Wandering writer and poker aficionado Holden (William Shakespeare, 2000, etc.) tries to revisit the scene of earlier glories.
Big Deal, his 1990 account of life on the pro poker circuit, is considered by authorities as varied as Salman Rushdie and the New York Times to be one of the great books on the game. So Holden spied in the recent explosion (and subsequent semi-implosion) of poker-mania an opportunity to go back and see how things had changed, if at all. He sets up his story as a ramshackle sort of gambling odyssey: barnstorming from Vegas to London to Monte Carlo and back again, playing cards and bumping into old buddies, trading war stories of life as an itinerant journalist. (Besides writing about gambling for various publications, he’s also a classical-music critic.) The whole journey turns on his desire to win—or at least not embarrass himself in—the World Series of Poker. Apart from its exceedingly detailed accounts of Holden’s various matches, the narrative bends to accommodate any of the author’s passing interests. It’s difficult to begrudge Holden the chance to make his hobby into a working holiday, and he certainly does have an interesting passel of friends, ranging from seasoned old card sharps to political gadfly Christopher Hitchens. But this book is ultimately only for those interested in pages of entries like the following: “1:10p.m.: Up to $3750. Thanks to 8-8 on my big blind (now $200), with a flop of 7-8-9, including two hearts.”