The COTH reviews Pizza, Pasta and Poker by Vince Burgio

Pizza, Pasta and Poker
By Vince Burgio
Published by

Pizza, Pasta and Poker by Vince Burgio.I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of poker pro biographies or autobiographies will be very, very different from Pizza, Pasta and Poker.

I've read a fair few over the years, including some observer's accounts of the antics of big-name pros of the 60s and 70s, such as Amarillo Slim, plus Big Deal by Tony Holden, but the content of this story is rather unexpected in many ways.

For well over half the book, you could be forgiven for thinking that you'd accidentally picked up a book called Picking Waitresses for Wives: My Bad Choices.

Burgio staggers through the 1970s, clocking up spouses, kids and business ventures, with the occasional mention of poker here and there, mostly lamenting his lack of time to play more of it. In fact, The Game of Life board game could easily be modelled on Burgio's colourful history. He has led an interesting time on this planet, to say the least.

Unlike so many of today's poker pros, whom you suspect would have nothing beyond stories of pots and tourneys won and lost to recount over a dinner table, Pizza, Pasta and Poker paints the picture of a guy you'd just love to invite around to join your Thanksgiving meal or birthday party.

In his time, Burgio has run bars, a restaurant, various gaming establishments and a contruction company, while cruising various singles clubs and bars picking up easy dates. He struggles throughout to balance his success with money and the ladies against the guilt it causes him -- his mother didn't like telling people that her son was in the gambling business.

Fortunately for the sanity of poker readers everywhere, Burgio's third wife encourages him to play more tournament poker.

The final third or so of Pizza, Pasta and Poker recounts his rise to minor stardom as an all-rounder, his winning of a WSOP bracelet (not the big one, though he did place 4th in the 1994 Main Event) and the unique feat of winning three tournaments in three consecutive days.

Vince 'Plaza' Burgio.Burgio missed out on all the major TV deals, his star having peaked just before poker's explosion in the late 90s. He does recount a couple of sponsorship deals from Internet sites, though even here his mixed fortunes illustrate how tenuous the world of online gambling was, years before the big shakedown in the US.

Indeed, he comes across as a grumpy old codger when he talks about how online qualifiers killed the spirit of the WSOP by making the fields too large to be worth competing in. True, probably, but it shows that he's in decline by the time poker is really beginning to explode.

One of the enduring lessons from Pizza, Pasta and Poker, which is no less true today than in Burgio's prime, is: "In the gambling industry, you get paid every day because tomorrow there may be no gambling." This is shown in the book when Seattle bans gambling, never to date allowing it to return. Eerily familiar for American online poker players...

I enjoyed Pizza, Pasta and Poker. Throughout it all, you never doubt that Burgio will come through every one of his crises smelling of roses and with another lesson to teach his grandchildren.

You somehow get the feeling that, when he looks back on his life, he wouldn't swap his experiences for those of today's multimillionaire pros, with their supermodel girlfriends and private jet lifestyles.

But I'm very glad we're not next-door neighbours when his Christmas decorations go up. 

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