Inside Look: Alligator Blood, by James Leighton
British author James Leighton’s new poker blood Alligator Blood has debuted in recent weeks to some interesting commentary, both in the form of formal reviews and social-media quips. It’s an interesting book, somewhat ironic in that many of its later chapters deal with online poker’s Black Friday and related events, which one would have thought would have first appeared courtesy of a US-published book, not one from the UK.
There’s also a bit of a disclaimer here: Your faithful FlushDraw scribe is one of several industry people interviewed at length in Alligator Blood, appearing for about a chapter and a half of industry and poker-scandal related discussion within the book. We’ll get to that in good time as well, but as such, this post isn’t a formal review so much as an insight into what the book offers.
What Alligator Blood is, in large part, is the first-person tale of the infamous Australia-based poker-processing operation, Intabill, as largely told by Daniel Tzvetkoff, the head of that operation. Tzvetkoff was the high-flying, free-spending founder of Intabill who became a pariah of the online-poker world after Intabill crumbled in 2009, owing roughly $30 million to PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker, among others.
Full Tilt ended up suing Tzvetkoff for $52 million later in 2009, and Tzvetkoff’s own founding partner at Intabill, Australian attorney Sam Sciacca, piled on with his own $100 million suit against Tzvetkoff soon after. Where all the money actually went seemed at least partially obvious, since Tzvetkoff lived the high life during his brief run at the top, purchasing a Brisbane mansion, launching a racing team and spending profusely, to the ire of his clients, who noted the young tycoon’s headline-making purchases and would rather have seen Tzvetkoff stay quiet and behind the scenes.
Alligator Blood is the story of all that and more. Tzvetkoff was just lucky enough to see a business opportunity and take advantage of it, but his naivety, greed and eventual corruption quickly caused Intabill’s collapse, almost as soon as it rose to to the top. Tzvetkoff points plenty of fingers throughout the pages of Leighton’s novel, and some of that finger-pointing is well deserved, particularly at Curtis Pope and John Scott Clark, two of the more shady characters ever to become involved in processing for online poker. (FlushDraw will be returning to the stories of Pope, Clark and others in a near-future post.)
Yet some of it also more of what usually happens with people operating in the grey areas of the law, a lot of selective memory goin’ on. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive one of the few early print copies of Alligator Blood that’s anywhere in the US — sent to me directly by Leighton himself — thank you, James! — and I’ve had a week to give Alligator Blood a thorough once-over. I like the book, overall, and it’s weird to appear as minor character within it, but I’m also both close enough to the story and experienced enough to see that the book has some flaws.
Overall, Leighton in Alligator Blood is a bit too effusive and accepting of the things he’s been told, and that goes for major protagonists such as Tzvetkoff and Sciacca as well as the minor background characters who Leighton uses in creating an industry framework in which to present Tveztkoff’s tale.
In addition to yours truly, several other industry figures and players make an interview appearance, including Nolan Dalla, I. Nelson Rose, Greg Merson, Brian Hastings and the PPA’s John Pappas. None of what we told to Leighton is absolutely vital to telling the Tzvetkoff story, and in the case of mine in particular, and Hastings’ and Pappas’s as well, I’d go so far as to say the framing effect actually interrupts the flow. Such are the risks an author takes, though I wish he’d made the lot of us a little less noble and a little more of who we really are — people, warts and all, who just happen to know things about the workings of the poker world.
Leighton’s also somewhat short of being an exceptionally gifted, fluent writer. With no offense intended, he’s more on my level, grinding out occasional awkward and wordy sentences, rather than having the true gift for words that poker has seen in the works of Al Alvarez and Jim McManus, among others. But Leighton gives it the ol’ college try, and by and large it’s readable, so there’s that.
Are there plenty of surprises in Alligator Blood? I’d say so, yes, and because of that, it’s very much worth the read. There are also some unanswered questions, such as who it was who fingered Tzvetkoff for federal authorities at a Las Vegas trade show. Leighton’s text suggests some possibilities, but doesn’t quite connect all the dots, though it seems clear that the popular belief that it was Howard Lederer or another Full Tilt figure is probably well off the mark.
We’ll be bringing up bits and pieces from Alligator Blood in several near future posts, since a lot of the dark era of processing between the passage of the UIGEA and Black Friday has never been fully told. Alligator Blood offers some of that, but not all. Despite its imperfections, and despite accusations from characters within such as payment processor Chad “Black Friday Chad” Elie that the book is a fiction and full of lies, there’s enough here to at least warrant discussion and further examination. Elie doesn’t come out too well in Alligator Blood‘s pages, so one wouldn’t expect him to be a fan. Others will have widely varying opinions, both good and bad.
Would-be US readers won’t have much success finding a print copy. For now, Alligator Blood is UK-only, meaning that American readers will have to order a copy to be shipped overseas (via sites such as Amazon UK) or purchase the electronic version.