“The Noble Hustle” Review

Colson Whitehead is one of a number of authors who have been fortunate enough to have his publisher pay him1 to write about playing in the World Series of Main Event. But he’s the only Pulitzer Prize winner2 in the group, making The Noble Hustle3 a delightful read. Unfortunately, he isn’t a very good poker player, regularly joining other writers only in very low-stakes dealer’s choice home games and completely lacking in tournament experience.

More than a decade into the poker boom and a month after Black Friday has effectively killed internet poker in the U.S., Whitehead still lays out the basics of Texas Hold ‘Em and explains how tournaments work, but at least he does so more entertainingly than anyone else has. A driver’s license-less native of the Big Apple, he takes the bus to Atlantic City, accepts his complimentary chips and tangles with denizens of the $1/$2 Hold ‘Em tables. This is a step up from his usual game but still far from where he’s going.

Despite hiring a poker coach,4 he isn’t able to learn fast enough to impress anyone with his skills or results. Fortunately, he is honest with us about this, deprecatingly describing his style as “Tight Incompetent”.5 His two strongest features are his poker face, which he wears as a self-declared member of the Republic of Anhedonia,6, and his patience. These help him book a nice win at the $1/$2 Limit Hold ‘Em table at the Tropicana and a decent cash in a $50 buyin tournament there.

But just six weeks later he’s made the massive jumps to Las Vegas, the No-Limit Main Event, and a $10,000 buyin. Despite additional advice from Matt Matros, a writer-turned-successful-poker-player, Whitehead is far from ready. His Main Event story unfolds over the last fifty pages of the book. His demise is fully expected yet still disappointing to him, the now defunct Grantland, and the reader, who is left wishing there was more for him to tell.

Title The Noble Hustle
Author Colson Whitehead
Year 2014
Skill Level any
Pros Quick, enjoyable, easy read from a great writer.
Cons Maybe too quick, despite the content being padded unchronologically by events a year after the main narrative.
Rating 3.0


  1. And yes, they’ve all been men so far (see the “Journals by writers” section of Books About the WSOP Main Event). That is definitely a glaring hole in the literature. Maria Konnikova certainly could have already done it had she not gotten sidetracked by learning to play poker too well (but it’s still not too late).
  2. The Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer in 2017 a year after winning the National Book Award.
  3. The subtitle of the book is “Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death”. “Death refers to busting out of a poker tournament, while beef jerky is one of the preferred snacks of poker players who may not be able to get away from the table long enough for a proper meal.
  4. Helen Ellis is also a writer by trade, but she has over $100,000 in live poker tournament cashes.
  5. On page 183, Whitehead admits to folding out of turn and unintentionally putting in an insufficient raise because he confused the chips.
  6. “Anhedonia”, meaning “the inability to feel pleasure” is a real word but a fictitious location.

“Final Table: A Winning Poker Approach from a WSOP Champion” Review

[LL] “Originally published in the same year,” Leroy the Lion segued, “Jerry Yang’s All In and Jonathan Duhamel’s Final Table: A Winning Approach From a WSOP Champion come from Main Event winners just three years apart but are extremely different types of books from very different players.

  • Duhamel grew up in a comfortable home in a Canadian suburb.1 Yang grew up dirt poor in rural Laos.
  • Duhamel learned poker as a teenager. Yang wasn’t even allowed to play chess as a kid and didn’t learn poker until he was an adult working as a psychologist.
  • Duhamel turned pro while taking a break from college and had over $100,000 in career cashes before his WSOP victory. Yang arrived at the World Series of Poker as an anonymous amateur who had never even had a five-figure cash.
  • Duhamel writes a little about his life history but primarily aims to teach high-level poker strategy while mentioning an occasional hand from his championship. Yang splits his book between his life’s journey and his poker journey, culminating with a detailed retelling of his final table.”

[RR] “Interesting. Which did you like better?”

[LL] “Apples and oranges. Didn’t learn much about poker from Yang’s book, but it was much more riveting. Didn’t hear as much about Duhamel’s championship as I would have liked, just random bits and pieces, but his book was much more educational.

He mostly teaches what you need to know, both at the table and away from it, to play high level poker. Chapters such as ‘Getting in the Zone’, ‘Discipline’, and ‘Knowing Yourself’ could really apply to any game or sport, while others such as ‘Knowing Your Numbers’, ‘Creativity’, and ‘Taking Risks’ give more specific poker advice. He actually refers to his eighteen chapters as ‘qualities’ that all top poker pros, like Allen Cunningham, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and Phil Ivey, possess.”

[RR] “And presumably Duhamel himself.”

[LL] “Yes. He does a fairly decent job of not bragging too much, but he does make it clear that he worked hard to improve his skills. He also concedes how lucky he was to win the Main Event.”

[RR] “Not nearly as lucky as Yang, I’m sure.”

[LL] “I guess I could also mention the handful of ‘According to Jonathan’ insets that appear throughout the book with pithy recommendations, but those are underwhelming in length and quantity (just six of them).

The most interesting story in the book is unfortunately relegated to a few paragraphs at the end. An ex-girlfriend set Duhamel up to be violently robbed, including a lot of cash and his priceless championship bracelet, which was later recovered badly damaged.”

Title Final Table: A Winning Poker Approach from a WSOP Champion
Author Jonathan Duhamel
Year 2012 (originally published in French as Cartes sur Table in 2011)
Skill Level any
Pros Well-considered thoughts from a highly skilled poker pro.
Cons Fairly short book with mostly high level advice; plenty of room for a coherent retelling of the 2010 WSOP Main Event.
Rating 3.0


  1. Duhamel grew up in Boucherville, a primarily French-speaking Montreal suburb of about 40,000 people.

“All In: From Refugee Camp to Poker Champ” Review

[LL] “How much do you know about Jerry Yang?” Leroy the Lion inquired.

[RR] “Not much. Chinese guy who became a billionaire during the dot-com era by founding Yahoo”, Roderick the Rock replied.

[LL] “Actually, that Jerry Yang is Taiwanese-American, but I meant the other Jerry Yang, who is about the same age as the entrepreneur.”

[RR] “Oh, you mean the amateur who won the World Series of Poker in 2007. All I know is that he got very lucky and then basically disappeared from the poker world.”

[LL] “Luckier than you think. But he did continue to play; he just hasn’t had any other notable successes unless you count 5th place in the 2010 NBC National Heads-Up Championship for $75,000.”

[RR] “That’s what, like two heads-up wins?”

[LL] “Three. The blinds went up pretty fast though.”

[RR] “Perfect for the luck master.”

[LL] “That’s really the story of his life, which is actually very interesting. In his autobiography, All In: From Refugee Camp to Poker Champ, Yang (or more accurately, his ghostwriter Mark Tabb) deftly jumps back and forth detailing his two treacherous journeys, in poker and in life, where a single misstep could be fatal, one literally and the other figuratively. The book opens with the Californian heads up at the World Series of Poker Main Event but then flashes back to the separate tracks of his childhood in Laos and the start of his poker career.

Although the title cleverly rhymes ‘camp’ with ‘champ’, Yang’s beginnings were so humble that getting to the refugee camp was already a major accomplishment. Before leaving his birth country, he was so poor that he had never worn shoes or underwear and played soccer with pig-bladder balls and marbles with carved rocks. He, his family, and his entire village are in constant danger from North Vietnamese soldiers, crop failures, and Mother Nature, so his father decides to risk everything, as little as that is, to leave the country and hopefully relocate to the United States. Carrying just some food and a few of their meager belongings, they try to use the cover of darkness to reach the Mekong River, which they hope to find a way to cross into Thailand.

Meanwhile, Yang’s poker story begins on his sofa, where he is enchanted by the World Series of Poker Main Event final table playing on ESPN. He quickly realizes that Texas Hold ‘Em is about much more than the cards and is immediately hooked. He starts with a meager $50 bankroll, playing small tournaments in local casinos while dreaming of satelliting into the WSOP Main Event.

Yang needs a lot of luck to survive his two difficult journeys, but he’s an intelligent, quick learner who goes from ESL1 classes to high school valedictorian. He also has the courage and ambition to rise from his impoverished youth to a successful career as a psychologist and family counselor and the World Series of Poker Main Event champion.”

[RR] “Sometimes you need to make your own luck.”

Title All In: From Refugee Camp to Poker Champ
Author Jerry Yang with Mark Tabb
Year 2011
Skill Level any (history) / Beginner (poker strategy)2
Pros Fascinating stories of Yang’s escape from Laos and success at the poker table.
Cons On the poker side of things, Yang’s luck is extraordinary3, leaving his poker journey inspirational but nearly irreproducible.
Rating 3.0


  1. English as a Second Language.
  2. Yang details several WSOP Main Event hands throughout the book which contain some poker advice, but he ends the book with an appendix titled “Jerry’s Winning Poker Strategies”, which contain the brief sections on “8 Things Beginning Players Need to Know”, “Top 8 Rookie Mistakes”, “Top 8 Tells”, “Top 8 Hand to Play”, and “Basic Tournament Strategy”.
  3. For example, during his first day of the 2007 WSOP Main Event, Yang was dealt pocket Aces seven times, far above the one or maybe two you would expect.

“Check-Raising the Devil” Review

[LL] “What do you think of Mike Matusow?” Leroy the Lion inquired.

[RR] “He’s an obnoxious, loud-mouthed druggie with integrity issues”, Roderick the Rock opined.

[LL] “Wow, tell us how you really feel. What if I told you most of his problems stemmed from an undiagnosed and untreated illness?”

[RR] “I guess I’d excuse his past behavior a little, but it wouldn’t really make me like him more.”

[LL] “Well, Mike Matusow was eventually diagnosed as bipolar. He experiences higher highs and lower lows than most people. The way he’s led his life has contributed greatly to the roller coaster, reaching the top of the poker world and the bottom of a solitary confinement cell in prison. His autobiography, Check-Raising the Devil, shares all the excitement of his life, both the good and the bad.

Matusow’s first addiction isn’t to drugs but to video poker. With the odds against him even with perfect strategy, he nevertheless continually wastes away his paychecks for the small thrill he experiences when he wins. Gambler’s Anonymous fails to cure him, but a friend who sees him playing introduces him to real poker. At 21 years old, Matusow discovers he’s a ‘natural’ and has found his true calling. Soon he is playing $1/$2 Limit Hold ‘Em cash games almost every day and making about $500 a week. Fortunately, his new addiction is profitable! Within a year, he wins his first tournament for $10,000 and earns a nickname, ‘The Loud Mouth’, which doesn’t like. Instead he starts calling himself just ‘The Mouth’, and the adjusted moniker sticks.

Still primarily a Limit Hold ‘Em player, Matusow finds the day’s Hold ‘Em satellite full at the 1997 World Series of Poker, so he decides to take a crack at a Limit Omaha Hi-Lo satellite. After some brief advice from Mark Gregorich to restrict his play to hands with A2, A3, or A4, he not only wins the satellite but reaches the final table of the bracelet event, ultimately falling to Scotty Nguyen heads up. His first WSOP cash brings in $81,700.

Matusow doesn’t play the Main Event because of his lack of experience with No-Limit poker,1 but he vows to learn. Two years later his work pays off in the WSOP $3,500 No Limit Hold ‘Em, where he defeats Alex Brenes2 heads up for $265,475 and his first WSOP bracelet.

A cold streak playing high stakes cash Limit Hold ‘Em and Omaha Hi-Lo cost his entire bankroll, and he chooses not to look for a backer, instead starting over by borrowing $100,000 against his house.

A couple of party-hardy friends introduce him to Ecstasy, which he was soon addicted to, even though he denies it. He next gets hooked on crystal meth through his girlfriend Teri yet managed to keep playing poker well for a while.”

[RR] “So, high among Matusow’s bad choices must be the type of people he liked to hang out with.”

[LL] “Yes, yet during this phase in 2001, Matusow makes it to the WSOP Main Event final table, where he places sixth for $239,765.

Because he wants to win so badly, what many other people would consider a tremendous success sends him into depression, and the drug use takes its toll. Matusow is on and off meth while losing $700,000 over the next half year. He finally turns things around after Teri breaks up with him. He gets off drugs, working out a gym and running when he feels withdrawal symptoms, and loses 20 pounds.3

After failing to cash in a few events at the 2002 WSOP, Matusow satellites in to the $5,000 Limit Omaha Hi-Lo then upends Daniel Negreanu heads up for his second bracelet (and $148,520). More importantly, he wins without using drugs.

After staying drug-free for a while, he relapses before the 2003 WSOP, where John Brody stakes him on the condition that he stay clean. Instead, Matusow takes smaller amounts surreptitiously and plays only well enough to break even.

After a trip to France with Howard Lederer and David Grey, Matusow finally gets the help he needs. A psychologist orders him to stay clean for thirty days, then a psychiatrist diagnoses him as bipolar. With proper medication4 Matusow is finally able to get off illegal drugs for good on July 23, 2003.

The next dark chapter of his life is spent in jail after his ‘friend’ Mike Vento (real name Gennaro), who had stuck with him during his month-long cleanse, asks him to buy some cocaine for him. It’s a sting, and Matusow eventually chooses to spend six months in jail instead of risking a sentence as long as ten years.

After serving his time, which did have the upside of forcing him onto a regular schedule with his medications, Matusow makes it back to the 2005 WSOP Main Event final table, this time finishing 9th for exactly a million dollars, of which he nets about $250,000,5 plus a freeroll into the Tournament of Champions in November. He precedes to win that event over Johnny Chan for another million dollars!

Three years later, Matusow wins his third WSOP bracelet6 in the $5,000 No-Limit 2-to-7 Lowball for $537,862, the last big highlight in the book.”

[RR] “He’s been more successful than I realized.”

[LL] “So, you like him a little more now? Actually, you don’t have to like him to enjoy the book, but you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t at least develop a little sympathy for him. Mistakes, he’s made a few. But he soldiers on and at least is able to continue doing what he does best, which is play poker.”

Title Check-Raising the Devil
Author Mike Matusow
Year 2009
Skill Level any
Pros The biography of one of the least boring people in the poker world.
Cons Way more than you ever wanted to know about drugs (but legal and illegal).
Rating 2.5


  1. Matusow says on page 72, “… no matter what anyone tells you, No-Limit Hold ‘Em and Limit Hold ‘Em are not the same game. They’re as different from each other as piss and water.”
  2. Alex Brenes is Humberto Brenes’s younger brother. Their brother Eric also plays poker professionally.
  3. The book covers his first weight loss bet with Ted Forrest in 2008, but was published before the infamous followup prop bet.
  4. Matusow took Depakote for his bipolar disorder and Lexipro for his depression.
  5. Matusow had to pay his backers and some other outstanding debts.
  6. In 2013, Matusow won a fourth bracelet in the $5,000 Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo. Impressively, each of his bracelets has been in a different game: Hold ‘Em, Omaha, 2-7 Draw, and Seven-Card Stud.

“Poker Wizards” Review

[LL] “The next book I read was Warwick Dunnett’s Poker Wizards: Wisdom from the World’s Top No-Limit Hold’em Players“, Leroy the Lion stated.

[RR] “So it’s actually done with magic?” Roderick the Rock queried.

[LL] “Sure,… if you define ‘magic’ as hard work, aggression, and observation.

Dunnett interviewed Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu, Dan Harrington, Marcel Luske, Kathy Liebert, T.J. Cloutier, Mike Sexton, and Mel Judah, asking each of them a predetermined set of questions about how to play poker, so this book is a bit of a Groundhog Day, with the same topics mostly repeating nine times:

  • The Making of a Poker Wizard: what it takes to become a top poker pro.
  • Tournament Strategy
  • Aggression
  • Starting Hand Concepts
  • Specific Hand Strategy for No-Limit Hold ‘Em Tournaments
  • Tells
  • Playing Online
  • Psychology
  • Money Management

For consistency, the tournament scenario starts with a full table of players with 10,000 chips and blinds at 100/200. Your opponents play reasonably well and moderately aggressively.

Many times the pros give similar advice, but sometimes they don’t.”

[RR] “Isn’t that confusing?”

[LL] “It can be. In the final chapter, Dunnett briefly summarizes the players’ responses to each question, which I suppose leads to the best way to use this book — skim everything once to get the lay of the land then go back and reread the sections of the pros whose styles you like the most, since it’s impossible to follow all of the advice at the same time (for example, Ferguson and Harrington play much tighter than the others).

The good news is that sometimes a particular pro has ideas that the others simply didn’t think of. Ferguson is the only player who discusses game theory, Luske and Liebert are the only two who cover cash game strategy, and Sexton alone elaborates on bluffing.

And the second to last chapter is very different from the rest, with mentalist and lie detector Marc Salem exploring ‘How to Read People and Detect Lies’ in much more detail than the poker pros had examined tells. The material in this section is pretty strong, although none of it is groundbreaking.

Overall, Poker Wizards was an easy read with some good tips, but it didn’t leave me spellbound.”

Title Poker Wizards: Wisdom from the World’s Top No-Limit Hold’em Players
Author Warwick Dunnett
Year 2008
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Biographies and good advice from some very strong poker pros.
Cons Repetitive with sometimes contradictory advice.
Rating 2.5

Card Player Player of the Year: Jake Schindler

[SS] “Happy New Year!” Stan the Stat greeted.

[LL] “Happy 2019!” Leroy the Lion returned.

[RR] “Ready to ring in the new year with some poker?” Roderick the Rock inquired.

[SS] “Not quite. It’s time to wrap up last year first.”

[LL] “Player of the Year?”

[SS] “Yes, there were some amazing performance in 2018! Justin Bonomo set an all-time record with ten titles and $25,295,441 in winnings and finished… fifth!”

[RR] “Wow!”

[SS] “David Peters also broke the previous record but ended three behind Bonomo.

Three players would have set the record for most final tables any other year: Stephen Chidwick, Rainer Kempe, and Peters each made 26 final tables! And any other year, Chidwick would hold the record for points, having topped Daniel Negreanu’s 14-year-old record.

But in 2018 none of those were good enough, as Jake Schindler reached an astonishing 31 final tables and collected 9,407 points for the crown. Congratulations to both Schindler and Bonomo on their incredible years!”

Card Player Player of the Year – 1997 to 2003

Year Winner
1997 Men Nguyen
1998 T.J. Cloutier
1999 Tony Ma
2000 David Pham
2001 Men Nguyen
2002 T.J. Cloutier
2003 Men Nguyen

Card Player Player of the Year – 2004 to Present

Year Winner Points Runner-Up Points Margin
2004 Daniel Negreanu 8,764 David Pham 7,068 19.4%
2005 Men Nguyen 5,204 John Phan 4,428 14.9%
2006 Michael Mizrachi 5,989 Nam Le 5,215 12.9%
2007 David Pham 6,562 J.C. Tran 5,748 12.4%
2008 John Phan 6,704 David Pham 6,022 10.2%
2009 Eric Baldwin 6,994 Cornel Cimpan 5,934 15.2%
2010 Tom Marchese 6,738 Dwyte Pilgrim 5,576 17.2%
2011 Ben Lamb 6,036 Chris Moorman 5,875 2.7%
2012 Greg Merson 5,100 Dan Smith 5,040 1.2%
2013 Daniel Negreanu 5,140 Paul Volpe 4,298 16.4%
2014 Daniel Colman 5,498 Ami Barer 5,042 8.3%
2015 Anthony Zinno 6,632 Joe Kuether 6,070 8.5%
2016 David Peters 8,601 Fedor Holz 7,058 17.9%
2017 Adrian Mateos 7,220 Bryn Kenney 7,173 0.7%
2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 Stephen Chidwick 8,845 6.0%


  • Men Nguyen won the award a record four times (1997, 2001, 2003, and 2005).
  • T.J. Cloutier (1998 and 2002), David Pham (2000 and 2007), and Daniel Negreanu (2004 and 2013) have won twice each.
  • Negreanu outpointed second place by the largest (2004) and third largest (2013) margins. Merson (2012) eked by with the smallest margin. Mateos edged Kenney by a mere 47 points (0.7%) for the 2017 crown. Fedor Holz finished third for a second consecutive medal finish.

Here are the all-time records for Points, Titles, and Final Tables with data going back to the rule changes of 2004.

Most Player of the Year Points

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 6 31 $8,731,019
2 2018 Stephen Chidwick 8,845 5 26 $9,950,805
3 2004 Daniel Negreanu 8,764 4 11 $4,420,221
4 2016 David Peters 8,601 5 22 $7,370,255
5 2018 Alex Foxen 8,259 5 18 $6,606,037
6 2018 David Peters 8,059 7 26 $10,598,504
7 2018 Justin Bonomo 7,752 10 23 $25,295,441
8 2017 Adrian Mateos 7,220 4 22 $5,664,635
9 2017 Bryn Kenney 7,173 5 23 $8,201,128
10 2004 David Pham 7,068 5 15 $1,533,268


  • David Peters and Justin Bonomo became the first players to finish in the Top 10 in a season four times. David Pham was the first player to finish in the Top 10 three times way back in 2008. Jason Mercier matched him in 2015, Bonomo and Peters in 2016, and Schindler in 2018.
  • Erik Seidel, Jason Mercier, Joseph Mckeehen, and David Peters are the only players to finish in the Top 25 five times. Phan, Dan Smith, Daniel Negreanu, J.C. Tran, John Juanda, Steve O’Dwyer, Erick Lindgren, Nick Petrangelo, and Schindler have each done it four times. Mckeehen has the record with five straight, one ahead of Tran and Petrangelo (both Mckeehen’s and Petrangelo’s streaks are alive).
  • Vanessa Selbst is the only women to finish in the Top 25, which she had done three times with two Top 10 finishes before retiring at the start of 2018.

Most Titles

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2018 Justin Bonomo 7,752 10 23 $25,295,441
2 2018 David Peters 8,059 7 26 $10,598,504
3 2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 6 31 $8,731,019
2018 Rainer Kempe 5,924 26 $5,464,179
2018 Sam Soverel 3,355 18 $2,522,258
2005 John Hoang 3,267 17 $492,817
2018 Sean H. Yu 1,206 13 $190,027
2008 Men Nguyen 3,662 10 $776,832
2012 Dan Smith 5,040 9 $3,673,806
2018 David Brookshire 1,758 9 $284,817


  • With another increase in tournaments to choose from, the Top 10 was rewritten this year with seven 2018 results, including a new leader and runner-up.

Most Final Tables

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2018 Jake Schindler 9,407 6 31 $8,731,019
2 2018 Stephen Chidwick 8,845 5 26 $9,950,805
2018 David Peters 8,059 7 $10,598,504
2018 Rainer Kempe 5,924 6 $5,464,179
5 2018 Justin Bonomo 7,752 10 23 $25,295,441
2017 Bryn Kenney 7,173 5 $8,201,128
7 2016 David Peters 8,601 5 22 $7,370,255
2017 Adrian Mateos 7,220 4 $5,664,635
2004 Gioi Luong 5,006 4 $504,004
10 2018 Adrian Mateos 6,477 3 21 $4,844,609


  • Like the previous two lists, 2018 obliterated the old standings with six new entries including the top four.
  • Luong topped this list from 2004 until 2016 but is hardly a household name. The Californian has never won a WSOP bracelet, and his biggest cash was $290,792 for a runner-up finish in a WSOP circuit event in 2007.

Highest Earnings

Rank Year Player Points Titles Final Tables Winnings
1 2018 Justin Bonomo 7,752 10 23 $25,295,441
2 2014 Daniel Colman 5,498 4 8 $22,319,279
3 2012 Antonio Esfandiari 3,330 2 4 $18,992,281
4 2016 Fedor Holz 7,058 6 15 $16,288,714
5 2018 Mikita Badziakouski 4,926 5 11 $14,594,839
6 2018 Jason Koon 5,827 3 16 $12,404,918
7 2014 Martin Jacobson 4,148 2 5 $10,677,589
8 2018 David Peters 8,059 7 26 $10,598,504
9 2018 Stephen Chidwick 8,845 5 26 $9,950,805
10 2012 Greg Merson 5,100 2 2 $9,664,179


  • Before 2018, this list was entirely composed of Big One for One Drop winners (Colman and Esfandiari) and World Series of Poker Main Event during champions (everyone else). With the proliferation of High Roller events, 2018 added five players from neither category, including Bonomo at the top. Peter Eastgate, Jonathan Duhamel, Pius Heinz are next three on the list.3


  1. In 2012, Greg Merson beat Dan Smith by 60 points (5,100 to 5,040) for a 1.18% margin, while Mateos overcame Kenney by just 57 points and a mere 0.65%.
  2. Mateos first made a name for himself by winning the 2013 WSOP Europe Main Event in 2013 when he was just 19.
  3. Jamie Gold is notably missing from the list because it was one of the years where the WSOP Main Event didn’t count toward the standings.

“Cowboys Full” Review

[LL] “James McManus’s Cowboys Full – The Story of Poker came out just a year after Des Wilson’s Ghosts at the Table, so it makes sense to compare and contrast them.”

[RR] “Sure, why read two books when one will do?” Roderick the Rock suggested.

[LL] “But you know that’s not what I’m going to say. I’m a big fan of poker books, and both of these have a lot going for them. Even where the books’ topics overlap, which is often, the content differs significantly.

Both books cover the history of playing cards, poker (and specifically Texas Hold ‘Em), Wild West poker (and Dead Man’s Hand), riverboat gambling, road gamblers, the growth of Las Vegas (and the Moss-Dandolos match), the World Series of Poker, high stakes poker (including Andy Beal), women in poker, and online poker.

Cowboys Full’s extra material includes poker in Gardena, California, poker playing U.S. Presidents (and other politicians), computer poker programs, and poker literature.

Ghosts at the Table unique offerings include the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone, Arizona and Wilson’s personal investigation into Hal Fowler.

[RR] “But if you had to choose one of the books?”

[LL] “I wouldn’t.”

[RR] “But if you really had to…”

[LL] “If absolutely forced to pick, I’d go with Ghosts at the Table, which is the more entertaining of the pair and presents more content that doesn’t appear in any other poker book. Mind you, Cowboys Full is equally well written and amazingly researched with a whopping 41 pages of footnotes and 64 references (and that’s just the selected bibiliography).

If I only read Ghosts, I’d still want to read the sections in Cowboys that weren’t covered!”

Title Cowboys Full – The Story of Poker
Author James McManus
Year 2009
Skill Level any
Pros A comprehensive and entertaining history of poker through 2008.
Cons Very long and can drag at times (although you can just flip past the sections that don’t interest you).
Rating 3.5

Related Links:


“Ghosts at the Table” Review

[LL] “As you know, poker has a long history of colorful stories and tall tales that have grown taller with each retelling. In Ghosts at the Table: Riverboat Gamblers, Texas Rounders, Roadside Hucksters, and the Living Legends Who Made Poker What It Is Today, Des Wilson debunks some myths about Wild Bill Hickok’s ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ and the multimillion-dollar Nick Dandolos-Johnny Moss match.”

[RR] “Neither happened?” Roderick the Rock asked.

[LL] “No, they both happened, but Dead Man’s Hand may have been made up later, while Dandolos and Moss probably played a much smaller game than folklore has it.

On the other hand, Wilson passes on as truth many other poker stories of the Old West (including the Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone), riverboat gamblers, mid-20th century road gamblers, Benny Binion, and Doyle Brunson. He even does some serious detective legwork to figure out what happened to Hal Fowler, who basically disappeared from the poker world after winning the 1979 World Series of Poker.”

[RR] “So, Fowler was the anti-Amarillo Slim and didn’t help popularize the game at all?”

[LL] “It’s a shame, too, since his amateur status should have been a bigger boon to the popularity of the World Series of Poker.”1

[RR] “Well, Moneymaker could only happen once, and online poker was a long way off in 1979.”

[LL] “Wilson gets to online poker later as well as high stakes poker and…”

[RR] “What about high stakes online poker?”

[LL] “That didn’t really exist yet.

… and includes a relatively short section on women in poker, mostly discussing their history at the World Series of Poker. The WSOP gets its own long chapter with stories about his eight favorite Main Event final tables. The final chapter of the book returns to the WSOP but unfortunately ends as the 2007 Main Event final table is set.”

[RR] “Not exactly the best place to end the book!”

[LL] “Yeah, I don’t agree with that decision either, but due to the timing of publication the final table is relegated to an addendum with nothing more than a list of the results.

On the whole, it’s a small flaw in a great book. Because Wilson traveled all over the U.S. to interview people, he has some unique insights, especially regarding Fowler. Although not quite as comprehensive2 as James McManus’s Cowboys Full – The Story of Poker, which was published the following year, Ghosts at the Table is equally worthy of your time.”

Title Ghosts at the Table: Riverboat Gamblers, Texas Rounders, Roadside Hucksters, and the Living Legends Who Made Poker What It Is Today
Author Des Wilson
Year 2008
Skill Level any
Pros Great storytelling and myth-busting from poker’s past up to 2007.
Cons Chapters cover a random assortment of topics of varying importance. Publication should have been delayed a few weeks to finish the story of the 2007 WSOP Main Event.
Rating 4.0


  1. The number of players in the Main Event did double over the next four years, but by comparison, after Chris Moneymaker won in 2003, the field tripled the next year.
  2. At first glance, Cowboys Full appears to be about 50% bigger, weighing in at a hefty 516 pages to Ghosts at the Table’s 368, but McManus dedicates a significant 88 pages to its footnotes, bibliography, glossary, and index, whereas Wilson uses but 15.

“Bigger Deal” Review

[LL] “When Anthony Holden’s Big Deal came out in 1990, he had no way to know how inspirational the book would prove to so many poker players (casual hacks and future pros alike)”,1 Leroy the Lion stated.

[RR] “I’m surprised. If I didn’t already play poker, it would have scared me away from ever taking up the game. I guess I’m just not cut out to be a degenerate gambler.”

[LL] “Holden had even less inkling that poker itself would explode after decades in the smoky shadows into an immense industry with round-the-clock, round-the-dial television coverage, multimillion dollar tournaments around the world, and a new breed of online poker players who never need to leave their house to play. Bigger Deal takes a look at the new world order as the author, one of the strongest poker-playing writers, travels around Europe and the U.S. to play in tournaments and cash games starting and ending with the World Series of Poker.”2

[RR] “And I’m not big on travel either.”

[LL] “That may have caught up with Holden, too, albeit because of his writing. His marriage to ‘the Moll’ shortly after the previous book ended in divorce a decade later. She shows up at one of the poker festivals as they are still friends, but he has no problem with knocking her out of one tournament. His sons are now old enough to play poker legally, and he buys one of them into a poker tournament as a birthday gift.

Besides Las Vegas, Holden plays poker — now mostly No-Limit instead of Limit Hold ‘Em — in Connecticut (Foxwoods and Yale), Manhattan, the Caribbean, Monte Carlo, and London and Walsall in England. He’s a good enough player to still net after expenses enough to earn his buyin into the 2006 WSOP Main Event. He’s still better at cash games than tournaments, but he has occasional successes in the latter format.

Along the way, Holden covers the forerunner of the World Series of Poker,3 celebrity poker, poker camps, and online poker. He profiles Dave ‘the Devilfish’ Ulliott, Andy ‘the Monk’ Black, Doyle Brunson, Henry Orenstein,4 and Howard Lederer.

[RR] “That’s a lot of ground to cover.”

[LL] “Indeed it is, but with the tremendous growth of the poker world since Big Deal, the sequel appeared as just one of a slew of poker books published in 2007. As such, it didn’t garner nearly as much attention as its predecessor, and objectively it isn’t nearly as important. But, it’s almost as entertaining and equally non-educational.”

Title Bigger Deal
Author Anthony Holden
Year 2007
Skill Level Any
Pros Shows how the poker landscape changed dramatically in 17 years.
Cons Too many details about unimportant small tournaments and cash games the author plays in.
Rating 2.5


  1. Among the people who took up poker after reading Big Deal: Nick Leeson (the rogue Barings Bank trader had some time to kill in jail), Bill Gates, and Randolph Fields (one of the founders of Virgin Atlantic Airlines). A 1995 Holden biography, The St Albans Poisoner: The Life and Crimes of Graham Young, may have inspired something a bit more sinister, a Japanese girl and chemistry student murdered her mother with thallium.
  2. The book starts with the 2005 WSOP Main Event and ends with the 2006 WSOP Main Event, but the 2007 is covered briefly in the Epilogue.
  3. The Texas Gamblers Reunion was organized by Tom Moore at his Holiday Hotel in Reno in 1969. When he decided not to repeat the event, he freely gave the idea to Benny Binion.
  4. Barry Hearn, started using hole cams on his Poker Millions television show without realizing that Orenstein had a patent on them. Hearn intended to fight Orenstein in court until he read the Polish concentration camp survivor’s memoirs and thought {page 197}, “My God, I’ll pay him whatever he wants.”

“Bicycle Blackjack and Poker” Review

[LL] “Despite a 2007 copyright date and no indication that the book is based on any older material,” Leroy the Lion conjectured, “Bicycle Blackjack and Poker appears to have been written in the 1970s with very minor updates since then. No general poker book written after Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP Main Event championship could possibly dedicate just eight short sentences to Texas Hold ‘Em, the most popular poker variation in the world.

Blackjack gets just sixteen pages, so this is primarily a poker book. But by page count Five-Card Draw gets the most coverage followed by Five-Card Stud and then Seven-Card Stud. That should give you an estimate for the approximate date that the text was written.1

In the end, Bicycle Blackjack and Poker is a short rules reference that’s no better than what you could find on most poker web sites or these Wikipedia articles. Its biggest selling point is probably its cute front and back covers, which resemble a playing card box that’s been squashed a little flatter, taller, and wider.”

Title Bicycle Blackjack and Poker
Author U.S. Playing Card Company
Year 2007
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Very basic primer on how to play blackjack and poker.
Cons Appears to have been written over three decades earlier with very minor changes.
Rating 1.5


  1. Five-Card Draw was already on its way out when the World Series of Poker began and was only contested from 1978 to 1982. Five-Card Stud had an even shorter, earlier run from 1971 to 1974.