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Diary of a Mad Poker Player

A Journey to the World Series of Poker

Richard Sparks

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Strengths: Well written introduction to Hold'em for beginners; interesting interviews
Weaknesses: Bland, little in the way of useful poker advice
Year: 2005
Page Count: 267

Reviewed by DanMac on Aug. 2, 2005.

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This book traces the life of the writer during his foray into the realm of poker, specifically his endeavor to gain entry into the 2004 World Series of Poker. Initially, this premise seems promising. A professional writer should be able to deliver a well-written account of a potentially interesting journey, hopefully sharing a hold'em lesson or two along the way.

Unfortunately, the book falls short of that potential. The poker information lacks the detail of analysis needed to make it useful, and the story lacks the high-stakes drama that would have made it compelling. Overall, this is a dull and ineffective book that will disappoint most of the target audience, save for a few moments where Sparks entertains the reader with interviews that display his skill as a journalist, a talent that he should have exploited more throughout the course of this book.

Poker Advice

A substantial portion of the beginning of this book is devoted to a very basic description of Hold'em. Readers who have never played a hand before may find this informative, but the majority of the target audience will find this tedious and boring, despite its being fairly well written.

Sparks does not provide much useful advice regarding strategy, nor was it his intent to do so. While many readers may be able to identify with the plot, playing in low-limit games and struggling to qualify for the WSOP is much more interesting to attempt than to read about. This mundane storyline forces a disinterested audience to scavenge for something of value, perhaps in the form of advice that will make them better players. Unfortunately, Sparks is not a professional poker player (he routinely acknowledges this fact), which casts doubt upon the teaching value of his techniques.


The designation of this book as a diary enabled Sparks to loosely organize his writing to include a variety of topics at indiscriminate times. This tended to interrupt the flow of the text, making it a slower read, but it allowed him to break up the story of his quest to include a moderately detailed and interesting description of how cheating (collusion) might easily be accomplished in online poker rooms.

In interviews conducted by Sparks with a number of online poker executives, this hypothetical situation is summarily dismissed. The level of confidence that these administrators have in their software is reassuring, and this makes these segments a somewhat worthwhile supplement to Sparks' story. Nevertheless, the reasons behind their confident assertions aren't described in enough detail to change your mind if you already hold a strong belief regarding the prevalence of cheating in online poker rooms.

Additionally, Sparks includes information about some of the pros, in the form of stories and interviews that serve to break up the monotony of his mission and provide some entertainment. The interview with Sam Farha is particularly engaging and worthwhile, an amusing moment in an otherwise lackluster narrative.


Diary of a Mad Poker Player can be purchased at Amazon

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