Poker Book Review: 'Swimming With The DevilFish'
Somewhat arrogantly perhaps, people in the United States view poker as a truly American enterprise. While there is a wealth of live poker tournaments, casinos and home poker games to be found here certainly, we tend to forget that there is a whole other world that also loves the game as much if not more. In fact, Europe is one of the fastest growing segments of the poker world, with action that can rival the best that we have here in the U. S. This is one of the points that are exemplified very well in the new book "Swimming With The DevilFish".
"Swimming With The DevilFish", written by noted English author Des Wilson and to be released on June 16th (available through the publisher's website at panmacmillan.com for 10.99 British pounds) is the first book I have seen that focuses on the European poker community and, in particular, the English world of poker. Wilson's task was a simple one in idea and concept: travel with the best in the English poker world and document their experiences as they navigate the globe parlaying their poker skills. In doing this (excellently, I may add), Wilson has given us perhaps the most revealing look at poker outside of the United States and given all readers the opportunity to learn about players that are largely ignored in America.
The focus of the book (an entire section of it is given to him, in fact) is English poker professional David "The DevilFish" Ulliot. The Hull, England poker legend is one of the players that will indeed be recognizable to American poker players and it is an outstanding way to open up the story of English and European poker. Through the reading of this first segment, I learned more about the life of the English great than I ever knew before. By personally interviewing Ulliot, his mates and other players and people that have known him, Wilson details the hard knock life that "The DevilFish" has experienced, how he pulled himself out of his youthful indiscretions and how the English legend has transformed himself into one of the greats in the game today.
Wilson doesn't shy away or attempt to sugar coat the rough side of Ulliot's life, however. He presents these portions of the story without judgment from his side. This approach reminded me very much of Nolan Dalla's treatment of the life of Stu Ungar in his impeccable biography One Of A Kind. He continues to take this approach as he delves further into the world of English and European poker as he introduces us to the people who make up the poker world outside of the United States.
Almost two dozen of the best poker players on the European (and yes, the world) scene are profiled by Wilson and he has given them the same attention and detail that he applied to "The DevilFish". Players such as Dave Colclough, Lucy Rokach, Simon Trumper, Roy "The Boy" Brindley and the Hendon Mob are just a few of the fascinating characters that he runs across and have been integral in the poker rooms of England and Europe. If it was simply a book of biographies, Wilson would have to be commended for just that alone.
Reading about these professionals is great, but what makes the book even more special is the history that Wilson conveys to the reader. He takes an unflinching look at the history of the poker rooms of England and their growth and explosion here in the 2000's. He talks about the "spielers" (home games) that helped to put many of the professionals we read about between the covers of the book in the position they are today. And he attempts to look at the future of poker, not only in its English and European context but also in its worldwide sense, by talking about the influx of online players into today's poker world and how they are affecting the pros he meets and the game today.
The book wraps up with a "year in the life", so to speak, of the players he has painstakingly researched, talked to and written about. He walks in their shoes as they travel the world, playing across England, Europe and the United States. From the World Poker Tour events in Paris to the World Series of Poker and the travails of the subjects there and back to the high profile casino and television events in England, Wilson is there for every step and shares in the triumphs and pitfalls that these players experience. He wraps up his yearlong journey with some self analysis that maybe we have all had:
"Would I like to be one of them? Yes and no. I would love to sit down at the World Series with 10,000 chips in front of me. I would love to jump on a plane and fly to Paris and Barcelona and Las Vegas and Los Angeles…but I can't do it…because I am not one of them and I never will be."
While there is quite a bit of English terminology and slang to the book, I found "Swimming With The DevilFish" to be a delightful, thorough and enjoyable read. If the book was just comprised of the biographies of the players that Wilson met it would be worthwhile. By including such a comprehensive look at the world of poker outside of the United States, however, Des Wilson has come up with a true classic of poker literature. While it doesn't contain very much strategy per se, it still is a book that you should have as it demonstrates that poker isn't America's Game, it is the World's Game.
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