Last year the poker world lost one of its greatest advocates. In his books, magazine, and newspaper articles David Spanier entertained both those who regularly patronize the world’s poker rooms and folks those who have never set foot in one. Spanier is one of the few poker authors who is a writer first and foremost, and this is readily apparent in his books which are a true pleasure to read. Just before his death, the University of Nevada press decided to publish what will be his last contribution to the world of poker, the eerily appropriately titled book, The Hand I Played.
The Hand I Played is mostly a collection and often an elaboration of articles that Spanier had written for various publications, although several pieces appear in this book for the first time. The first section provides an insight into Spanier’s character and his early experiences that led to his fascination with gambling. The second considers the appeal of gambling to human beings as a species. The author also discusses the regulation of the casino business, advocating the protection of the gambler more so than the casinos or a government’s view of propriety. This is an enlightened view which folks with authority would be well advised to adopt.
Chapter 3 recounts Spanier’s adventures and encounters on a Caribbean poker cruise. He reacts bemusedly to folks who are more interested in playing cards than enjoying the sights of a beautiful part of the world, as well as to the fact that anyone would ask him, much less pay his way, to speak to this crowd of poker fanatics on the topic of tournament strategy. Chapter 4 is a series of articles that feature a (probably mostly) fictional home game, seen from the eyes of a player that can’t seem to make the right moves, coincidentally named Dave. Even though I don’t generally enjoy the wackier poker games that pervade home games or even descriptions of them, the novelty and skilled writing of these stories written from the point of view of the mostly hapless protagonist was quite entertaining.
Spanier next discusses his experiences with the Internet and playing ligaz11 poker on it. This isn’t a great description of the nature of ‘Net gambling, and Spanier is quick to admit his lack of technical savvy, but he manages to paint a fascinating portrait of this remarkable industry. In Chapter 6, the author presents some of his thoughts about gambling and Las Vegas in literature, considering such authors as Dostoevsky, Puzzo, and Thompson. I found his insights on this topic to be fascinating.
Before the book concludes with a description of Texas Hold’em for those who aren’t familiar with the game, Spanier describes his experiences playing in the most highly revered poker event in the world, the $10,000 No Limit Hold’em tournament at the World Series of Poker. Even though Spanier didn’t finish in the money and, by his own admission, didn’t even play terribly well, his description of his trip and the folks he encountered is both entertaining and oddly moving. Although tragicly cut short, it’s a fitting coda to his writing career.
The Hand I Played won’t help one’s poker game very much, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. Spanier’s observations about the game are insightful and his descriptions are entertaining. The one objection I have with the book is its price. It’s unfortunate that the University of Nevada Press thinks that it needs to charge nearly $20 for a book that most other publishing houses would sell for closer to $10. Even though this book costs more than I think it should, it is entertaining enough to be worth it. I recommend this book.
It’s a true tragedy that David Spanier’s brilliant writing career was cut short. However, his final book, The Hand I Played, is a fitting coda to the life of one of the most literate poker writers to ever describe the game. There isn’t much in the way of practical poker advice in this collection of stories, but it’s highly entertaining nonetheless. While it’s a little unfortunate that the publisher believes it needs to charge a premium for this book, it’s worth it.
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