Alvarez's Biggest Game in Town--Happily Back in Print; Pro Draft Previews . May 2002

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Alvarez's Biggest Game in Town--Happily Back in Print; Pro Draft Previews; New Slots Book at GBC

by Howard Schwartz

Almost 20 years ago, English writer-poet-poker player Al Alvarez wrote a book titled THE BIGGEST GAME IN TOWN. It was an immediate smash hit. Every level of poker player, from world-class professionals to beginning Friday night recreational players bought it and loved it. It wasn't a book about how to play as much as it was about what went on in the minds—the thought processes--of those who won and lost millions at the turn of a card or in the span of a year.

Once the book went out of print in the late 1980s, a new generation of players, having heard about it or seen the book referenced in other works, sought copies. Few were to be found. The used price soared to $60 or higher at times, regardless of condition.

Happily, the book is back in print—at last—with one minor change—no index of names and places, but the price for this wonderful, colorful, 188-page paperbound is $15.95.

The book is about colorful players and colorful places, about Binion's World Series of Poker in the early 1980s; the romanticism of gambling; the men and women who think nothing of raising a pot beyond a quarter of a million dollars or more based on "reading" an opponent's eye, head or hand movement; profiling proven, solid, legendary survivors of the game like Doyle Brunson, and the late Johnny Moss; Stu Ungar and Jack Straus.

Alvarez is a master of observation and has a way with words about the game, the moves, the philosophies of the players, the men who run the games and those (like Puggy Pearson) who add so much color and character to the big matchups. Vegas poker and its people might have overwhelmed even the great Damon Runyon should he have lived to see Las Vegas as it has become in the last two decades. Alvarez was not overwhelmed.

Along with Education of a Poker Player, the great l957 book by Herbert Yardley and Doyle Brunson's classic Super System, published in 1978, Alvarez's 1983 work became a triggering force in creating countless numbers of new poker enthusiasts in this country and internationally. This is a truly educational, entertaining and important book for players to have or to buy as a thoughtful gift for a potential player.

Pro Football Weekly annually produces a great source for those following the April drafts. This year's PRO FOOTBALL WEEKLY 2002 DRAFT PREVIEW (191 pages, paperbound, $19.95) has arrived. Compiled by the respected Joel Buchsbaum, it offers in-depth scouting reports for each position; looks at each pro team's draft needs; rates players by position (7 points or higher shows potential for being a future Pro Bowler; and 6.03 or better—should go in the first round); contains an alpha index of all players from Aaron to Zolman.

This could be a helpful tool for those betting NFL propositions like most games won or lost in a season and for fantasy leaguers looking for a sleeper.

Sometimes a little pocket-sized book can pack a powerful informational punch. So it is with John Robison's THE SLOT EXPERT'S GUIDE TO PLAYING SLOTS (85 pages, paperbound, $6.95).

The author, who has established a solid reputation as a person who knows slots, shows you how to recognize the different types of machines and explains what makes them different. Which machines will keep your bankroll in action longer than others with small but more frequent payoffs and what do terms like "hit frequency," "hold" and "long-term payback" mean? He explains that there are "hybrid" machines and "multi-lines" and Australian-style machines. And he asks and answers the question, is it smart to play one coin or full coins and when, on what machines.

This little book is packed with all kinds of advice, such as why its important to keep your eyes on the bill acceptor; why it's not smart to carry a bucket of coins outside a casino; when it's smart to join a slot club; why you should be aware of the $1,200 reporting requirement; knowing about hopper fills vs. hand pays; understanding why no machine is ever "due" and why slot "systems" don't really exist.

Designed for the beginner or inexperienced player who's never set foot in a casino before, the book may not make your a sure winner, but should help lower your level of frustration and fear when playing for the first time, while helping to slow your losses with some common sense advice.

(The books mentioned here are available from Gambler's Book Shop, 630 South 11th Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101. Call l-800-522-1777 from 9 to 5 Monday through Saturday Pacific time to order, using only MasterCard, VISA or Discover card (no Amex accepted). You may order through the store web site at and view the store's 1,000 books, videos and computer software. You may also call or write and ask for the free 80-page catalog to be sent to you. The store, founded in 1964, is located about two miles from Downtown Las Vegas, and the same distance from where the Strip begins, a block west of Maryland Parkway, just off Charleston Boulevard.)