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I usually try to stand back a bit from the books I review, but I learned
something very interesting as I read The Professor, the Banker, and the
Suicide King. Even if you're only involved at the very periphery of
something big, it's hard not to get sucked in when someone tells something
approaching the full story.
Like author Michael Craig, I am a poker player and writer, having co-authored Winning Secrets of Online Poker with my twin brother, Doug. I visit the Bellagio poker room, the scene for much of the action in Craig's book, several times a year. I exchanged a few e-mails with Todd Brunson a while back, but otherwise have no access to the players Craig convinced to talk to him.
So how am I associated with the story told in
I was in the room, at table 13, in September 2003 when Beal played heads-up Texas hold 'em against Jennifer Harman. Just as Craig notes in his book, Beal was wearing a white shirt, dark pants, sunglasses, and had ten racks of blue $1 chips ($1000 worth) on the table. One of the dealers at my game said he had the chips there because of some "theory" he had, but Craig reports that Beal was using the chips to indicate how likely he thought it was that his opponent would fold if he bet or raised.
So what stakes were they playing for when I was in the room? They were playing $30,000-$60,000 limit Texas hold 'em. Yes, you read those numbers correctly. Yes, the room was practically on fire from the excitement. Yes, the dealers were getting tired of telling us what happened in the top section. No, we never got tired of asking.
For those of you not familiar with casino poker, Texas hold 'em goes like this:
MGM/Mirage poker rooms usually allow a bet and four raises per round (most rooms only allow three raises), but most rooms allow unlimited raises (not raises of an unlimited amount, though...then it would be no limit hold 'em) when a betting round starts with two active players. Because Beal always played heads-up, there probably was no cap on the number of raises per round (I don't know for sure, and Craig doesn't mention it). If Beal and his opponent merely made one called bet in each round, each pot would contain $360,000. The stakes were even higher on Beal's next trip, when they played for stakes of $50,000-$100,000.
Of course, one of the joys of playing heads-up poker is that you have to be insanely aggressive to win, raising with abandon when you think it'll knock your opponent out of the pot when you're weak and, paradoxically, to get more money in the pot when you think you've got the best of it.
That contradiction captures the essence of why poker is so exciting to
play -- you play your cards, but you also play your opponent. If you're
wrong, or just get unlucky, you can lose chips at a mind-boggling rate. But
if you're right, or get lucky, the thrill of winning grows along with your
stacks. Craig captures that thrill in