Editor's Pick - Big Deal by Anthony Holden - PokerListings.com

Editor's pick

One of the Top Poker Memoirs


Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player by Anthony Holden


  • Offers one of the few looks at the pre-Moneymaker professional poker circuit
  • An invaluable artifact of the history of the game
  • Plenty of interesting anecdotes and profiles of some of the game's most revered and historic figures and stages


  • Do not play tournament poker like the author
  • Focuses primarily on the author's unsuccessful tournament play and largely avoids his more successful cash games
  • Those not especially interested in the game may find it a little slow
  • Reads like it was cooked up as a book idea first, making some of the action seem a bit secondary


Anthony Holden's Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player is held in high regard by the poker literati as one of the finer examples of the poker memoir. General consensus among readers seems to rank Holden's 1990 effort with A. Alvarez's The Biggest Game in Town and James McManus' Positively Fifth Street as one of the classic examples of the genre's past 30 years.

In conjunction with the paperback release of Holden's sequel, Bigger Deal: A Year Inside the Poker Boom, Simon and Schuster have re-released the original tome.

When it was first released, Big Deal stood first in a class of one as far as books describing the professional poker circuit were concerned. No other writer had attempted to chronicle the trials and travails of those players who out of either boredom or sheer masochism took to the international departures terminals in search of their poker fix. In that context, Holden's work acted as a useful and often thrilling look inside what was then still the seamy world of the traveling poker player.

In the post-Moneymaker era, the book stands out as an artifact, invaluable for its here-and-now depictions of a bygone era: an era before the online boom made it easy to find a game anywhere, anytime; an era in which Jack Binion could still hook you up with a room and a limousine and a steak dinner at the Horseshoe on Fremont Street; an era before Phil Hellmuth could dodge bullets or crash racecars.

Like Bigger Deal, the book is constructed around Holden's year on the circuit, beginning with the 1988 World Series and ending with its successor the following year. One of the most interesting sections concerns a rather comical trip to a poker tournament in Malta. The tournament is near impossible to access (and its eventual total enrollment would make any veteran of the modern international game wonder why anyone bothered at all), the roof leaks, the food is spoiled and there are no flights out of town.

Meanwhile, in one corner of the poker room, a brash young Phil Hellmuth sits at a Seven-Card Stud table proclaiming to all the world that he will win the next year's WSOP Main Event. Holden brushes off young Hellmuth's brags as typical American swagger, but the reader knows better.

The book, while inarguably a must-read for anyone who fancies him- or herself a historian of the game, is not without fault, although primarily that fault lies with Holden's cardplay and not his writing. As in Bigger Deal, the reader follows Mr. Holden from tournament to tournament and is rewarded not with any meaningful success but rather with a succession of bad beat stories and early eliminations.

Meanwhile, the author is fairly tearing it up in midlevel cash games and satellites, but seems to believe the reader would rather hear about the latest in a string of tournament goose eggs than his more significant (and more lucrative) ventures at the cash tables.

Further, the book, like many similar accounts, suffers from a curse common to such "I was there" narratives. Namely, Holden seems to have conceived it as a book first and an experience second, rather than to have found himself experiencing things he later realized would translate well into print. Because it is such a rare glimpse into the pre-poker boom professional circuit, this a minor complaint, but a poker-savvy reader would be best advised not to expect any mountains to be moved in the course of his or her reading.

Holden's lack of poker prowess aside, however, Big Deal deserves its standing as one of poker's most revered narratives. While not quite up to Alvarez's level, the book remains a priceless glimpse into the game's past.


  • $15.00
    Simon and Schuster
    340 pages