Poker has been graced by many characters over the years, but only one can claim to have mingled freely with royalty, counted Princess Diana as a confidante, and found time to write books on Shakespeare and Tchaikovsky. And poker, of course.
Holden’s 1990 book Big Deal: A Year as a Professional Poker Player was essential reading for poker players in pre-internet days, not as a learning tool like Doyle Brunson’s Super System, but as a mesmerising account of the life of an itinerant poker pro.
Quite how a 40-something, English-born journalist spends a year in and out of Vegas between the 1988 and 1989 WSOP Main Events makes for fantastic reading.
In Vegas, “London Tony” as he was known, discovered not only the biggest names in the game but an enticing siren: “There is the prospect, if you really go under, of never having to leave, never having to face the grim realities of life again.”
Throughout his year-long trek in poker’s underbelly, Holden was fascinated by its characters: Johnny Moss and his ‘promise’ to pay Holden’s entry fee; shoving aces against Stu Ungar as part of a prop bet; Jack Strauss’ 7-2 psychology lesson. A book full of dreams, broken and fulfilled, Big Deal was Holden’s self-confessed favourite of the more than 20 he authored: “The only one, for sure, that was as much fun to write as to research.”
The Bigger Deal
His own passion for the game saw him take down the first celebrity version of UK TV’s Late Night Poker, defeating the likes of Victoria Coren, Martin Amis and Stephen Fry.
In 2005, Holden revisited his “mid-life crisis” of the late 80s, updating his passion during the Moneymaker-inspired poker boom and writing the sequel, Bigger Deal: A Year Inside the Poker Boom.
Culminating in Jamie Gold’s $12 million Main Event win in 2006, Holden’s characteristic humor shines through as he details the changed landscape of poker.
Huge fields and even bigger prize pools dominate; internet poker is booming, and the seedy backroom poker of his native London is on its way out.
Another book soon followed, Holden On Hold’em: How to Play and Win at the Biggest Deal in Town, a potted history-cum-explanation of how to play and all that poker entails.
In 2009, he was elected first President of the International Federation of Poker, a position he resigned from four years later.
To some, Holden was a journalist and reporter, to others a classic music reviewer, to others yet a Royal correspondent of note, as well as a family man and good friend. For poker players, he was a writer who brought the game alive in the tradition of Jim McManus and Holden’s good friend Al Alvarez.
Anthony Holden died on October 7th, 2023, at the age of 76.