The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King by Michael Craig
The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King by Michael Craig
- Non-fiction account of largest documented poker game in history
- Our rating: 90 (out of 100)
- Fascinating story of billionaire taking on the top poker pros
- Year of publication: 2005
Overview of this excellent poker book my Michael Craig
Michael Craig’s The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time is a fascinating look not only inside the world of professional poker, but inside the largest series of known poker games to ever have taken place.
This is a non-fiction account of billionaire Andy Beal, a bank owner from Dallas, Texas and his quest to beat professional poker players at their own game from 2001-2004.
However, unlike the players who try to take on the best at big cash games or tournaments, Beal will only give the pros a shot at his money if they play for the highest stakes ever contested.
The game was always heads-up limit hold’em at The Bellagio in Las Vegas and the stakes often reached $50,000/$100,000.
That meant potential swings of millions of dollars per hand! What follows in The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King is Craig’s thoroughly researched poker epic of Andy Beal’s attempt to bring the poker economy to its knees and, most importantly for him, master one of his biggest self-induced challenges.
My unadulterated thoughts on The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King
The sheer facts of the poker games between Andy Beal and the pros should make this story huge: a poker newcomer takes on the world’s best poker players for $10 million at a time. However, the interesting thing about this series of games is that they largely took place in a private bubble away from the limelight of poker.
In fact, when the games started in 2001 there was no limelight of poker.
Even as the games continued through the poker boom, there were no television crews documenting the action for the rest of us to watch from home. With the stakes so high, spectators weren’t allowed to crowd the surrounding space and, in fact, that would be the last thing that Andy Beal would want.
Andy Beal was a banker and not a pro poker player
Andy Beal’s background was in finance, not poker. His most successful venture, Beal Bank based out of Texas, netted (and still nets him) several hundred million dollars per year. Beal didn’t become interested in poker with the goal of becoming a professional but rather as a personal challenge to master the game as best he could.
The best test of his progress, he decided, would be to challenge the top poker professionals. In order to lessen the obvious advantage of experience and sheer skill that the pros held over him, Beal insisted on playing heads-up limit hold’em for stakes that he rightfully assumed would take them out of their natural element.
Intimidating stakes, even for the pros
Even to the top professionals, $100,000 big bets put a significant chunk of their bankroll on the line. Even short-term bad luck could cost millions. Saying that it was essential for the pros to put aside the value of the chips couldn’t be overstated.
Assembling the Dream Team of Poker
With the intent of getting a chance at the billionaire’s fortunes, the professionals would accept the challenge at all costs. In order to lessen their individual financial risk and build a large enough bankroll, Doyle Brunson assembled a team of players/investors including his son Todd Brunson, Howard Lederer (The Professor), Ted Forrest (The Suicide King), Jennifer Harman, Chip Reese, and Barry Greenstein.
Each of them contributed as much as $1 million and would take turns playing Andy Beal heads-up. Just the logistics of such a collaboration were fascinating to read about and you do get a great behind-the-scenes look at the world of high-stakes poker.
In an inherently individual game, the pros had to become a collective and rely on each other in order to be able to succeed. The dynamics, dialogue, and psychology behind these mega-games make for a truly interesting read.
While perhaps I shouldn’t divulge the eventual outcome of the series of games, I will say that as time progressed the edge that the pros held over Beal almost became nonexistent. The fact that the games took place over several years speaks to the fact that they were closer than most would expect.
Michael Craig’s writing style
As for Michael Craig’s actual writing, it is a small marvel how he wrote with such detail on such a private game.
He did a commendable job tracking down and interviewing the key players and he has a great reporting writing style. While most of the commentary is strictly factual and the play-by-play is a bit dry at times the book is very engaging overall if you love poker.
Craig also provides succinct biographies and interesting tidbits about all the key players.
Overall, if you’re a poker player or poker fan who enjoys non-fiction, The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King is a must-read. The magnitude of these games is simply mind-boggling and takes you into a level of poker that is difficult even to imagine.
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Final score on Craig’s excellent text
Out of 100, I give Michael Craig’s The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King a 90. Craig takes readers into the world of unimaginable games and the politics between the top poker professionals.
About Michael Craig
Michael Craig graduated from the University of Michigan Law School. After practicing law for fifteen years, he discovered a new passion: writing.
He first started as a freelance writer for different magazines but also published two books on topics of finance and business. Then, the idea to write The Professor, The Bankar, and the Suicide King came to him.
Craig explains that the biggest motivation for writing the book was the fact that he really wanted to do it. He got acquainted to some lower stakes regulars at the Bellagio and worked his way up.
Reaching out to the pros
Eventually he managed to reach out to Todd Bronson who, according to Craig, was very friendly and accommodating when he explained he wanted to write a book about the high stakes poker and the big game involving Andy Beal.
After Todd, came the others. He was able to interview pretty much everyone who was involved in the game, including Doyle, Forrest, and Lederer.
Craig initially planned to publish his book under a simple title: “The Big Game,” but it was decided that a more “literary” title was better suited. And so, “The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King” came to life.
If you are interested in finding out more about the author and how this great piece of poker literature was created, check out this interesting PokerSource interview with the author.
A lifelong poker player who moved online in 2004, Josh founded Beat The Fish in 2005 to help online poker players make more-informed decisions on where to play and how to win once they got there. He hopes to counter the rampant dishonesty in online gaming media with objective reviews and relevant features. Tech nostalgic. Fondly remembers the soup avatar at Doyle’s Room.