Murphy James - Poker Book: A "Bigger Deal" is on the Way
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Poker Book: A "Bigger Deal" is on the Way

April 11, 2006
Murphy James
Big Deal - One Year as a Professional Poker Player

In 1990, British biographer (and former speechwriter for Prince Charles) Anthony Holden published Big Deal: One Year as a Professional Poker Player. Salman Rushdie called it "The best description of world-class poker we've been given." And Holden earned himself a lasting place in poker lore with this: "Poker may be only a game, but it is not a matter of life and death. It's a lot more serious than that."

Publishers Weekly said this about Big Deal: "More than a chronicle of that year (from WSOP '88 to WSOP '89) the book presents stories of the legendary heroes of the game, theories of gambling from Dostoyevsky through Freud to David Mamet, and memories of Las Vegas ("a town set in a vast and utter nowhere"), London and Marrakech, where Holden played."

Big Deal, which has sold 250,000 copies worldwide, has been picked up by Celadon Films and the flick is on the production calendar for 2007. Tony's son, Joe, is doing the screenplay.

Who's playing Tony? Hugh Grant has been mentioned. "I'd rather be played by Johnny Depp," says Holden.

According to a Celadon press release, the intention of "Big Deal: The Movie" is to "develop the story as a midlife crisis comedy: '10' meets 'The Cincinnati Kid.'" Let's hope it keeps in the classic story from the book of Amarillo Slim Preston riding a camel into the personal guest house of the King of Morocco.

What has Tony been writing about since 1990? No big deal, just your typical poker stuff: translations of Greek poetry and biographies of Tchaikovsky, Shakespeare, and Charles ("A puerile, bawdy, hot-blooded adulterer") and Diana ("She has a husband who no longer understands her, nor even, it seems, much likes her") and a history of the Academy Awards.

Oh, and yes, and he is finishing up a sequel to Big Deal, logically enough named A Bigger Deal, about his poker adventures between WSOP 2005 and WSOP 2006. It is scheduled to hit American bookshelves around WSOP 2007.

"This time," says Holden, the former student editor of Oxford's newspaper, Isis, "I'm keeping my day job as chief classical music critic for The (London) Observer newspaper." First time around he had a public argument with boss Rupert Murdoch in front of the Queen of England and resigned his position with the Sunday Times of London to go on Poker Jaunt #1.

His new journey started with WSOP 2005. "I lasted till the end of Day Two," he reports, "coming in 1,137 out of 5,819. Not too bad, by my standards, but way off the money. Probably played too cautiously/conservatively. I intend to mix it up in WSOP 2006 and get more aggressive, the buzzword these days, which will probably see me exit in the first hour."

Post WSOP-2005 he has played in the Brunson event at the Bellagio, at a Foxwoods seniors gig, Ladbrokes Caribbean poker cruise, and in tournaments in Vienna, Monte Carlo, Atlantic City, and various events in London.

How is he doing? "I'm underperforming in tournaments but covering my substantial costs in side games, especially NLHE. This is new to me as a cash game. I love it."

Biggest differences between Big and Bigger? "I'm trying not to sound like a Grumpy Old Man but it was more fun in the old days at Binion's. I might even be prepared to concede, among my conclusions, that poker is becoming/has become a younger man's game if only through the sheer weight of numbers."

He goes on. Of the 6-7,000 or so who may start the 2006 WSOP main event, "maybe 75-80% of them will never have played face-to-face with human beings. Irritatingly for old timers like me, one of them will probably win it."

He adds these thoughts about televised tournaments: "Al Alvarez (author of Biggest Game in Town) and I were sadly ahead of our time, being told in the mid-80's that we were mad to think that poker could be big on TV. Today, TV is in danger of turning it into a branch of showbiz." The younger crowd and the influence of television will be major themes in Bigger.

And how is the book going to end? Tony is very definite about this: "With me winning the WSOP 2006, of course. That's what it is ABOUT."