“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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