The Professor, The Banker and The Suicide King
Author: Michael Craig
By Glenn Haussman
On the eve of the current poker craze, billionaire Andy Beal began playing top pros head to head for amounts of cash mind boggling to mere mortals. Taking place at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, the games took on a life of their own as the so called amateur kept pushing the stakes higher until the final face-off saw more than $20 million in play.
Billed as the biggest poker match in history, The Professor, The Banker and The Suicide King by Michael Craig delves into this game, the history leading up to it, and poker culture before it was all inexorably changed by television shows and sponsorship deals. Brilliantly written and vastly entertaining, the book is a rollicking look behind the sunglasses of some of poker’s biggest stars.
The story centers around the Bellagio’s poker room where such high level players as Howard Lederer (The Professor), Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Todd Brunson, Jennifer Harman, Chau Giang, Barry Greenstein, Ted Forrest, Gus Hansen, Lee Salem, John Hennigan, Ming La, Lyle Berman, Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan and Hamid Dastmalchi called home base. Here, Craig explores the lives and the history of the individual players as they form a syndicate to meet the Banker Andy Beal in an escalating series of poker games between 2001 and 2004.
Though many of the professional players are accustomed to playing high stakes games, no one was prepared for the dollar amounts Beal was ready to wager during his trips to Las Vegas. Starting with blinds at $1,000 - $2,000 during his first visit to the Bellagio poker room, Beal egged opponents into ever more costly games, ending his trip playing in a $4,000 - $8,000 game, which was the largest poker match at the property since its opening in 1998.
In fact, every subsequent time Beal came to town he raised the minimums he would play ensuring that each match was the biggest ever. As the blinds got bigger, tensions rose, interpersonal relationships were transformed and calm and collected professional gamblers were yanked out of their comfort zone, repeatedly forced to fight “going broke.”
The stakes started getting so steep; the world’s best players needed to combine forces and bankrolls just to be able to afford playing against Beal. With everyone’s futures on the line, the group had to pray that whomever Beal chose to play had the edge. But with each Vegas visit, Beal was becoming vastly more skilled. Millions were lost and won on individual pots as the stakes of the game eventually topped out at an astounding $100,000 - $200,000 game, which serves as the centerpiece of this story.
The book also tells the story of how poker evolved from an illicit back-room game preferred by nefarious cheaters to a mainstream juggernaut played by everyone from Hollywood glitterati to soccer moms. There are great stories here about how many of the city’s biggest moguls such as Steve Wynn, Benny Binion and other top executives played poker, bringing it into their casinos in order to legitimize the game while earning a healthy vig.
Written more like a novel than an account of factual events, the story utilizes dialogue culled from a year’s worth of conversations with the players involved in the syndicate, as well as interviews with Beal. Extremely breezy, this quick 262-page read teaches something about poker on almost every page utilizing a backdrop of the matches that are played between Beal and the pros.
Perfect for summer reading at the beach or for the flight to Las Vegas, The Professor, The Banker and the Suicide King is almost as much fun as winning a big hand after going all-in.
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