“Poker Nation” Review

[LL] “Nothing is more American than baseball, apple pie,… and poker”, Leroy the Lion claimed.

[SS] “Hot dogs and hamburgers”, Stan the Stat suggested.

[LL] “Both based on meats created in Germany. But I’ll give you both of those.”

[RR] “Football”, Roderick the Rock added. “American football, that is, not soccer”.

[SS] “For now. Unless they solve the concussion problem, football won’t be around much longer. Players are starting to retire younger and younger just so they have functioning brains for the rest of their lives.”

[LL] “And that’s one of the great things about poker, you can play it into retirement and beyond. In Andy Bellin’s book, Poker Nation, a 91-year-old named Iron Mike at the Winchester Club says, ‘You know, this damn game ain’t baseball, or basketball, or even golf. Poker’s a thing you do your whole life. I started playing when I learned to count. I always figured I’d quit when I forgot how to. And since that ain’t happening yet, the older I get, the better I get. What else can you say that about? The only trick for a kid your age is to try not to waste your entire time on the planet playing this stupid game.'”

[RR] “I’m sure that when I’m too old to even play golf, I’ll still be playing poker. Sure beats shuffleboard or bocce.”

[SS] “And yet it’s not a dying game like bridge, where the average age of players keeps creeping up.”

[LL] “Yep. Internet poker brought the average age down a fair amount, and the effect will hopefully last until it’s legal in most states again. I started gambling for pennies before I was a teenager. Bellin played for mini-marshmallows at age eight.

Poker’s a game that can be played by anybody regardless of age, gender, bankroll, or physical capabilities, and Poker Nation covers them all at home games, underground and legal clubs, and casinos.”

[SS] “Like baseball’s World Series, when the WSOP started, it was all Americans for a while.”1

[LL] “Bellin talks about the early years of the event and the history of poker leading up to it.2 Then the self-described semipro mostly covers his own experiences at the aforementioned locations over a period of two decades. He introduces you to players of all skill levels, from tell-ridden fish to stoic, soul-reading pros.”

[RR] “Did you like the book?”

[LL] “Mostly. Although the title reflects the popularity of poker in the U.S., Andy Bellin’s book suffers from bad timing, predating the online and Chris Moneymaker-fueled 2003 poker boom by a little over a year. Luckily, Texas Hold ‘Em, which would dominate the poker word over the next few years, does appear throughout the book, including in the main hand that ties the ends of the book together. Overall, Poker Nation is readable but random, sweeping but shallow, and entertaining but empty.”

Title Poker Nation
Author Andy Bellin
Year 2002
Skill Level any
Pros Entertaining and covers a lot of ground.
Cons More than you need to know about weak players in the author’s home games, including Bellin himself. Very little poker strategy.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. The first non-American to win a World Series of Poker bracelet was Sweden’s Thor Hansen in 1988 in the 19th running of the festival after 180 or so American winners.
  2. Although Bellin details the likely apocryphal, five-month Nick Dandolos-Johnny Moss match, which he places in 1949, he fails to mention the Texas Gamblers Reunion of 1969, which directly led to the World Series of Poker the following year.
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