subtitle of the book promises ‘A Year as a Professional Poker Player’, very little poker happens during the half year between the 1988 World Series of Poker Main Event and November 1988. Fortunately, Holden has more than enough material from his six actual months of poker playing.

Along the way, he regales you with playing card and poker history and stories about the Nick Dandolos-Johnny Moss marathon2, Titanic Thompson’s prop bets, and several of Amarillo Slim’s adventures, including his Super Bowl of Poker. But Holden’s own personal poker stories don’t pale by comparison. He travels around the world, faces many top players such as Johnny Moss and Bobby Baldwin. The aspiring player even flies all the way to New Orleans to play in a illegal poker festival and never gets to play a hand. The story concludes with the 1989 WSOP Main Event, where his starting table includes Stu Ungar and Telly Savalas. I won’t spoil the ending, but you know he didn’t win that one either…”

Title Big Deal
Author Anthony Holden
Year 1990
Skill Level Any
Pros Entertaining stories from a year of poker.
Cons Very little educational value. Anticlimactic ending.
Rating 3.0


  1. His thirty-plus non poker books include biographies of Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Mozart, Shakespeare, and Tchaikovsky. He would go on to write two other two poker books: the sequel Bigger Deal: A Year Inside the Poker Boom and the poetically named Holden on Hold’Em: How to Play and Win at the Biggest Deal in Town.
  2. Holden gives the year as 1949, but 1951, when Benny Binion opened Binion’s Horseshoe, makes more sense. He also spells The Greek’s name “Dandalos”, a fairly common misspelling.

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