coveted by many of the nation's financial institutions. But this year, the state's mergers and acquisitions scene has become an incremental game of chess for some institutions and Russian roulette for others.

For market leader Barnett Banks Inc. in Jacksonville, the last major banking company based in Florida, its in-state M&A strategy is defensive - focused on maintaining its status as the No. 1 bank by deposit share, ahead of First Union Corp. That's why Barnett aggressively bid $160 million for - and won - the $1.1-billion Florida franchise left behind in June by the departing First of America Bank of Kalamazoo, Mich.

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