Until I read Ben Mezrich’s Straight Flush, I had never read a book about people that I know, written by a famous author. I could not help but smile and nod to myself a few times as I read through the book as I am very familiar with the geographical settings and the personalities of the main characters, two aspects of the story that Mezrich very accurately portrayed. I was one of Pete Barovich’s affiliates in my previous role with Casino City, one of my good friends was in a long term relationship Shane Blackford, I met Scott Tom when I went to Antigua to visit Calvin, I’ve been to Costa Rica over a dozen times and have experienced the wonders of the Del Rey, I remember the passage of UIGEA and its devastation, I lived through the cheating scandal and of course, through Black Friday.
As a 2+2 member and online gambling industry professional veteran, I’m very aware of the reputation of Absolute Poker, Ultimate Bet and the people behind these two entities. Mezrich wrote his book based on the story told by the Absolute Poker founders, a story that does not match what much of the online poker industry believes is accurate. As a result there has been quite a bit of backlash toward Mezrich and his book from the poker industry, so I wanted to talk with Mezrich to understand why he wrote the story the way that he did.
When asked why the gambling world continues to appear in his writing his response was, “I’ve always been intrigued by people who take risks, or who are willing to put things on the line and go for something different. It hasn’t really been gambling that draws me to these stories, its more this untold thing that nobody’s ever heard of, schemes and young people who are ambitious and pull things off against big institutions…something to do with money and sex make for a thrill.”
As the conversation continued, it became clear the Founders of AP pitched the story to Mezrich rather than the other way around: “A couple of the founders pitched me the story and I thought, cool, I play poker and I used to play a little bit of online poker and I was intrigued by how it all went down.”
“Ever since Bringing Down the House and the Social Network I get 20-30 pitches a week,” he said
Mezrich was very aware before writing this book that the subject matter would cause a commotion in the online poker industry.
“When I sat down to write this book I absolutely knew this was going to be controversial and that there’s a group of people who feel very strongly that Scott is evil and that the founders of AP are horrible and cheats and things like that.”
However, Mezrich believes that UIEGA is more relevant to the story than the cheating scandal. “A lot of people lost their money, and these are the people they blame, so I knew that there would be controversy”, he says.
When asked how he felt after reading the 2+2 posts about his book he responded with, “There wasn’t a lot that I had not heard before or seen before. They wanted a book that’s just about the cheating scandal from five years ago. What I wanted to write about was the rise and fall of this company, the disaster UIGEA, and the cheating scandal is in there, but that certainly wasn’t the focus of my work…. I think when you read the book its not definitive whether [Scott’s] telling the truth or whether or not he cheated”.
Mezrich claims he’s fascinated by what research has been done, but he’s not convinced it would hold up in a court. “Before my book, 90% of the mainstream world didn’t know there was a scandal- now they know. I’ve certainly PR’d and popularized the notion that there was a scandal going on at AP more than anyone else has in the world”.
He added, “The focus should be on Black Friday and what a disaster that was to the industry rather than focusing on a cheating scandal that is very intriguing, but isn’t the big picture”.
Mezrich shared that he received the same push back after releasing ‘Bringing Down the House’ from the blackjack industry and the same backlash from Silicon Valley after he wrote the ‘Accidental Billionaires’. “I think people should get excited and intense, people get very heated, and that’s what the Internet is all about”.
On another note, we all realize Mezrich is ultimately writing for Hollywood and when asked when the movie will come out he confidently and casually answered with, “We’re going to sell it really soon…we will get a movie out of it eventually”.