Category Archives: Books

“Making the Final Table” Review

[LL] “I’ve always dreamed of playing in the World Series of Poker, but it would actually require a lot less travel to play in the World Poker Tour”, Leroy the Lion remarked.

[RR] “Sure, they have a festival at Foxwoods every year”, Roderick the Rock suggested.

[SS] “Sorry, it’s not there anymore”, Stan the Stat corrected. “The closest stop is now the Borgata in Atlantic City.”

[RR] “I wouldn’t think any less of you if you a won a WPT bracelet instead of a WSOP bracelet!”

[LL] “Would be pretty cool if a bunch of us drove down and tried to get in through a satellite.”

[RR] “How much are the entry fees?”

[SS] “The cheapest ones are under $100.”

[LL] “I’m ready; I just finished reading Erick Lindgren’s Making the Final Table. Okay, I’d never be good enough to play in the WPT just by reading that book. But it did put the thought into my head.”

[RR] “It’s a book just about playing on the WPT?”

[LL] “Well, most of the advice covers any Texas Hold ‘Em game but is framed in the context of the WPT. After a brief introduction to the World Poker Tour, Lindgren gives intermediate level advice about playing on the tour, referencing actual tournament setups, blind structures, and even the television lights.

Mike Sexton’s Shuffle Up and Deal, published the same year, gives more of the history of the WPT, but Making the Final Table is a level higher skill-wise.

Lindgren takes a very aggressive approach. Because tournament payouts tend to be top-heavy, he’s willing to bust out early trying to get a big stack, and he’s willing to keep gambling as the event goes on to get to the final table well-equipped. He has no interest in min-cashing or reaching the final table last in chips.

Like Daniel Negreanu, Lindgren believes in the small ball approach to poker. He plays more hands than most, prefers to keep pots smaller before the flop, and uses his superior hand reading skills after the flop. Because he has a wider range than his opponents, he can almost always reasonably represent a hand that hit the flop.

In middle position, Lindgren will play any cards that can flop big, like Ace-Jack or Jack-Nine suited, while in late position, he will play almost any two cards for at least a call.

Other good sections of the book include the most common postflop mistakes (and how to take advantage of them), what to consider when trying to steal the blinds, what to expect if you reach the final table, and how to play heads up.

While the advice specifically addresses the World Poker Tour, most of the book is applicable to any poker tournament.”

Title Making the Final Table
Author Erick Lindgren
Year 2005
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Good introduction to the World Poker Tour, especially if you want to play on it. Solid, wide-ranging, intermediate-level advice.
Cons Less than a hundred pages on strategy1, far too short (and low level) to prepare you to play on the WPT.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. The first couple of appendixes waste 22 pages on instantly outdated WPT ranking lists of Millionaires and Money Leaders that are no more than trivial historical curiosities.
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“How I… Won Millions at the WSOP” Review

[LL] “Annie Duke’s biography, How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the WSOP, mostly alternates between poker and personal chapters. The poker side starts with the history of playing cards in China in the 9th century but then primarily recounts the 2004 World Series of Poker $2,000 Limit Omaha 8-or-Better tournament. The family side begins with Duke’s parents’ initial meeting and their family life in New Hampshire before Duke moves to New York City, Philadelphia, Columbus (Montana), and Las Vegas.”

[RR] “Sounds like the book covers a lot of ground.”

[LL] “It does. I don’t really like the format as the two tracks aren’t parallel chronologically or any other way, but I suppose it caters to the younger generation’s shorter attention spans.

Growing up in New Hampshire with her intellectual parents, older brother Howard Lederer, and younger sister Katy, who had told her own version of the story two years earlier in Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers,1 Duke paints a picture of a somewhat dysfunctional family, primarily because of her mother’s drinking (she dreamed of being an actress, not a housewife).”

[RR] “Every family seems to have its problems, but poker players definitely have rougher childhoods than most.”

[LL] “I’m not so sure of that; I think the worst ones just stand out. Nevertheless I wouldn’t trade my childhood for most of theirs. After Duke survived hers, she followed Howard to New York City. He had already joined the poker and gambling world, but Annie was focused on school until she met, proposed to, and married Ben Duke.2 Only when she was off in Montana questioning her career choice did she take up poker, with technical and later financial help from Howard.

Eventually, Duke decides to become a professional poker player, moves her family to Las Vegas, and starts winning. That leads to the other half of the book, where she competes at the World Series of Poker. The book covers many Omaha hands, supplementing their instructional value with occasional insets containing general playing tips.

Overall, How I Raised… is a great look at what makes one of the top female players tick. It’s heavier on the autobiography side than the poker strategy side but can be read for either or both.”

Title How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the WSOP
Author Annie Duke (with David Diamond)
Year 2005
Skill Level any
Pros Engaging history plus helpful insets with twenty poker playing tips.
Cons More than you probably want to know about Duke’s health issues.
Rating 3.5

Footnotes:

  1. Katy Lederer’s book doesn’t have enough poker to merit its own review, but she did actually learn how to play and did okay in cash games for a while (no Hendon Mob entry, so she either didn’t play any tournaments or didn’t have any success in them). It is, however, mentioned in chapter 6 and is a very easy read that gives good insight into how Howard Lederer and Annie Duke turned out the way they did.
  2. The actual events took a little longer than that, but not by much. Annie and Ben never even dated! The marriage survived longer than you’d have expected, ending in divorce in 2003 after they had four children.
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“The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King” Review

[LL] “Michael Craig (or his publisher) deserves significant credit for the catchy title of his book, The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King“, Leroy the Lion claimed. “But the Professor (Howard Lederer) and the Suicide King (Ted Forrest) were just two of over a dozen top poker pros who played sky-high stakes heads-up Limit Hold ‘Em against the Banker (Andy Beal) over a few years until Beal gave up his high stakes hobby.”

[LL] “Despite being non-fiction, Craig’s prose is more entertaining than C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, requires more suspension of disbelief than Grimm’s The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage, and provides more lessons than Aesop’s The Lion, the Bear, and the Fox“.

[RR] “What about the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker?” Roderick the Rock wondered.

[LL] “That depends on how you feel about gambling. I say, ‘It’s not gambling if you expect to win’, so the poker pros did no wrong, except perhaps gambling beyond their means. Beal is pretty innocent too, as it was practically play money for him. With a net worth of about $10 billion, playing with a $20 million bankroll was basically the equivalent of you and I playing penny ante poker.

And he did his homework. He studied, ran simulations, and practiced Heads-Up Limit Hold ‘Em. He did his best to increase the stakes beyond the pros’ comfort level, well beyond the highest stakes that had ever been played in the Big Game, which had shifted to the Bellagio from the Mirage in October 1998 as Bobby Baldwin moved over to his own new poker room.”

[RR] “But the pros did end up winning, right?”

[LL] “Yes, but it’s fascinating to see how close they came to failing spectacularly. Their edge may have been smaller than they realized, and the variance at such high stakes was too high for their bankroll, but under Doyle Brunson’s leadership, they decided the risk was worth the upside.”

[RR] “Bankroll management has been a downfall for many poker pros. But at least it worked out for the Corporation. I take it you recommend the book?”

[LL] “The good, the bad, and the ugly: it’s a fascinating read; except for Beal’s brief returns in 2006 and 2015,1 nothing like this has ever happened in poker before or since. Unfortunately, the story is rather repetitive, much like the game itself. Of all the poker games they could have played, Beal chose Heads Up Limit Hold ‘Em, which is one of the least exciting games if not for the sky-high stakes. It would also be the first poker variation conquered by computers a decade later because of its simplicity.

It’s a unique volume in all of poker literature.”

Title The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King
Author Michael Craig
Year 2005
Skill Level any
Pros Fascinating insider’s account of the highest stakes poker ever played.
Cons A bit repetitive and almost entirely about the relatively simple game of Heads-Up Limit Hold ‘Em.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. After the book was published, Beal returned to play the Corporation in 2006 and won $13.6 million. But a week later, Phil Ivey took it all back, plus another $3 million, sending Beal into poker retirement again. Beal played casually after that, only returning briefly to Bobby’s Room in 2015 for a single, $50,000/$100,000 Limit Hold ‘Em heads up match in which he lost $5 million to Todd Brunson.
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“Amarillo Slim’s Play Poker to Win” Review

[LL] “Originally published in 1973 as simply Play Poker to Win,” Leroy the Lion explained, “Amarillo Slim Preston’s 2005 update prepends his name to the title, rearranges the chapters a bit, and adds 33 pages of new material, including sections on Tells, Online Poker, and Tournaments. Bill G. Cox, who was credited as a co-author for the original book, is no longer attributed.”

[RR] “Probably dead”, Roderick the Rock guessed.

[LL] “Wouldn’t surprise me after 32 years. It’s now been 45 years since this book was originally published, so it’s interesting to see how it’s aged.”

[RR] “And how is that?”

[LL] “Well, the original version was derided as a ‘make-a-quick-buck’ book, capitalizing on his world championship. And in fact, the book used to open with the story of his WSOP Main Event win (that chapter’s been moved near the end in the updated version). But I still think that’s a pretty harsh criticism, especially given the paucity of poker books back then. I now rate this book in the middle of all the poker books I’ve read, although the updates were probably worth half a star.

Preston’s strategy advice is sound, if a bit basic, because he covers more than half a dozen poker varieties in limited space, and the stories he sprinkles throughout are entertaining, although not nearly as plentiful as his other book, Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People.

Preston covers a lot of ground in just over 200 pages, and he’s a better storyteller than he is a teacher. Well, I suppose many of his stories are meant to educate, but they’re not a particularly efficient vehicle.

Given that the book was originally written almost three and a half decades ago, it’s a good read with surprising emphasis on No-Limit games. You’re better off with Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People if you just want the stories, and you’re better off with many other strategy books if you want to learn to play poker, but if you want an entertaining introduction to poker, Amarillos Slim’s Play Poker to Win is still a good choice.”

Title Amarillos Slim’s Play Poker to Win
Author Amarillo Slim Preston
Year 2005 (originally published 1973)
Skill Level any (stories) / Beginner (strategy)
Pros Good mix of stories and strategy plus a detailed account of the 1972 WSOP Main Event.
Cons No depth. Still has some errors1 despite the update.
Rating 3.0 (stories) / 2.0 (strategy)

Footnotes:

  1. Errata:
    • Page 48: Preston twice says he felted four players on the same hand, but the story clearly shows that it was only three.
    • Page 62: Preston claims that on the flop in Hold ‘Em only a royal flush cannot be beat by the river, but it’s also true of any non-wheel straight flush where you have the top card or a Ten or higher.
    • Page 79: the Omaha high hand should be the Deuce-Four, not the Four-Six, for the straight.
    • Misspellings include Jack “Strauss” (instead of “Straus”) and “their’s” (instead of “theirs”).
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“Tournament Poker” Review

[LL] “Tom McEvoy’s Tournament Poker is a dense 424-page tome,” Leroy the Lion began

[RR] “Is ‘dense’ a good thing or a bad thing?” Roderick the Rock interrupted.

[LL] “That depends. If it makes me feel dense, then I don’t like it. But in this case, I just mean that there isn’t much fluff. It’s lot of meat and potatoes.”

[RR] “Which you like.”

[LL] “Yes, the book covers general tournament poker strategy briefly before diving deeper into numerous variations: Hold ‘Em (Limit, No-Limit, and Pot-Limit), Ace-to-Five Lowball (With the Joker), Deuce-to-Seven Draw, Omaha (Limit, Pot-Limit, and High-Low), Seven-Card Stud (High and High-Low Split), and Razz. For games I was already familiar with, like Hold ‘Em, I could have used even more depth, but for the others, the amount of detail was good most of the time. Seven-Card Stud got a reasonable 76 pages, while the three lowball games were shortchanged a bit (18 pages for Ace-to-Five, 8 for Deuce-to-Seven, and 22 for Razz).”

[RR] “Does McEvoy find all poker variants to be roughly the same?”

[LL] “He definitely thinks there are plenty of common threads between them, especially in tournaments. For example, expect players to be their sharpest in the early rounds. Don’t get married to a hand, especially in games like Hold ‘Em where having the nuts is rare. In the middle rounds, you can steal from the tighter players. In the late stages after the money bubble, you should be more aggressive, especially against the shorter stacks and those whom you think are just trying to move up the pay ladder.”

[RR] “Let me guess, he thinks a tight aggressive strategy is correct…, and his concept of tight is much tighter than most players play now.”

[LL] “Yes, especially in the early rounds of events. But realize that part of that is because most of his opponents were tighter then, too. On the other hand, McEvoy wasn’t afraid to ‘double up or go home’, since if you bust out of a tournament very early, you’ve saved yourself time compared to busting out at the money bubble. He’s even okay with exiting on a semibluff.”

[LL] “Overall, I got a lot out of this book, especially in the poker variants I don’t usually play. His general tournament strategy may need to be tweaked somewhat with the recent change to deeper pyaout structures, but his overall plan is still appropriate if your goal is to win tournaments rather than just run deep.”

Title Tournament Poker
Author Tom McEvoy
Year 2004 (originally published in 1995 but significantly updated)
Skill Level Intermediate
Pros Detailed tournament tips for 11 poker variants.
Cons A little dated but not horribly so.
Rating 3.5
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“Poker: The Real Deal” Review

[LL] “Dot-com millionaire Phil Gordon1 may be more famous for his various colored poker books,2” Leroy the Lion began, “but Poker: The Real Deal is his magnum opus (with help from Jonathan Grotenstein, who’s more of a writer than a poker player3). Their 2004 book covers the history of poker, starting with the invention of playing cards, moving on to the basics of Texas Hold ‘Em, and taking you all the way to the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Limit Hold ‘Em, online poker, the rules and etiquette of playing in casinos, and tells are all covered before No Limit Hold ‘Em finally enters the scene for good in Chapter 9 almost three-fifths of the way through the book.”

[SS] “Limit was the main game spread in casinos then, so that’s not a surprise”, Stan the Stat explained.

[LL] “Still, the text is breezily readable, almost making learning Texas Hold ‘Em fun. For example, your possible actions are compared to various tools. Folding is the flathead screwdriver, mundane but your most commonly used tool.”

[SS] “I think Phillips heads screws are more popular now.”

[LL] “Could be. Anyway, after saying that betting and raising are your power tools, the analogy silently disappears. Too bad, because I think the deep stack preflop all-in is like a sledgehammer…”

[SS] “Or maybe the top step on a folding ladder, you know, the one that says ‘do not step here'”.

[LL] “Yep, it could get help you reach your goal, but it’s also a long fall.

The book also has its ups and downs. One of the highlights is that each chapter ends with a short quiz, mostly testing what you’ve just learned4 and pitting you against various villains, the last of whom is Phil Hellmuth. Book recommendations are sprinkled throughout; they’re included to supplement the text, which doesn’t go deep into strategy.”

[SS] “And your verdict?”

[LL] “It’s like a starter toolkit. Neither you nor I need it, but it’s a decent place to begin for a neophyte.”

Title Poker: The Real Deal
Author Phil Gordon & Jonathan Grotenstein
Year 2004
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Well written and logically organized. Informal, flowing style makes a pleasant read.
Cons A fair amount on Limit Hold ‘Em (without even explicitly saying so). Not much depth and more than a few inaccuracies.5
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. With three friends, Gordon started Netsys Technologies, which Cisco Systems bought for $95 million in stock in 1996.
  2. Phil Gordon now has four colored books: Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book: Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold’em, Phil Gordon’s Little Blue Book: More Lessons and Hand Analysis in No Limit Texas Hold’em, Phil Gordon’s Little Black Book: Beginning Poker Lessons and the No Limit Lifestyle, and Phil Gordon’s Little Gold Book: Advanced Lessons for Mastering Poker 2.0.
  3. Grotenstein claims to be a professional poker player but has no entry in the Hendon Mob Database, so he’s apparently a cash game specialist (and even then nothing about his poker playing can be found by Google). On the other hand, Phil Gordon has almost $3 million in lifetime tournament earnings, making him the fifth winningest Phil behind Ivey, Hellmuth, Gruissem, and Laak.
  4. My favorite quiz was one that didn’t: matching poker quotes with the movies they came from (and now I need to see the two of the eight movies I’ve missed).
  5. Most of the errors are the same ones all poker books of the era make: e.g., retelling the Nick Dandolos-Johnny Moss marathon that didn’t happen and claiming that Chris Moneymaker bought in for $40. He also includes the common misspellings of Nick “Dandalos” for Dandolos, Jack “Strauss” for Straus, and “Brian” Roberts for Bryan.
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“Poker Player’s Bible” Review

[LL] “You know the saying, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’?” Leroy the Lion queried rhetorically.

[RR] “Of course. That’s why Amazon has a ‘Look Inside’ feature”, Roderick the Rock noted.

[LL] “The Poker Player’s Bible has the best packaging of any poker book I own. Not only is it a hardcover, but its mechanical wire binding means it lays open flat on any page. Inside, you’ll find beautiful color printing on high-quality pages. But…”

[RR] “There’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?”

[LL] “But the content isn’t nearly as good as the presentation. It’s a decent introduction to Texas Hold ‘Em, Omaha, Omaha Eight or Better, Seven-Card Stud, and Seven-Card Stud Eight or Better, but unfortunately it almost exclusively discusses the Limit versions of Hold ‘Em and the two Omaha variants. It’s incredibly neatly organized, covering Rules, Starting Hands, Position, Odds and Outs, Implied Odds, Deception, Semi-bluffing, Defending, Raising, Free Cards, Slowplaying, and Reading Your Opponents, but the book is ordered by those sections instead of by game type so you’ll need to skip around to read about any single game. I always read cover-to-cover, so it didn’t bother me, but I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try to learn all five variants at the same time, which is what the book clearly wants you to do.

And while I don’t expect much originality in beginner books, in this case much of the material is almost identical to Poker for Dummies, which Krieger co-wrote with Richard D. Harroch four years earlier.”

[RR] “Maybe that’s why he wanted to use a different order — to distinguish this book.”

[LL] “Perhaps, but that wasn’t the only bad decision. Despite all the pretty diagrams, he made some unfortunate choices that make things hard to read. Hole cards are very stylishly displayed, drawn like actual playing cards with bent corners, but this puts the suit and denomination sideways. Diamonds and hearts in the text itself are gray, which is actually worse than leaving them black as they’re faint. And in the section on betting, he crams way too much information into each diagram. He tried to clarify things by color-coding the action, but you shouldn’t need a decoder ring to follow a hand.”

[RR] “You’d expect a poker player to lay things out more logically.”

[LL] “Logic does not appear to be Krieger’s strength. Instead of the standard 13×13 matrix for Hold ‘Em starting hands with pairs along the diagonal, he concatenates a pairs column with the suited cards in the wrong direction (e.g, QQ is next to AJ) then lists the unsuited hands separately.

One final example before I lay the book to rest: in the Hold ‘Em section, page 90 says, ‘The nut flush is almost always the winning hand in an unpaired board’, which is not only unclear but either incorrect or understated. Most boards won’t have three of one suit, so no flush will be possible.1 If there are three of a suit, then the nut flush is always the nuts on an unpaired board.”

[LL] “In the end, I really wanted to like this book, but all its good advice is overwhelmed by its ample flaws. Beginners’ books should be easier to read.”

Title Poker Player’s Bible
Author Lou Krieger
Year 2004
Skill Level Beginner
Pros Beautifully mechanically-bound color pages that lay open flat. Solid, basic advice on five different games.
Cons Oddly organized with hard-to-read hole cards and some confusing diagrams.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. According to wizardsofodds.com, the “probability that no more than two of one suit will be present is (360+240)/1,024 = 600/1,024 = 58.59%”.
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“Bad Beats and Lucky Draws” Review

[LL] “Just a year after Phil Hellmuth published his first book, Play Poker Like the Pros, he was back with his second”, Leroy the Lion explained. “The winningest World Series of Poker player in bracelets, final tables, and cashes had just caught Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan at nine WSOP bracelets when he put together Bad Beats and Lucky Draws, an impressive book of poker hands. The subtitle, ‘Poker Strategies, Winning Hands, and Stories from the Professional Poker Tour’, is accurate, but you’ll be gleaning random strategy tidbits with no unifying theme, so you have many better choices (although his first book isn’t recommended) if your main aim is improving your poker skills.”

[RR] “So, you recommend Bad Beats just for entertainment value?” Roderick the Rock questioned.

[LL] “Yes, although what Hellmuth finds entertaining and what you find entertaining might not always match. The book includes almost a hundred hands grouped by setting, with chapters on the major festivals (WSOP, WPT, and European Poker Tour), brilliant reading of opponents’ hands, and hand stories told by other players.1

The Poker Brat’s first person perspective may lend authenticity to the hands he’s involved in, but a third party perspective could have made the book more enjoyable to read (as could the exclusion of the Bad Beats, most of which seem to be included just so Hellmuth could say that he played great but got unlucky).2 Still, the sheer quantity of noteworthy hands makes this an excellent read.”

Title Bad Beats and Lucky Draws: Poker Strategies, Winning Hands, and Stories from the Professional Poker Tour
Author Phil Hellmuth
Year 2004
Skill Level any
Pros Almost 100 important and interesting hands from 1974 to 2004.
Cons Strategy is only taught haphazardly. Hellmuth’s incessant bragging can be annoying.
Rating 3.5

Footnotes:

  1. If you like this chapter, Steve Rosenbloom’s “The Best Hand I Ever Played” is full of them (52+ hands from 52 players).
  2. If you’re not a fan of bad beat stories, you’ll be disappointed that they’re not segregated into an easily skippable chapter.
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“The Tao of Poker” Review

The Tao of Poker: 285 Rules to Transform Your Game and Your Life, Larry Phillips’s “follow up and companion book to Zen and the Art of Poker” is similar in many ways, with non-poker quotes and lists of general poker advice. But it also differs in many ways, as it’s less mystical and more directly applicable to poker, while it pretty much ignores its title. In fact, the sequel has more quotes about Zen than it does about Taoism, which is simply the hook to get you to buy the book. Phillips explains the Tao (‘The Way’) connection as an ‘attempt to get closer to the actual truth of the game — the underlying game, when it is perceived correctly’.

The title is surprisingly misleading in a second way: the book actually gives 287 rules, two more than promised. He could even have gotten into the mid-300s if he wanted to count a little differently as he gives nine poker ‘Excuses’, nine ‘telling looks’, 25 ‘common traps’, two ‘things that separate the good player from the bad player’, six ‘solutions to being off-rhythm’ and three ‘good poker rules’ (that somehow don’t count as rules). Furthermore, his last three chapters, including sections on ‘All-Star Idea’, and ‘Online Poker’ contain a fair amount of advice but just three numbered rules.

Phillips’s sequel lacks the charm of the original but is more useful, if just as repetitively repetitive. The Tao of Poker is worth a quick skim, but it can be a painful read unless you enjoy being told the same things over and over again.”

Title The Tao of Poker: 285 Rules to Transform Your Game and Your Life
Author Larry Phillips
Year 2003
Skill Level any
Pros Solid, high level advice that’s applicable to any poker variety (and even to life in general).
Cons Beyond repetitive. The book could easily have been a quarter of its 260-page length.
Rating 2.0
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“Positively Fifth Street” Review

[LL] “Lots of poker players dream about playing in the World Series of Poker Main Event. Many poker-playing authors dream about writing about their experience in doing it. And a few lucky ones have managed to get paid to do it. Unfortunately, almost without exception, most of these book are filled with the lead-up to the event — the poker training (cue the Rocky music), the warm-up events, the obligatory airplane landing in Las Vegas, sometimes even a satellite event to qualify for the big one — because their stay in the Main Event doesn’t last long enough to fill more than a chapter or two.

Positively Fifth Street is the sole, notable exception. It has a great writeup of the 2000 WSOP Main Event because James McManus managed to last long enough to give a personal account of most of it.”

[RR] “So he got paid to play poker?”, Roderick the Rock wondered.

[LL] “No, McManus figured that as long as he was there… Harper’s magazine actually sent him to Vegas to cover several other stories:

  1. Women at the World Series of Poker.
  2. The impact of the growing crop of advice books and computer programs on poker.
  3. The death of Ted Binion.”

[RR] “A good old murder mystery?”

[LL] “Not at all. McManus actually begins his book by giving a hypothetical account of how Binion’s girlfriend Sandy Murphy and her new boyfriend Rick Tabish murdered him for a stash of silver and other valuables. Fascinating story, but its only connection to poker is that Binion’s family owns Binion’s Horseshoe, where the World Series of Poker takes place. Ted had helped to run the business for a couple of decades but had been banned in 1996, over two years earlier, because of his persistent heroin abuse.”

[RR] “Well, that’s more exciting than poker at least.”

[LL] “At first. Unfortunately, the rest of the story about how they almost got away with it but were later put on trial pales by comparison. But that’s when the poker part of the book picks up.

McManus gives a brief history of poker in Las Vegas, starting with a brief biography of Benny Binion, Ted’s father. He goes on to recount the story of Nick Dandolos and Johnny Moss’s supposed marathon poker match.”1

[LL] “Positively Fifth Street is really two books in one. For the poker player, his World Series of Poker run is a vicarious thrill that most of us just dream of.2 For everyone else, the sordid story of murder and the theft of millions of dollars appeals to the baser, more primal urges.

Title Positively Fifth Street
Author James McManus
Year 2003
Skill Level any
Pros Very well written account of the author’s journey to and through the 2000 WSOP Main Event.
Cons About half the book has little to do with poker and may not be interesting if you aren’t into sensational murders.
Rating 4.0

Footnotes:

  1. The likely truth is that two or more separate events have been confused. Dandolos and Moss may very well have played a private poker match in 1949. And there may have been a public event at the front of the Horseshoe Casino after it opened in 1951. But neither Dandolos nor Moss had a role in the latter. Jack Binion spoke about the confusion in June.
  2. Despite never having cashed in a notable tournament before the 2000 WSOP started, McManus was already a pretty good poker player. He has since reached two WSOP final tables: the 2004 $5,000 Limit Hold ‘Em (4th for $70,080) and the 2006 $2,000 Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em (6th for $53,690).

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