Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Poker memoirs I have read

I finished Positively Fifth Street by James McManus last night. It's a memoir recounting the Harper's Weekly writer's journey to Las Vegas in 2000 to cover the World Series of Poker, and the murder trial of Ted Binion, whose family invented the World Series. Using his $4000 advance, McManus won his way into the main event (that year, it was a record field of 512 players, each representing a $10000 buy-in for a prize pool over 5 million) and became the story, making it deep into the money by playing against his poker heroes.

It was a good introduction to the history, light and dark, of Las Vegas and of the mother of all poker tournaments, and a very dramatic, entertaining story of one man's quest to defy the odds and beat the best poker players in the world. And even better, it's hilarious!

Reader warnings: the reconstructed murder of Ted Binion, which opens the book, is for adults only, as are the author's research trips into the strip clubs Binion frequented, where he met his murderess. The author makes it through the grueling tournament with pretty casual use of sedatives. If there is a moral center in this book, it revolves around the Binion trial rather than the poker tournament. Poker provides an element of chance that doesn't fit neatly into the equations of truth, right, and poetic justice.

Even the losers get lucky on fifth street.

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