“All In: The (Almost) Entirely True History of the World Series of Poker” Review

[LL] “Bits and pieces of the history of the World Series of Poker had previously appeared in books, usually one year at a time,1 but All In: The (Almost) Entirely True History of the World Series of Poker was the first comprehensive volume to cover them all”, Leroy the Lion expounded.

[RR] “Up until what year?” Roderick the Rock asked.

[LL] “2004, as the book came out the following year. It would be great if the authors put out an update or a sequel, but for what it covers, it’s great.

After a brief history of how the WSOP came to be, the 35 festivals are chronologically presented in seventeen chapters. For most years, the number of preliminary events and the size of the Main Event field are stated to indicate how the WSOP continued to grow almost non-stop, but the book is more about stories than numbers. Details of some preliminary events are occasionally given, then the Main Event is described, usually including each day of action with more hand recaps and stories starting from the final table.

Almost every player who made a deep run in the Main Event gets some ink; most get a short biography and a general evaluation of their playing style. Many are quoted talking about their play or their opponents.

As a sideline, the history of Binion’s Horseshoe and the Binion family is updated throughout the book, from Benny Binion’s exile from Texas to the family squabbles that ensued after his death.2

Overall, it’s an engrossing and well-written narrative of the first 35 WSOPs that almost feels too short despite running almost 300 pages.”

[RR] “It’s definitely too short. By about 15 years.”

Title All In: The (Almost) Entirely True History of the World Series of Poker
Author Jonathan Grotenstein & Storms Reback
Year 2005
Skill Level any
Pros Detailed runthroughs of every World Series of Poker Main Event, including many hands from the final tables.
Cons Focused on the stories, so it’s hard to jump to a particular year or find out who finished in what place. A few minor errors.3 Only covers up to 2004.
Rating 4.5

Footnotes:

  1. For example, Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People talks about the 1972 WSOP, Total Poker covers 1973, Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Secrets 1978, The Biggest Game in Town 1981, and Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers 1984.
  2. Many of the sections are better covered in other books (e.g., Binion’s family is thoroughly examined in James McManus’s Positively Fifth Street), but All In does a great job of including the essence of the most interesting stories.
  3. Most of the mistakes can be found in almost every similar book of the era: misspellings of Dandalos for Dandolos and Brian for Bryan (Roberts), presenting the Dandolos-Moss match as fact instead of myth, and repeating that Chris Moneymaker started his World Series of Poker run in a $40 satellite (it was actually $86, not $39).

    One odd double-error, however, is the claim that Amarillo Slim Preston inspired Kenny Rogers to write “The Gambler”. Rogers only sang the song; it was written by Don Schlitz. This mistake probably comes from Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People (page 207), but there are no footnotes to confirm that (this weakness of the book sharply contrasts with James McManus’s well-cited Cowboys Full — The Story of Poker).

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