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Straight Flush: The True Story of Six College Friends Who Dealt Their Way to a Billion-Dollar Online Poker Empire--and How It All Came Crashing Down...

Straight Flush: The True Story of Six College Friends Who Dealt Their Way to a Billion-Dollar Online Poker Empire--and How It All Came Crashing Down...

3.4 15
by Ben Mezrich

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Billionaires and Bringing Down the House—the sources for the films The Social Network and 21—comes the larger-than-life true tale of a group of American college buddies who brilliantly built a billion-dollar online poker colossus based out of the hedonistic


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Billionaires and Bringing Down the House—the sources for the films The Social Network and 21—comes the larger-than-life true tale of a group of American college buddies who brilliantly built a billion-dollar online poker colossus based out of the hedonistic paradise of Costa Rica.

One problem: the U.S. Department of Justice was gunning for them. . . .

Based on extensive insider interviews and participation, acclaimed author Ben Mezrich's Straight Flush tells the captivating rags-to-riches tale of a group of University of Montana frat brothers who turned a weekly poker game in the basement of a local dive bar into AbsolutePoker.com, one of the largest online companies in the world, on par with some of the behemoths of the Internet. At its height, Absolute Poker was an online empire earning more than a million dollars a day, following savvy business strategy and even better luck. Its founders set up their operations in the exotic jungle paradise of Costa Rica, embracing an outrageous lifestyle of girls, parties, and money.

Meanwhile, the gray area of U.S. and international law in which the company operated was becoming a lot more risky, and soon the U.S. Department of Justice had placed a bull's-eye on Absolute Poker. Should they fold—or double down and ride their hot hand? Impossible to put down, Straight Flush is an exclusive, never-before-seen look behind the headlines of one of the wildest business stories of the past decade.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Mezrich (author The Accidental Billionaires, the basis for the film The Social Network) displays his well-established storytelling chops in this brisk narrative of the rise and fall of an Internet gaming empire that stars six frat brothers from Montana. The tale opens in 2011 with Brent Beckley’s surrender in a Costa Rican airport to an American official. While not convinced of the illegality of his acts, Beckley admits that “maybe we were stupid.” The scene returns to the beginning at the SAE house on the University of Montana campus in 1997, where principals Garin Gustafson, Pete Barovich, Shane Blackford, and Scott Tom are introduced. After graduation, Tom’s enthusiasm for poker inspires him to create Absolute Poker, an online poker site. As the money flows in, Blackford suffers a breakdown and two different cheating scandals mar their success. Ultimately, the question of legality dogs them. In 2006, the men flee corporate offices that they have set up in Vancouver when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police begins an investigation. The passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act in the same year ultimately spells their downfall. Readers curious about fast-living frat boys with questionable judgment will enjoy this debauched business saga. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME. (June)
The Oregonian
“The reigning cowboy of creative nonfiction.”
New York Times
“A near-perfect specimen of pulp nonfiction.”
The action is nonstop. ... Mezrich follows [the] friends from their University of Montana frat house to Costa Rica and Canada as the young entrepreneurs’ extravagant lifestyle of booze, fast cars, and hot women spirals into death threats, auto accidents, 24-hour bodyguards, and federal indictments.”
Boston Globe
“Engrossing. ... I can’t wait for the movie.”
Kirkus Reviews
Mezrich (Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History, 2011, etc.) returns with a breakneck retelling of how a bunch of closely knit fraternity brothers built an online poker empire and how fate's final hand dealt them all a wicked blow. Before the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, the world of online poker was like the Wild West: virtually lawless and flush with easy cash for those audacious enough to grab it. By bringing the casino table into the American living room, top-grossing sites like PokerStars and PartyPoker were able to rake in massive amounts of money. AbsolutePoker, the site hatched among the frat brothers, was right there with the online poker kings, earning its principals staggering sums of money in an incredibly short period of time. While largely nondescript collegiate types, the characters represent the kind of youthful American archetypes that engenders them with empathy. Before long, the frat boys had successfully established their online outpost in the jungles of Costa Rica and were signing up new subscribers almost faster than they could comprehend. Predictably, they also began driving too fast, drinking too much and sleeping with way too many women. Still, thanks to the author's mostly adept hand, they essentially remain the same sympathetic dreamers they were before their worlds started to turn increasingly nightmarish. As the author gleefully hurtles the hapless band of entrepreneurs into that final hairpin turn on the highway, readers are left to wince, the RPMs of this rapid-fire narrative running high in the red. The reportage takes on added significance given the fact that the college crew's final cards have yet to be played. Fast-paced and wildly chaotic.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Straight Flush

By Ben Mezrich

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2013 Ben Mezrich
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-224009-5

DECEMBER 19, 201 1
Ten minutes before 5 a.m., a gray- on- gray sky was pregnant
with the remnants of a passing storm, a thick canopy of clouds
marred by occasional daggers of tropical blue and orange— and
suddenly seven years disintegrated in a flash of reflected sunlight
across the spinning glass of a revolving door.
Brent Beckley stepped through the threshold of the Cen-
tral American country's main airport and into the poorly air-
conditioned terminal. A little over six feet tall, with boyish
features, a square jaw, and blondish- brown hair cut short over a
wide, boxy forehead, Brent was moving fast, his five- hundred-
dollar Italian- leather shoes clicking against the shiny linoleum
floor. He was wearing a conservative dark blue suit with match-
ing tie; there was a briefcase in his right hand and a heavy winter
coat thrown over his left shoulder. Anyone looking his way might
have assumed he was just another young, eager expat business-
man on his way to an important meeting up north; business- clad

2 /
Americans strolling through SantamarÃ-a International were a
common sight, symbolic of the expat community that had grown
exponentially in the near decade since Brent had first arrived in
the tropical country.
But the truth was, Brent Beckley was not on his way to a
business meeting. In fact, he was quite possibly on his way to
a jail cell. And the journey from where he'd started to where
he was going was anything but common. He looked calm, cool,
collected— shoulders back, head up— but on the inside he was
terrified. He could feel the sweat running down the skin above
his spine, and it required all his willpower to keep his knees from
buckling, his body moving forward.
Ten feet from the blue- rope labyrinth that led through to
Immigration and Security, Brent spotted a man strolling deter-
minedly toward him and slowed his gait. At first glance, the man
didn't look like a spy: thin, angular, with narrow cheeks, a sharp
triangular nose, long legs lost in the folds of khaki pants, spindly
arms jutting out past the cuffs of a white button- down shirt. The
man was smiling, having recognized Brent immediately, though
the two had never met. Brent tried to smile back, but the fear
was playing havoc with the neurons that controlled the muscles
of his face.
Brent was barely thirty years old, a small- town kid from
backwoods Montana, a former frat boy who'd spent most of his
adult life working for what he considered to be an Internet com-
pany; he'd certainly never expected to find himself rendezvous-
ing in a tropical airport with a smiling spy.
Then again, the man wasn't necessarily a spy. From what Brent
remembered from the letter he'd received the week before, detail-

ing how the meeting would go down, the man's official title was
some sort of “liaison” with the U.S. State Department, based out
of the embassy in San JosÃ?. And up close, even despite the sharp
contours of his face, he looked much more like a kindly accoun-
tant than a menacing secret operative.
But if Brent had learned anything over the past seven years, it
was that there were very few things in life that were actually black
or white; most things tended to be a mix of both.
“Good morning, Mr. Beckley,” the man said as he intercepted
Brent a few feet from the entrance to the maze of blue rope. “My
name is David Foster. It's nice to meet you.”
Brent shook the man's hand, trying to think of a response.
When none was forthcoming, Foster extended his other hand,
offering two documents. The first was instantly familiar: Brent's
U.S. passport— the same passport he had turned over to the State
Department three days earlier. Glancing at the document, Brent
felt his mouth go dry. He could see, even without looking closely,
that someone had punched three holes through the center of the
cover. Each dark circle tore at the pit of Brent's stomach. There
was something so permanent and real about the sight of that
passport; its mutilation seemed like such a malevolent and un-
necessary act.
A week earlier, when Brent had first made the decision to
turn himself in, the U.S. Embassy had requested a copy of his
passport. Brent had been happy to accommodate, offering them
the original document so they could copy it themselves; they had
promptly confiscated it. Now he could see the result.
It seemed to be just another step in a deceptive game. Brent
had already agreed to surrender, and he was in the process of

4 /
moving his family to the United States— yet even that wasn't
good enough.
Foster appeared to read Brent's thoughts and quickly shifted
the invalidated passport to the side, revealing the second docu-
ment in his hand: a thin, similar- looking passport, this one with
its cover still intact. Brent took both documents from the man,
inspecting the second, smaller booklet— and saw that it was
dated for a single day's use. Brent was still free to travel like any
other American citizen— for the next twenty- four hours.
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Brent fi-
nally shrugged, shoving the two passports into his suit pocket.
“What now?” he asked.
Foster's expression turned soft, and he jerked his head toward
the blue ropes behind him.
“We've got an hour to kill before your flight. You want to get
a cup of coffee?”
It wasn't quite what Brent had expected— but again, none of
this could have been anticipated. He nodded and followed the

Excerpted from Straight Flush by Ben Mezrich. Copyright © 2013 Ben Mezrich. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ben Mezrich graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991. He has published twelve books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Accidental Billionaires, which was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film The Social Network, and Bringing Down the House, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies in twelve languages and became the basis for the Kevin Spacey movie 21. Mezrich has also published the national bestsellers Sex on the Moon, Ugly Americans, Rigged, and Busting Vegas. He lives in Boston.

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Straight Flush: The True Story of Six College Friends Who Dealt Their Way to a Billion-Dollar Online Poker Empire--and How It All Came Crashing Down . 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In general I enjoy Mezrich's writing style and usually his subject matter; I just feel the focus of this book was off. He spent too much time on the lifestyle his subject matter lived, and not enough of the actual impact this company and people had on the lives of ordinary poker players and likely their other employees. I felt that he could have done a better job vetting their story, which as other have pointed out are some major problems with. I think he let the founders off the hook too much, and just took their word for it. While this may have been what was possible in his other books, I feel as though he could have done some real important work uncovering what exactly happened at this company. The last part of his book seems to be rushed, and really focused on putting blame on the DoJ, while ignoring important business decisions the founders made which likely resulted in their ultimate collapse. Overall, I am disappointed with the effort in documenting this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I used to enjoy playing on these poker sites and it was a mystery why the FBI just shut them down.  This is a great read into what happened and how it almost worked!
jrhardee More than 1 year ago
About halfway through the book, I realized that nothing had happened in a long time, aside from frat boys living in squalor, frat boys getting falling-down drunk and frat boys finding themselves surrounded by hookers--that they can actually sleep with if they pay them! Hubba hubba! Then I realized nothing had really happened at all. Online poker sites already existed--they just wanted a nicer one. They collected money from Daddy's friends and paid some Korean contractors to write the code. Zzzz.... I never finished the book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It seems like it was written in a hurry. It does not flow well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Take this to the beach of the pool this summer and you will finish it in one weekend if not one day. Excellent read from end to end with well developed characters, scandals, and a story that at times seems completely unbelievable. Worth your time and money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read several of his other books and although this is not my favorite, it is still a good read. Apparently this book has already been made into a movie, as I recently saw the trailer for it, even before I received the book. This book is not written in the breathless excitement style like some of the others were and I missed that element of the writing, but the story is a solid one and the various characters' tales are worth telling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although this story about Internet Poker during its infancy was extremely entertaining, especially as poker peaked my interest along with so many guys in my age group back in the mid-2000's, I found something missing with this book. I didn't feel like I got to know all of the characters, they just blended into 1 person, and I felt like there were large gaps in the story. All in all, a good read, but with the story that was there, felt like this should have been a Straight Flush, not just a pair of Jacks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hector7478 More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of Mezrich's work and each time I read his books, I finish them in a few days.  This story is something I completely forgot about, until I heard Ben on Jim Rome talking about it. The story is a bit dry, it doesn't pack the punch that Accidental Billionaires does, but it's a good read. Not his best work by any stretch, but a good book nonetheless.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was a fan of  Mezrich's book Bringing Down the House, however Straight Flush is like all the rest since, trying to capture what was great about that story, and like all the rest it doesn't. What these guys did in this story isn't worthy of a book as it gets very dry too often and was hard to keep my interest.  Maybe the movie will be better, but frankly I don't see what narrative even that could take to keep it interesting.  Accidental Billionaires was a instance where the movie was WAY better than the book, and that's thanks to the genius of Aaron Sorkin. This author needs to stop churning out what are basically the same stories over and over.