Independent Pursuits: Poker

POKER PLAYERS, hustlers, con men, gamblers - they are not all of a piece, but they do overlap. A colourful array of them is presented in an entertaining book, The Man with the $100,000 Breasts. This gentleman with a predilection for taking on proposition bets had breast implants, to give him an anatomy resembling a female bosom. He had to keep it in place for a year, to win the bet. He did it, and the experience proved so unexpectedly rewarding that he found it hard to face the operation to have his breasts removed.

The writer of this story, Michael Konik, knows the gambling milieu from the inside. His collection of far-out gambling stories is both amusing and authentic. One of the episodes I liked best was his description of a bunch of American poker professionals at the King Tut International Poker Tournament in Cairo.

"The whole key to winning at poker is playing someone you're better than," explained Eric Drache, a master of the art. "You might be the ten-millionth best player in the world, but if you're playing the eleven-millionth, you'll win." Forget the Pyramids. What the Las Vegas visitors were looking for was to make a big score, by luring unwary Middle-Eastern card players into high-stakes Omaha games. In this they were only partly successful, owing to a serious lack of oil sheikhs.

The section on poker is more relevant to everyday life. It includes profiles of two world champions, Phil Hellmuth and Huck Seed, which can stand comparison with the best of poker writing. Hellmuth, at times considered by his peers "arrogant, snide and insulting", is termed a Mozart of cards. Huck Seed, posing as a country boy, is "sort of antisocial", a reluctant superstar. I wish Konik had had a chance to talk to Stu Ungar before his untimely death, to give us a "read" on the most talented and disappointing of all recent champions.

Like the rest of us authors, Konik did not fare too well when it came to taking a hand himself in the World Championship. But here too his comments are revealing. In the end he wisely realises that however cruelly the gods of chance may buffet him at the table, in the game of life he has the advantage.

`The Man with the $100,000 Breasts' (Huntington Press, 3687 South Procyon Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada 89103, $24.95)