Several weeks back I received an email from the publisher of “All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker” by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback asking if I would like to review the book. For those of you not aware, Grotenstein co-wrote Phil Gordon’s “Poker : The Real Deal.” Jonathan is also someone I’ve played with at the final table of a tournament I used to host in Marina del Rey. In other words, sure, I would love to review the book.
Jonathan at the final table
As the full title might imply, All In is about the history of the World Series of Poker. I give the authors a lot of credit for collecting as much information has they have. Each year they chronicle the key hands and players and walk you through the history of the poker world’s most cherished prize. And while many hands have become famous, such as Doyle’s back to back wins with ten-deuce, the amount of research to dig up hand confrontations twenty-five years old is truly amazing.
I’m not going to call it a critique but as my last post indicates, I had just finished reading Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King which, not surprisingly, has many of the same folks in it as does All In. That means, many of the more well-known poker history stories were repeated in both books. I found myself reading passages and asking myself if I hadn’t just read that same thing two minutes ago. After a pause, I would remember that I had just read it in the previous book.
Like I said though, it’s not a critique of All In. In it’s completeness it undoubtedly needs to tell some of the more well-known stories as they are part of the history of the event. Where All In shines is in the lesser known stories. There are many players who have competed at the highest levels who have either passed on or have stayed out of the media spotlight poker has generated in recent years. I found myself gaining much more respect for many of the old-style Texas road gamblers who really did play for the bracelet. Back in the early days, you stood to make far more money in the side games than you did by winning the tournament and when these guys competed it meant they were giving up real money for the privilege of calling themselves the best.
But the World Series of Poker is as much about Benny Binion as it is about the players. He was definitely the man who made the event what it is today. Benny was old school all the way. He was from the Vegas where “incidents” were handled with a baseball bat and a goon in the back room of the casino. The rise of Benny’s Horseshoe along with its decline after his death is chronicled all the way to the way to Harrah’s recent purchase of the casino just to get their hands on the World Series of Poker.
As you might guess, All In isn’t going to help you improve your game much. It is a fascinating book to read if you enjoy the history of the game though. The authors do an excellent job of making the story come alive. Hell, in many of the more famous match-ups, you know who won but you’re still grabbed by the suspense as the authors detail how the hand played out.
Personally, I’ve always believed that there are two types of books; technical and easy reading. Most poker books are technical. Technical books make you think. I often find myself unable to read more than a few pages or a chapter at one sitting due to the fact that I’m so overwhelmed by the information. All In falls into the later camp. It’s a fun and entertaining read that keeps you engaged. I kept making promises to myself that I would go to bed at the end of the chapter only to start the next chapter because I couldn’t stop reading. If you’re looking to take a break from the poker strategy books and just have a good read, All In is certainly an excellent choice in that category.