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The Biggest Game in Town

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  606 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
Al Alvarez touched down in Las Vegas one hot day in 1981, a dedicated amateur poker player but a stranger to the town and its crazy ways. For three mesmerizing weeks he witnessed some of the monster high-stakes games that could only have happened in Vegas and talked to the extraordinary characters who dominated them--road gamblers and local professionals who won and lost f ...more
ebook, 192 pages
Published February 3rd 2009 by Picador (first published 1983)
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Mar 25, 2012 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poker, reviewed
I love love love this book, and wrote a large piece on it for Card Player in 2006 after interviewing Alvarez by phone):

Al Alvarez & The Biggest Game in Town:
How An English Poet Penned the Best Poker Book Ever Written

Twenty-five years ago, an English poet, critic and avid poker player named Al Alvarez flew across the Atlantic to Las Vegas, checked in at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino to watch the World Series of Poker, then sat down and produced the best poker narrative ever written: The Biggest G
Sep 18, 2015 Kirsten rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A look at the key players in the poker world in the late 70s early 80s. Almost liked it. Can't put my finger on why it's not a 3-star, because there was something about it I did like. The characters and the city seemed to be made into caricatures of themselves, but then again, maybe that's truly how they were. Maybe I'm comparing it to the Stuey Unger book that I liked so much and this wasn't that.
Feb 10, 2014 ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't think I was going to enjoy a book about Vegas… I just got back and was sick and tired of the place. But Alvarez writes about the place in such a way that almost made me want to go back next week.
Sep 25, 2016 Arty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frequently described as 'the best book about poker ever written' and I won't argue with that. It's quite good.
William Milks
Short and fun. Just a poker book. Game has changed a lot (written in 1982).
Tyler Jones
Sep 18, 2011 Tyler Jones rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poker
In 1983 Al Alvarez wrote a book called The Biggest Game in Town. It was both a history of poker and an account of the 1981 main event which was won by Stu Ungar. Alvarez was and is a great writer of both poetry and prose, and was also Sylvia Plath’s close friend and editor. He knows how to put words together and he also knows a lot about poker, being a long-time player himself. The combination of writing ability an deep knowledge of his subject makes The Biggest Game in Town, in quite a few peop ...more
Robert Beveridge
A. Alvarez, The Biggest Game in Town (Houghton Mifflin, 1983)
[originally posted 14Aug2000]

Someone who's not involved in the wonderful world of gambling may look at Alvarez' spirited and slightly surreal view of the World Series of Poker 1981 as a study in caricature. "No one's like this," I can hear them saying. "No one's really that obsessive over this kind of thing. It's just a game, right?"

Let me tell you something, and this is coming from the perspective of a guy for whom $64 on a pick six t
Dec 01, 2011 Jeremiah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Las Vegas is no more a place for childhood than it is a place for sensibility. It is a town without grace and without nuance, where the only useful virtues are experience, survival and money. "In Vegas, they weigh you up in gold," said Jack Straus. "They call it the golden rule: the man who has the gold makes the rules." (Page 40)

The Biggest Game in Town gives you the 1970's history of the World Series of Poker, held at Jack Binion's Horseshoe Casino, along with small biographies of some of the
Jan 15, 2016 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book that really gets in to the psychology of those playing at the absolute top end of the poker world- the kind of people who can win or lose hundreds of thousands of dollars on the turn of a card and without batting an eye.

Both exhilarating and depressing, The Biggest Game in Town is about a gritty Las Vegas of the late 70's and early 80's- before the rise of the shiny mega-casino- and the chain-smoking, overweight, bizarre personalities who are compelled to live in the desert to match
Jan 14, 2008 Tung rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Last year I read Positively Fifth Street, a book about poker whose author entered the World Series of Poker and described the experience. The inspiration for that book was this book, widely regarded by poker players as one of the best poker books ever written. This goes to show you that poker players should stick to cardplaying and leave the bookreviewing to people with taste. This book is not nearly as energetic or enthralling as Positively Fifth Street. You don’t end up wanting to play poker; ...more
Mar 22, 2013 Jay rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
This is my second poker stories book in a couple of years, after "Positively Fifth Street", and I am going to slow down my rate. This one, written before Positively, felt pretty similar. I did notice a different style in this one though - it really stood out for me. I think because I read that the author is a poet, I was looking to see how this was unlike other similar books that were written by journalists / magazine writers. This one felt like, of all things, a soundtrack album. There were the ...more
Apr 30, 2009 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another poker classic on my Shelf of Honor. A. Alvarez was a close friend of Sylvia Plath and was best known (prior to this book) as the author of a study/contemplation of suicide, "The Savage God."


This book is also about the World Series of Poker (see my comments about Positively Fifth Street) but written about 20 years before James McManus's account -- in the days when the participants numbered in the dozens, not thousands, and the $10,000 ent
Oct 25, 2011 Sheehan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great travel writing-esque review of the 1981 World Series of Poker...

Written by someone from the UK, the perspective of the outsider looking in to the Vegas of that era is a novel way to see Glitter Gulch, than other histories of Vegas I've read.

Definitely, written for those with an affinity for poker and the major players whose personalities come out so well in the anecdotes and interviews Alvarez includes.

Luis Perez
Nonfiction. A writer and amateur poker player from Britain swoops into Las Vegas for three weeks to observe and write about the characters of the game and their fates at the 1981 World Series of Poker.

If you like poker, you will like this book.

One other note: This book will not help you become a better player. It's not a book of strategy or techniques, although the pros in this book do reveal some insight into their thought processes.
One Flew
Mar 02, 2013 One Flew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Insightful and thought provoking. As a poker enthusiast i loved this book, the endless poker stories and industry overviews. Alvarez did very well to give an unbiased view to the Vegas scene and the immense highs and lows of the gamblers life. Probably a more enjoyable read for the other degenerate gamblers out there like me, though still a great introduction to the subject if you're an outsider.
Well worth the read.
Jul 26, 2015 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Bought it cheap: remaindered or used
This edition is hardback.

This brief book on poker players in Las Vegas, especially the 1981 World Series of Poker, was interesting, but I think I gave it away . . . not something I thought I'd ever read again. The writing reminded me of one of those long New Yorker articles. Which is to say the writing was good but somehow lightweight. It would be of much more interest to a confirmed and avid poker play.

Let's call it 2.75 stars.
Jan 11, 2017 Ian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprised me with its quality. Embraces the romanticism of poker while still exploring the deep underlying dysfunction of its heroes. Fun. How much of the world described is gone though? Most players probably don't carry weapons as a matter of routine anymore.

Written by a foreigner, so there's a lot of neat observations about America and the narratives we enjoy spread throughout.
Jun 19, 2008 Michaelacas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really well-written account of the 1981 World Series of Poker and a treatise on poker in general. Alvarez's prose is superb and his descriptions of the game's history, characters, and tournament action paints a romantic picture of America's true passtime. also, a quick read at 18o pages.
Short and well-written. If you want a feel for what the poker world was like in the 80s this is a pretty solid place to start.

It is a bit rambly, and Alvarez is a bit too obsessed with linking everything back to literature. Overall though, worth a read.
May 16, 2007 Mickey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-studies
Faultless prose, solid content, nicely culled imageries and dialogues. The book meanders a bit (what essayistic project doesn't?), but I like that the picture of Las Vegas Alvarez painted for me; he managed to inform without judge, which is impressive. (Sociology; 200+ pages)
Sep 21, 2010 Josh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
A slim volume that had some great moments with the characters in the 1981 World Series of Poker. Unfortunately, it was a bit too slim, and the author never really gave enough time to any one player. Still, worth a read if you're interested in some of the early years of the WSOP.
Bob Mckay
Oct 03, 2009 Bob Mckay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Arguably the best book on written on high stakes poker. Has some interesting Las Vegas history as well. If you like this I would recommend "Positively Fifth Street"; a blend of the telling of the Ted Binion murder intertwined with the authors experience playing in the WSOP.
Dave Peticolas
May 10, 2014 Dave Peticolas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Wow, what a book! An account of the 1981 World Series of poker, focusing on the personalities and strange sub-culture of the high-stakes professional gambling circuit.

May 24, 2007 Ashley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A classic in poker literature and a portrait of the World Series of Poker before it became the bloated, corporate shill game it has warped into. Not that I don't love it.
Phil Simon
Jan 31, 2010 Phil Simon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best gambling book I've ever read.
Jul 04, 2009 globulon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: misc-nonfiction
This was a fun look into the lifestyles of professional poker players (my brother is one). Perhaps a bit dated if that is liable to bother you.
Mike Hoffman
Jun 16, 2009 Mike Hoffman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terrific writer, great story . . . .
Sep 03, 2008 Tom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
interesting, up to a point, but nowhere near as good as Amarillo Slim's "In A World Full Of Fat People".

a quick read, and a useful primer if you don't know about Vegas or poker.
This is easily the best of the books on poker that I’ve read.
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Al Álvarez is an English poet, novelist, essayist, writer and critic who publishes under the name A. Álvarez and Al Álvarez.

Born Alfred Álvarez, he was educated at Oundle School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he took a First in English. After teaching briefly in Oxford and the USA, he became a full time writer in his late twenties.

From 1956 to 1966, he was the poetry editor and critic f
More about Al Álvarez...

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