Poker books seem to fall into one of two categories. There are the plethora of strategy guides, how-to books, and tournament attack style books that glut the market. Then there are the observational books, which tend to follow a trail towards some eventual goal that the author wants to reach. Surprisingly, Richard Sparks' latest effort, Diary Of A Mad Poker Player (due in the major bookstores in April, in time for the 2005 World Series, or through his website, madpokerplayer.com), seems to fall on both sides of that literary fence.
Sparks is a very successful British writer who lives in Los Angeles. He has written for several British programs and has also penned many theatrical plays that have been performed throughout England. He is also responsible for many a musical escape, having written the libretto for many performances for the Los Angeles Opera and lyrics for such diverse recording artists as Placido Domingo, Vanessa Williams and Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame).
You might ask, what does this man have to do with poker, and you would be missing where his story comes from. After a tour of duty on a New Zealand adventure series, he met the late poker writer David Spanier, where his long-dormant poker drive was reawakened. It was further fueled by Sparks reading Spanier's book, Total Poker, during the long flight back to the United States from New Zealand.
Once back in Los Angeles, Sparks found himself at a quandary. He was stuck in between what he should be doing, his writing, and what he liked to do, play poker at many of the online poker sites. From that rumination came the genesis of Sparks' tale.
He would do both.
Sparks set his sights on the 2004 World Series of Poker and making it to the Main Event, something that Everyman has the desire to achieve. With a short time frame of nine weeks, Sparks knew that the odds were against him, but he set off on his quest, his "Holy Grail", so to speak.
What follows in Diary Of A Mad Poker Player is the story that everyone can understand. Sparks delves into the multitude of multi-table tournaments, sit and goes (SNG's), and online qualifiers to attempt to achieve his desire. He discusses at great length the thoughts, feelings and, yes, even the anger and frustration of online play. He bemoans the drawouts, bad beats and failed attempts, just as we all do, whether trying to earn our way to the "Big Show" or just trying to keep our meager bankrolls at a profitable level.
During the journey, we also learn about all aspects of the poker world today. Richard has gone to great lengths to speak with several of the biggest names in the poker world regarding their specialties. He has an excellent chapter on the basic legalities of Internet gambling with I. Nelson Rose, the longtime legal analyst for CardPlayer Magazine. There are very well done interviews and reports on the online poker world from those that are major players in that arena, including PartyPoker and Paradise Poker. Las Vegas gambling radio host Larry Grossman adds in his tales of the growth of the game, and many players, including Kathy Liebert and Sam Farha discuss their personal trials and tribulations of being a combatant in the current world of poker.
There is not a weak chapter anywhere in the book. Many subjects are touched upon, including superstitions (Richard has a few, but I don't think he would admit them!), the psychology of poker players, how to play poker and keep your spouse happy (Richard's wife, Jenny, helps him on more than a few occasions) and the realities of the game, including the difference between those arriving in Las Vegas and those that are departing, which was particularly eye opening.
When I say that the book straddles the fence between strategy guide and "poker life" story is in some of Richard's well-told stories. You will, while reading the book, find many points of play that will turn a light bulb on over your head. You will see yourself in some of the online situations that Sparks found himself in. Let it be said here that Richard Sparks is a little better player than he gives himself credit for!
The book also looks at the reality of the poker world, the highs and the lows of this game we play and love. It looks at the endgame that some players find, such as the legendary Stu Ungar and Richard himself. In addition, the book also views the elation of the player who busted out on the bubble of the 2004 WSOP, David Combs, who at the moment of elimination reflected not on his bad break of finishing out of the money, but his excitement of playing in the World Championship of the greatest poker event on earth.
While I will not ruin the ending of Diary Of A Mad Poker Player, let it be said that taking the journey with Richard Sparks is well worth the price of admission. Sparks has come up with the story of the Everyman, the player who's desire it is to be the next Chris Moneymaker or Greg Raymer. He has come up with a 21st century look at the game of poker today. He has detailed the joys of the online poker world and its drawbacks. And he has come to us with the great victories and the crushing defeats that we all have experienced. For these things alone, Richard has put a book up with Jim McManus' 'Positively Fifth Street' and A. Alvarez' 'The Biggest Game In Town'. For what you might consider to be light reading, you may learn more about poker from the Diary Of A Mad Poker Player than you might think.
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