“Diary of a Mad Poker Player” Review

[LL] “Like a lot of us, Richard Sparks prefers to be playing poker instead of doing his actual job, which is writing”, Leroy the Lion began. “Struggling with what to write next, he plays online poker as a diversion when the big light bulb illuminates over his head, and he realizes that he can write about playing poker. Specifically, he’ll document how he qualifies for and plays in the World Series of Poker Main Event1 over the next nine weeks.”

[RR] “I think we all had that hope, I mean the qualifying part not the writing part,” Roderick the Rock suggested, “at least before Black Friday.”

[LL] “Yes, he was writing during the good old days of the Internet poker boom. This book went from current events to nostalgia pretty quickly.”

[RR] “So the book hasn’t aged well?”

[LL] “Actually, it has, relative to other poker books written around the same time, such as the ones that feature Limit Hold ‘Em. And hopefully Sparks’s story will be relevant again soon, and we can return to dreaming about turning a few bucks into a WSOP Main Event buyin.”

[RR] “And a huge cash there!”

[LL] “Since Sparks isn’t able to get an advance for the book, his online poker endeavor is funded from the money he already has in his accounts, his credit card, and even a transfer from his wife (who may actually be the best poker player in the family).

His journey is instructional (sometimes for what not to do), as he slips in a fair amount of strategy advice as he discusses hands from his own experiences, Chris Moneymaker, Sammy Farha, and other famous players. Unfortunately, just because he knows what to do doesn’t mean he does it. His satellite attempts continue to be unsuccessful, and an attempt to build his bankroll through cash games does no better.

Even with his days dwindling, Sparks finds time to be a journalist, especially with his investigation of cheating in online poker. He interviews employees from the then-biggest online sites — PartyPoker, ParadisePoker, and PokerStars in that order — all of whom assure him that they have significant controls in place to detect the most likely form of cheating, collusion. Sparks even pulls it off himself, but since he does it at play money tables, he absolves the site for not catching him.2

SPOILER: (select text to see) The biggest weakness of the book is that Sparks fails to qualify for the Main Event and chooses not to buy in for $10,000. Just when the excitement of the book should be peaking, he becomes just another journalist writing about the tourney instead of continuing with his personal experience in the Championship.

Still, Diary of a Mad Poker Player is an enjoyable read with many entertaining and educational side trips, another case where it really is about the journey not the destination.”

Title Diary of a Mad Poker Player: A Journey to the World Series of Poker
Author Richard Sparks
Year 2005
Skill Level any
Pros Well written mix of history (especially the early days of online poker and its legality), strategy, and personal anecdotes.
Cons Too much minutiae about the author, including poker chat transcripts, and not enough about the 2004 Main Event.
Rating 2.5


  1. At least three authors had the idea before him: Anthony Holden, Al Alvarez, and James McManus, but Sparks was the first to write about trying to qualify through online satellites.
  2. The Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet scandal hadn’t been uncovered yet. It’s a bit ironic that the sites focused so much on preventing their users from cheating, but the biggest problems turned out to be internal.

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