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The Biggest Game in Town

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  920 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Called "the best book ever written on poker" by players and critics alike, The Biggest Game in Town is a sought-after classic thats finally available in print again. Acclaimed author A. Alvarez delves into the seedy, obsessive world of high-stakes Vegas poker, where "the next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing." Uncovering an exotic underground rich in ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published February 1st 2002 by Chronicle Books (first published 1983)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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Glenn Sumi
Jul 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
What happens when an esteemed, Oxford-educated British poet, novelist and critic attends the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas?

This book. And what a book it is: funny, insightful, superbly written. It's justifiably considered one of the best volumes ever written about the game.

Back in 1981, when Álvarez visited Sin City for three weeks in the scorching spring – on assignment from The New Yorker magazine, no less – poker wasn't the phenomenon it would soon become with televised tournaments and
Mar 25, 2012 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 Game
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
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. ...more
Feb 10, 2014 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Sep 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Frequently described as 'the best book about poker ever written' and I won't argue with that. It's quite good. ...more
Juan Pablo
Jun 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
The prose is extraordinary and the description so vivid that one feels part of the poker tournament. The reader encounters the improbable stories of the greatest poker players of that time---lives completely devoted to the adrenaline found in playing and betting---as well as Vegas itself, a sort of statement against nature, the most extreme version of the "American dream". ...more
R Fontaine
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
first read in 1983; Another re-read that is every bit as enjoyable and informative as it was so many years ago.
The World Series of poker, played in Las Vegas at Binions casino, has an unlimited cast of characters -both players and fans: and they all have stories to tell.
Nov 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Brit decides to write a book about the Poker scene in Las Vegas in the 1980, and in doing so paints a complex picture of the personalities that dominated Poker at the time.
Jun 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The story of Binnion's World Series of Poker and the characters that play in it. I learned a lot about poker. ...more
Stefan G.A.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Great character sketches and dialogue. Would have been interesting to have had a follow up on where they all went...
Scott Wilson
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poker
Great read if you are interested old time poker with the legends.
Oct 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Solid look at the early WSOP days. Stories about the Binions and the origins of modern Vegas. Interest read, could’ve used more about Ungar and less about Doyle.
Chelsea K
Dec 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Terrific book, the author has a Steinbeckian non-fiction style, paints a great picture of the time, characters, with observational wit. Doesn't feel dated. ...more
Oct 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Al dissects the high rollers in Vegas. America in microcosm.
Alexandra Chauran
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poker-books
This book is very similar to The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death, but is not contemporary. I enjoyed being taken back to the 1980's casino days through the author's vibrant prose, though it wasn't always flattering. The vignettes about famous poker players gave these figures life. I want to read his other book, Poker: Bluffs, Bets, and Bad Beats. ...more
William Milks
Mar 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Short and fun. Just a poker book. Game has changed a lot (written in 1982).
Tyler Jones
Sep 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 17, 2017 rated it liked it
The first half was very interesting, a study of the gambling personality. The second half not so much.
Robert Beveridge
Nov 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
"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
Kapil Kashyap
Mar 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great portrait of the lifestyle of professional poker players and the WSOP, examining several WSOP participants and their sensibilities
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Great book that really gets in to the psychology of those playing at the absolute top end of the poker spectrum; the kind of people who can win or lose hundreds of thousands of dollars on the turn of a card 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 w
Jan 14, 2008 rated it it was ok
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 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Oct 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.

One Flew
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poker, non-fiction
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 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.
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Al Álvarez was an English poet, novelist, essayist, and critic.

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