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In the spring of 2000, Harper's Magazine sent James McManus to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker, in particular the progress of women in the $23 million event, and the murder of Ted Binion, the tournament's prodigal host, purportedly done in by a stripper and her boyfriend. But when McManus arrives, the lure of the tables compels him to risk his entire Harper's In the spring of 2000, Harper's Magazine sent James McManus to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker, in particular the progress of women in the $23 million event, and the murder of Ted Binion, the tournament's prodigal host, purportedly done in by a stripper and her boyfriend. But when McManus arrives, the lure of the tables compels him to risk his entire Harper's advance in a long-shot attempt to play in the tournament himself. This is his deliciously suspenseful account of the tournament--the players, the hand-to-hand combat, his own unlikely progress in it--and the delightfully seedy carnival atmosphere that surrounds it. Positively Fifth Street is a high-stakes adventure and a terrifying but often hilarious account of one man's effort to understand what Edward O. Wilson has called "Pleistocene exigencies"--the eros and logistics of our competitive instincts.


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In the spring of 2000, Harper's Magazine sent James McManus to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker, in particular the progress of women in the $23 million event, and the murder of Ted Binion, the tournament's prodigal host, purportedly done in by a stripper and her boyfriend. But when McManus arrives, the lure of the tables compels him to risk his entire Harper's In the spring of 2000, Harper's Magazine sent James McManus to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker, in particular the progress of women in the $23 million event, and the murder of Ted Binion, the tournament's prodigal host, purportedly done in by a stripper and her boyfriend. But when McManus arrives, the lure of the tables compels him to risk his entire Harper's advance in a long-shot attempt to play in the tournament himself. This is his deliciously suspenseful account of the tournament--the players, the hand-to-hand combat, his own unlikely progress in it--and the delightfully seedy carnival atmosphere that surrounds it. Positively Fifth Street is a high-stakes adventure and a terrifying but often hilarious account of one man's effort to understand what Edward O. Wilson has called "Pleistocene exigencies"--the eros and logistics of our competitive instincts.

30 review for Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    Entertaining tale of how the author, with little experience, made it to the final table of the World Series of Poker. This was in the days prior to when the WSOP globally exploded in popularity, especially after a nobody named Chris Moneymaker (yeah, that name is suspicious) beat out all the pros and won the whole thing against monumental odds. That televised event spawned a poker craze that drew amateurs in droves. All the tv networks started showing their own poker series, even the bloody Trav Entertaining tale of how the author, with little experience, made it to the final table of the World Series of Poker. This was in the days prior to when the WSOP globally exploded in popularity, especially after a nobody named Chris Moneymaker (yeah, that name is suspicious) beat out all the pros and won the whole thing against monumental odds. That televised event spawned a poker craze that drew amateurs in droves. All the tv networks started showing their own poker series, even the bloody Travel Channel. What the hell does poker have to do with travel?! Now granted, when author James McManus played in the world series it was against a much smaller pool of talent, but that pool was absolutely teaming with sharks. How he survived their attacks, as well as a few gritty behind-the-scenes Las Vegas stories, help make Positively Fifth Street much more than just a book about a card game.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kathrina

    Librarians from all over the nation descend on Las Vegas in 3 days. Like a good librarian, efficient and thrifty, the American Library Association likes to choose favorite vacation destinations, but always in the off season. I imagine that, while most of the thousands of descending librarians will bitch about the heat and unload their dollars on iced teas, souvenir tote bags, and perhaps an evening of entertainment with Celine Dion, few of them will contribute much to the betting pot. Did I ment Librarians from all over the nation descend on Las Vegas in 3 days. Like a good librarian, efficient and thrifty, the American Library Association likes to choose favorite vacation destinations, but always in the off season. I imagine that, while most of the thousands of descending librarians will bitch about the heat and unload their dollars on iced teas, souvenir tote bags, and perhaps an evening of entertainment with Celine Dion, few of them will contribute much to the betting pot. Did I mention that a majority of library events are taking place at Ceasar's Palace? It's hard to find a book about Vegas that isn't really about gambling, or murder, or murdering gamblers and gambling murderers. This book is, too, but Mcmanus's congenial tone, his Good Jim/Bad Jim complex, his real-guy demeanor contrasting with his larger-than-life portraits of Ted Binion, Sandy Murphy, and Rick Tabish, is a comforting parallel to my own humble poker past, my livelihood as a book-person, and my adrenaline-pumping dip into the fantasy-land of Vegas. The pots are bigger, the lights are even brighter than when McManus penned this over 10 years ago, and the murderers have even been set free. I imagine myself walking through desert heat in search of the presentation on patron-driven acquisitions, only to stumble into the nearest entry with AC blasting to the curb. I'm asked for a $20 cover, and the waitress's nipple-caps are blinking sunlight against a tray of iced neon cocktails, the sounds of slots and Guns N' Roses drowns out the terrified cries of other lost librarians, and I hunker to a bar stool to rest my weary feet. I've got a few dollars in my pocket. What to do? B.J. Novak is around here somewhere. So is Stan Lee. Alexander McCall Smith. Lois Lowry. Azar Nafisi. Even f-ing Jane Fonda is around here somewhere. But there's also a chance I might run into casino mogul Benny Behnen, if maybe I've accidentally stumbled in to Cheetah's or the Spearmint Rhino, or whatever club he's frequenting these days. Chances of meeting literati vs glitterati run around 60/40, I'm guessing. Whatever happens, I'm not counting my purse until we've cleared the runway.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tom Stamper

    Positively Fifth Street is one of those rare nonfiction books that read like a great first person novel. It doesn't hurt that McManus follows in the gonzo tradition of Hunter Thompson on his journey. The book begins with McManus a professor and freelance writer who is hired to write a story on how women are appearing more and more at the World Series of Poker and how women are becoming more visible in the game. But this is no ordinary World Series, because the Binion family that has run the even Positively Fifth Street is one of those rare nonfiction books that read like a great first person novel. It doesn't hurt that McManus follows in the gonzo tradition of Hunter Thompson on his journey. The book begins with McManus a professor and freelance writer who is hired to write a story on how women are appearing more and more at the World Series of Poker and how women are becoming more visible in the game. But this is no ordinary World Series, because the Binion family that has run the event every year since its founding is distracted by the murder trial of sibling, Ted Binion. And to top it off, author, narrator, Jim McManus is also a bit of a poker player himself. Jim wants to enter the tournament with his writing advance, but he doesn't have enough money. He has two college aged children and two young children at home and nothing but bills. With all of the tension of the story Jim is sent to cover, his own personal tensions slowly become the center of the book, especially after he enters the tournament and goes up against famous players, including the author of Jim's favorite tournament book, TJ Cloutier. I found the writing very immediate like a conversation that happens right after the event. I also found the tension internal and external was enough to sustain the multiple storylines. McManus seems to end each section of commentary at a natural conclusion and this makes the transitions easy to follow. I enjoyed Alvarez' great history ONLY GAME IN TOWN and found Anthony Holden's BIG DEAL quite interesting, but neither was as fun to read for me as POSITIVELY FIFTH STREET. This is the kind of book that you can enjoy regardless of your poker knowledge. It may even convince you to take up the game.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Greg Pettit

    I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It's a great thriller where the suspense is more about the poker than the murder trial. Ostensibly about both the World Series of Poker and a dirty murder trial related to it, the book is really more about what it's like to be IN the WSoP. And in that, it excelled. I am by no means a great poker player, but I was thrilled by the tales of the table. Some of the author's observations seem a little dated, since the world of poker has changed significantly even in just I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It's a great thriller where the suspense is more about the poker than the murder trial. Ostensibly about both the World Series of Poker and a dirty murder trial related to it, the book is really more about what it's like to be IN the WSoP. And in that, it excelled. I am by no means a great poker player, but I was thrilled by the tales of the table. Some of the author's observations seem a little dated, since the world of poker has changed significantly even in just the eight years since this was written, but that doesn't diminish the excitement of reading about the tournament itself. It was even better since I had no idea what the outcome would be before I read the book. I sometimes found the jump between all the different people involved confusing, but none of them are important enough for it to really matter. If you have any interest in poker, I would recommend this as a fun read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Clare

    On my managing editor's advice, I decided that the next step in my poker education would be losing a chunk of money to Ricky and Alexis on Friday reading James McManus's Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker, a journalist's account of playing—and final tabling—the World Series of Poker in 2000, just a few years before the Chris Moneymaker thing happened. The story in brief: James McManus was assigned by Harper's to cover women players in the 2000 Worl On my managing editor's advice, I decided that the next step in my poker education would be losing a chunk of money to Ricky and Alexis on Friday reading James McManus's Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker, a journalist's account of playing—and final tabling—the World Series of Poker in 2000, just a few years before the Chris Moneymaker thing happened. The story in brief: James McManus was assigned by Harper's to cover women players in the 2000 World Series of Poker, and simultaneously to cover the trial for the murder of Ted Binion that was going on at the same time. McManus instead spends a big chunk of his $4,000 advance on satellites for the Main Event, wins one, then plays the Main Event, where he somehow lasts all the way to the final table, ultimately coming in fifth. Then he has to scramble around squeezing all his journalism-ing into a very short period of time when the verdict comes down, before taking his almost $250,000 and going home to the Midwest, where his wife is justifiable pissed off at him for getting a lap dance while he was in Vegas. Obviously, that is the wildly oversimplified version. The book is a rich, sprawling 450-page saga, colorful to the point of being lurid, that pulls together a wide variety of topics—the histories of the Binions and the game of poker and McManus's own family; the endless development and redevelopment and reinvention of Las Vegas; the ludicrously colorful people who populate the gambling world, both at the table and in business; advice on poker strategy and the effects of easily available strategy advice on the evolution of the game. He ties poker into just about every aspect of life, the universe and everything that one could plausibly tie poker into, which is quite a lot of them. (Regrettably, this leads him down the tiresome evo psych path more than once, but as far as evo psych explanations for stuff go it could be a lot worse.) The book starts off with a reconstructed account of Ted Binion's murder, which despite being as factual as the author could make it, reads like a scene from a Tarantino movie. I was a little surprised at first because all I knew about the book going into it was that it was about poker and then it was apparently about HEROIN STRIPPER MURDER instead, but it all comes back around by Chapter 2. The anchor point of all these disparate threads is McManus himself, which works both because he is attempting to do at least four things at once for most of the book, and because he's really not afraid to put his own personality front and center, eschewing the practice of being just a cipher/viewpoint into the action for the reader. McManus uses the slightly goofy conceit of there being two of him, Good Jim and Bad Jim, but overall he is STRONGLY of the Cranky Old Man Journalist character archetype. I generally enjoy this character type (and I do aspire to be Cranky when I am Old—and possibly even a Journalist—but I am not there yet), although since I am at the moment also reading Dan Lyons's Disrupted (the one about working at Hubspot) and Dan Lyons is also a Cranky Old Man Journalist (this is one of the central conceits of Disrupted), I could do with a bit less of it from both of them. Overall, though, I think McManus makes a strong, root-for-able protagonist—driven, flawed but self-aware, and definitely the scrappy underdog, considering he was facing down players like T.J. Cloutier, Daniel Negreanu and Chris Ferguson. All the stuff surrounding the poker action is pretty good reading, but I think the strongest aspects of the book are the character profiles and the accounts of the actual poker play itself. Bad poker prose can be almost as boring as bad televised poker (and boring televised poker is stultifyingly boring), but good poker writing that properly balances all the important bits of information we do and don't have can be as exciting as a well-choreographed fight scene. In some ways, a hand of poker essentially is a fight scene, so I suppose it's not all that surprising that the practices for doing them well are similar. (I'm pretty sure I still have my notes from that Readercon panel about fight scenes and sex scenes somewhere; I should dig them out and see how well they apply.) The action is used to illuminate character and the characterization is then used to drive the action, which is how poker works anyway when the players are actually good. McManus is apparently pretty good, although the poker scenes often pick up a level of internal conflict to add to the competition at the table when his brain tells him what the correct play is and then he goes and makes the stupid one anyway. (I was glad to read this because I've played all of nine games of poker in my entire life and I've already found that happening to me, so it made me feel a bit better to know it's not just me being uniquely dumb.) (This is also about the only thing I found myself to have in common with the author, since he is different from me in pretty much every material aspect of life, being a middle-aged man with a wife and kids and house and an established career as a teacher and a journalist, whereas I am a single young lady and perpetual renter who decided to become a journalist all of last week.) One thing that surprised me was that even with my extremely weak understanding of poker strategy, there were times when I couldn't help but feel that some of the plays and strategy advice were kind of dated? I'm watching a lot of current pro poker on Twitch these days and I can tell that it tends to be a looser game than what I'm reading about when I'm reading what are now considered the most "classic" poker books that are still recommended as helpful—meaning Phil Gordon's, mostly—which were still written after 2003. The books McManus is studying from were written, um, before that, obviously. I kind of want to read Super/System now, though, because it sounds pretty interesting from a copy editing perspective, or more precisely from a lack of copy editing perspective. (What is with poker books and under-editing, anyway?) My biggest issue with the book was that the topic McManus was ostensibly sent out to cover—women in poker—got relatively short shift due to McManus's decision to instead occupy himself with playing the tournament. The women we do meet are pretty interesting, but I'm sorry, it is SUCH AN OLD WHITE DUDE thing to be like "Poker is great because ~all sorts~ of people play it these days!" just because you've gone from like, 100% dudes to 95% dudes. It is possible that this was extra visible to me right now because apparently poker is having a Moment about women and sexism and the like, and it is an infuriatingly low caliber of discussion compared to what's going on in every other geeky space I keep tabs on. Apparently, I'm gonna have to scrounge a trip to Las Vegas out of my employer and go interview all the women in poker myself. Anyway, if you're at all curious about poker and/or poker history but don't want to sit around reading jargon-laden strategy manuals, Positively Fifth Street is an entertaining, vivid look into poker's awkward transition period into semi-respectability. Originally posted at http://bloodygranuaile.livejournal.co....

  6. 4 out of 5

    JBP

    McManus' non-fiction book enters the world of high stakes poker and murder in Las Vegas and when he sticks to those two topics--Positively Fifth Street comes up A-K and sitting on quad Aces on the River (couldn't resist!). When he veers off into a tangent, or starts talking endless poker strategy from one of the many books he has read--then the book takes a dip. I'm not a poker player so some of the poker action in this got lost on me. Since I don't know what hands really beat another hand, the McManus' non-fiction book enters the world of high stakes poker and murder in Las Vegas and when he sticks to those two topics--Positively Fifth Street comes up A-K and sitting on quad Aces on the River (couldn't resist!). When he veers off into a tangent, or starts talking endless poker strategy from one of the many books he has read--then the book takes a dip. I'm not a poker player so some of the poker action in this got lost on me. Since I don't know what hands really beat another hand, the suspense wasn't as great as it could have been. Poker is actually kind of confusing to follow when it is written about--heck, even on TV I have little clue as to what is actually going on. McManus actually gets a seat at The Big One--the Binion World Series of Poker at the Horseshoe--in 2000 and the scenes with him trying to make it to the next round are great. The other main topic of the book is the murder trial of Ted Binion, who may or may not have been murdered by his stripper girlfriend and her adulterous lover. If McManus had written just about these two things, cut back on the literature review of poker philosophy, the book would have been more satisfying to me. Still interesting but doesn't make me want to start playing poker or watching poker on TV.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mollysusie

    This is another example of a potentially good story that was badly edited. Or, more likely, not edited at all. The story was, or at least I think was supposed to be, about Ted Binion's murder and the author's experience playing in World Series of Poker at Binion's casino in Las Vegas. Instead it was about blah blah blah. Seriously, I have no idea how many pages in the hundred or so I read (except to say *many*) where in my head I read "blah, blah, blaaaaah". I skimmed and skipped paragraphs, and This is another example of a potentially good story that was badly edited. Or, more likely, not edited at all. The story was, or at least I think was supposed to be, about Ted Binion's murder and the author's experience playing in World Series of Poker at Binion's casino in Las Vegas. Instead it was about blah blah blah. Seriously, I have no idea how many pages in the hundred or so I read (except to say *many*) where in my head I read "blah, blah, blaaaaah". I skimmed and skipped paragraphs, and then pages trying to get to the story. As far as I could tell, there wasn't one and I wasn't going to waste any more time looking for it. As a note I love true crime and non-fiction, and I love poker. What I don't love is an author shoving every note and scribbled piece of information he came across during research into a book. Bits and bobbles about every tome (that word was used *a lot*) ever written on poker, the history, tricks, strategies, and players. But you know what I love better? Tight writing. This didn't have it and I wasn't going to waste any more time mentally editing a book that neither the author not published bothered with.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    Okay. There are two interesting stories which the author has attempted to cram into one book. I would have liked more about the Ted Binion murder case, it just shows up mainly in the beginning and the end, which would be fine as a device to get the author to Vegas, but he tries to bring it up at times, most annoyingly attempting to draw parallels between himself and Ted Binion. At times I wanted to yell at the author--you are a journalist, a family man from Chicago, he was the son of a Vegas leg Okay. There are two interesting stories which the author has attempted to cram into one book. I would have liked more about the Ted Binion murder case, it just shows up mainly in the beginning and the end, which would be fine as a device to get the author to Vegas, but he tries to bring it up at times, most annoyingly attempting to draw parallels between himself and Ted Binion. At times I wanted to yell at the author--you are a journalist, a family man from Chicago, he was the son of a Vegas legend who had a Robert Downey level drug problem and was involved with a kniving stripper!--What do you have in common! The sections on the poker tournament are pretty tightly written, even if you are not a poker afficianado, and the author is able to inject himself into the action effectively giving a first hand account and creating tension without completely making te story about him.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    McManus is an excellent writer, and he's able to make the world of professional poker engrossing. (He also, probably unintentionally, makes it clear how truly boring it is.) The parts of the book about his tournament play and the murder trial that surrounds it are page turners. His tangents about the psychology of gambling, evolutionary biology, etc. etc. are much less so and have a distinct barnyard smell. They feel like padding in a book that's already as padded as a term paper by a second-sem McManus is an excellent writer, and he's able to make the world of professional poker engrossing. (He also, probably unintentionally, makes it clear how truly boring it is.) The parts of the book about his tournament play and the murder trial that surrounds it are page turners. His tangents about the psychology of gambling, evolutionary biology, etc. etc. are much less so and have a distinct barnyard smell. They feel like padding in a book that's already as padded as a term paper by a second-semester senior; McManus fills a page and a half about David Sedaris, including a large blockquote, simply because he knows him and one of his competitors designed the book cover for Me Talk Pretty One Day. Nevertheless, Positively Fifth Street pulled me through it more strongly than any book I've read recently.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Melody

    First of all, I have to say that I don't know how to play poker, so large swathes of this book went sailing over my head. It opens with a gory murder reenactment, also not something I fancy. Those two things notwithstanding, this was a solid and entertaining listen. I didn't like McManus' habit of referring to himself as "Good Jim" and "Bad Jim". Every time he did so I found myself rolling my eyes. It was quite a window into a totally foreign lifestyle. Enjoyable. First of all, I have to say that I don't know how to play poker, so large swathes of this book went sailing over my head. It opens with a gory murder reenactment, also not something I fancy. Those two things notwithstanding, this was a solid and entertaining listen. I didn't like McManus' habit of referring to himself as "Good Jim" and "Bad Jim". Every time he did so I found myself rolling my eyes. It was quite a window into a totally foreign lifestyle. Enjoyable.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    I thought this book was going to be more interesting than it was. The author sets it up as though he is going to delve through the details of a murder mystery in Vegas at the same time as he follows his own progress in the World Series of Poker. But in truth, he lays out all the facts of the murder in the first chapter and then makes forced analogies throughout the rest of the book. The poker game commentary was interesting, but otherwise I found the book lacking in cohesiveness.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Samuelsday

    This was relatively interesting, since I like poker, and gambling. I think it probably could have lost about 100 pages. The author goes on quite a few tangents, especially in the middle section, but his writing style is good enough and he did give you a good feeling of being there in that moment. Also, I really didn't know how the story ended so the suspense was there right up to the end. Not a bad read. This was relatively interesting, since I like poker, and gambling. I think it probably could have lost about 100 pages. The author goes on quite a few tangents, especially in the middle section, but his writing style is good enough and he did give you a good feeling of being there in that moment. Also, I really didn't know how the story ended so the suspense was there right up to the end. Not a bad read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karl Lehtinen

    Have to read this if you've ever played Hold'em. Almost seems quaint by todays Poker-Explosion standards. But it's still a classic. And the asshole actually made the final table. Respect. Have to read this if you've ever played Hold'em. Almost seems quaint by todays Poker-Explosion standards. But it's still a classic. And the asshole actually made the final table. Respect.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ella

    I picked this one up used ages ago and read it immediately. As a long-time poker player, I had heard the "legend" before reading about it. The legend is about Ted Binion's murder at the hands of his girlfriend/stripper and her boyfriend. James McManus was a journalist sent by Harpers to cover the trial and the World Series of Poker, held that year at the Binion family's casino. Instead of just covering it, he decides to bet his whole advance to play in the tournament -- to really get the feel of I picked this one up used ages ago and read it immediately. As a long-time poker player, I had heard the "legend" before reading about it. The legend is about Ted Binion's murder at the hands of his girlfriend/stripper and her boyfriend. James McManus was a journalist sent by Harpers to cover the trial and the World Series of Poker, held that year at the Binion family's casino. Instead of just covering it, he decides to bet his whole advance to play in the tournament -- to really get the feel of the WSOP, or so he tells his wife. If you're interested in both poker and true crime, this might be a worthy read. The murder story takes second chair to the main memoir parts, and is not as exciting as I'd hoped. Perhaps this is another example of a trial being less of a story than the murder itself. There was a real question of whether the jury would actually find the couple guilty, and the details of this murder are bizarre at best. I played poker with my Grammie for pretzel bits and peanuts as a kid (long before today's hold 'em craze,) so the cojones it took in 2000 (when things were still insular in the poker world) to enter the WSOP was not lost on me. I'd dreamt of doing it myself for years. While I knew the outcome, I was still rather breathless over how it all went down. And poker stars twinkle through the whole book. It's loads of fun reading about them. If you don't play poker this book might be boring at times. The poker scenes are easy to follow and truly suspenseful - even action packed. The murder trial is less suspenseful, despite the victim being a bad boy of Vegas, son of a legend and involved in some very unsavory stuff. It was a flashy murder trial involving infamous people, but it never held the same cachet as the poker scenes. Sometimes it got confusing, other times macabre, but it never has the immediacy of the poker tables. In any event, I enjoyed this enough that I remember it pretty well long after reading it in 2012. I'm actually about to give my used copy away, if anyone wants it do let me know.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mortimer

    Jim McManus writes about his experience of making it to the final table of the World Series of Poker in 2000, despite him being an amateur to professional poker tournament play. Apart from the WSOP, Jim also discusses the origin of poker, its growth to a truly American game, and the allure of Las Vegas for many hopeless souls. These themes all tie in together with the Sandy Murphy & Rick Tabish murder trial on Ted Binion, one of the owners of the Horseshoe casino and originator of the WSOP. This Jim McManus writes about his experience of making it to the final table of the World Series of Poker in 2000, despite him being an amateur to professional poker tournament play. Apart from the WSOP, Jim also discusses the origin of poker, its growth to a truly American game, and the allure of Las Vegas for many hopeless souls. These themes all tie in together with the Sandy Murphy & Rick Tabish murder trial on Ted Binion, one of the owners of the Horseshoe casino and originator of the WSOP. This trial was going on during the 2000 WSOP. Jim McManus style of writing is entertaining to read and he ties many elements of his journey with symbols of classical literature, like Dante‘s Inferno.

  16. 5 out of 5

    John

    This was a thoroughly enjoyable read about the world of high stakes poker. Set in 2000, the book is about the author’s stay in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker. The book offers much with regard to poker: the game, the history, the challenge of playing it well, and the characters who populate it. All told with humor, insight, and detail.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Josh Sutton

    great book... kept me in at the entire time... would recommend to anybody

  18. 5 out of 5

    Wingedbeaver

    In 2003 Chris Moneymaker and ESPN made poker a country wide obsession and a viable television sport when Moneymaker went from online poker amateur to World Series of Poker champion on national TV. But before there was Chris Moneymaker there was James McManus, a Chicago journalist who was sent to Las Vegas in 2000 by Harper’s Magazine to cover the rise of women in poker and the Ted Binion murder trial and ended up at the last table of the WSOP. Positively Fifth Street is the chronicle of this jo In 2003 Chris Moneymaker and ESPN made poker a country wide obsession and a viable television sport when Moneymaker went from online poker amateur to World Series of Poker champion on national TV. But before there was Chris Moneymaker there was James McManus, a Chicago journalist who was sent to Las Vegas in 2000 by Harper’s Magazine to cover the rise of women in poker and the Ted Binion murder trial and ended up at the last table of the WSOP. Positively Fifth Street is the chronicle of this journey. It starts with the murder of Ted Binion and ends with the conviction of his murders, but in between we get all the ups and downs of trying to win over a million dollars in the biggest poker tournament in the world. For those who love good poker, McManus’ trails and tribulations at the table is edge of your seat reading. The thought of an amateur making his way through the world’s greatest players, names anyone who has spent anytime watching poker would be very familiar with, is a wondrous tale, the perfect underdog story. Getting into McManus’ head as he makes the tough calls and even tougher folds, being taken step by step through the thought process that led to big pots and huge losses is endlessly interesting. Along the way we also get fantastic profiles of the players McManus comes up against, profiles that would not have been obtained by any journalist. Because of his journey, McManus transcends his occupation and becomes one of the old boys; he is no longer a journalist looking to write about the world of poker, he’s one of the players who happens to have an assignment he needs to hand in. This seems to open up a side of the other players most never get to see and McManus does a wonderful job taking us with him. As great as the poker sections of the novel may be, the trial sections left me wanting. As odd and sensational as the Ted Binion murder may have been, the pages McManus spent telling the tale felt flat and uninteresting compared to the rush of the high stakes poker hands. Whether this is due to a lack in McManus’ abilities to write compelling trial prose or his wonderful ability to paint the highs and lows of sitting at the table is unclear, either way, anytime not spent with the WSOP just doesn’t work with this tale. It may fill out the story, setting up why McManus was in Las Vegas in the first place, but really does nothing for the book as a whole. McManus’ profile of the women players also takes a back seat to the more exciting trip he ended up on. I’m sure his point was how far they have come in the poker world, but the significance seemed to get lost when McManus ended up further in the tournament then any of them. Positively Fifth Street tries to be many things, a true crime novel, a commentary on the changing world of poker, an announcement of the rise of women in the game, but it really only succeeds on one level. The book is only at its best when it is at the table with its author taking us through the crazy journey of poker amateur from qualifying to the last table of the world’s biggest poker event. The excitement of each hand as a relative nobody heads into territory he doesn’t belong makes everything else pale in comparison. If you’re a fan of poker this is a must read. If you’re interested in the science of the game this is a nice study on how old theories can be put into practice. If you want to read about the Binion murder trial and the rise of women in poker, it would probably be best to leave this one behind.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Williwaw

    The lurid opening of this book -- a reconstruction of how gambling magnate Ted Binion was probably murdered in 1998 -- is quite a page-turner. I enjoyed how McManus jumped into the action without much explanation. At first, I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought perhaps it was merely a kinky but poorly executed menage a trois; but it slowly dawned on me that something vicious was going on. Eventually, I realized that McManus was describing a brutal murder. McManus is certainly an accomplishe The lurid opening of this book -- a reconstruction of how gambling magnate Ted Binion was probably murdered in 1998 -- is quite a page-turner. I enjoyed how McManus jumped into the action without much explanation. At first, I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought perhaps it was merely a kinky but poorly executed menage a trois; but it slowly dawned on me that something vicious was going on. Eventually, I realized that McManus was describing a brutal murder. McManus is certainly an accomplished writer and a person of broad interests. I was delighted by his ability to mix literary anecdotes into his narrative. And his philosophical reflections on the nature of gambling, and what motivates people who gamble, seem spot-on. That said, I have never had any real interest in gambling. It's not my style. I have always gravitated toward things that require slow, steady effort, like playing the piano or learning a trade. But I suppose everything we do could be characterized as a gamble on some level: there's always the hope of a payoff, no matter how remote the possibility may be. Even if the payoff comes in a slow trickle, like a paycheck. One needs to have a certain psychological profile (a thrill-seeking mentality?) to be a serious gambler. I would guess that gamblers also like roller coasters, bungie-jumping, motorcycles, hard drugs, and all sorts of extreme experiences. Strip-clubs and crime figure heavily into McManus's narrative, so I'll heap those onto the gambler's profile, as well. Because I'm not a gambler and don't know much about poker, I found McManus's blow-by-blow accounts of the various poker games quite hard to follow. At first, I read a Wikipedia article about it, hoping to acquire enough knowledge to follow the narrative. I quickly realized that my level of interest was not sufficient to delve into the complexities of the game and its related jargon. Consequently, I began skimming through the poker-game narratives. So I know that I missed a lot of what McManus wanted to emphasize, and I have to admit that I am simply unable to appreciate this book fully. If I had actually known something about poker beforehand, this book would have been far more rewarding. One thing that I felt some ambivalence about was how much McManus brings us into own personal life. I think he needed to get into this a little in order to establish the magnitude of the risks he took. But I think he went a bit over the top with the intimate details of his family life. Of much greater interest to me than the poker game is McManus's account of Ted Binion's murder and the trial of the accused. After reading about half of the book, I decided that I would just skip ahead and follow that story to the end. I'm still not quite done, but I thought I'd pound this much of a review for now, and add to it later if need be.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dean Hamilton

    "Never play cards with a man called Doc." - Nelson Algren I've never played a serious game of poker in my life. The few times I've sat down and played a few hands, it has been in almost total ignorance of the odds, poker strategy and anything but the most basic dos and don'ts...but...the first thing I wanted to do having finished Positively Fifth Street was jet down to Vegas and set myself down at a table. James McManus's book Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs and Binion's World Series "Never play cards with a man called Doc." - Nelson Algren I've never played a serious game of poker in my life. The few times I've sat down and played a few hands, it has been in almost total ignorance of the odds, poker strategy and anything but the most basic dos and don'ts...but...the first thing I wanted to do having finished Positively Fifth Street was jet down to Vegas and set myself down at a table. James McManus's book Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs and Binion's World Series of Poker is, for lack of a better word, infectious. McManus was assigned by Harper's Magazine to cover the simultaneous twin stories of the Ted Binion murder trial and the annual Binion's World Series of Poker held at the Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas, the arguably most famous poker tournament in the world. McManus, a journalist, author and poet, also happened to be an itinerate amateur poker player who elected to use his $4,000 advance from Harpers to fund his own entry into the tournament (Read the book to find out how he did. Unlike the NY Times book review (SPOILER WARNING) , I refuse to spoil it for you by divulging the results...What were they thinking?). The book offers a rather piecemeal look at Ted Binion's murder, using the crime more as an illustrative and cautionary tale of the author's own personality - the risk-taking, obsessive, "cliff-diver" face that McManus tries to generally keep in check ("Bad Jim" as McManus aptly terms himself). If you are looking for the details of a sordid crime drama, Positively Fifth Street covers the basics (Binion's tawdry drug use, the aspiring, leggy stripper girlfriend, the low-life pal who hooks up with her and plots Binion's ultimate demise, the fundamentals of "burking" and so on...), but is far more focused on the legacy of Binion in the poker tournament then on Binion himself. The murder trial does loom ominiously in the background but it seems to serve more as a grim reminder of the dangerous price of an unchecked lifestyle than as a raison-e'etre for the book, akin to the images of Death that can be seen perpetually lurking in the corners in a Renaissance painting. The murder is a reminder of mortality, chance and fate, and the luck of the cards. Once the pasteboards start to hit the table, the book truly takes off, mixing each stage of the tournament action with a look at the intricacies of poker, the rise of "book-learned" system poker players, the rules of Texas Hold 'Em, the history of playing cards, and vivid portraits of the top professional poker players such as the cantakerous TJ Cloutier, top female player Kathy Liebert and others. McManus has woven a startling page turner that bluntly fascinates from beginning to end.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    James McManus stumbled onto a once-in-a-lifetime story when the Harper's editor, Lewis Lapham, sent him to Las Vegas to cover the 2000 World Series of Poker. McManus, who'd been an amateur card player for thirty years, decided to leverage his advance on the magazine article into a spot at the World Series. Not only did he win the satellite tournament to get in, but he also made it to the final table, bringing home a take of close to a quarter million dollars. The account of his run forms the hea James McManus stumbled onto a once-in-a-lifetime story when the Harper's editor, Lewis Lapham, sent him to Las Vegas to cover the 2000 World Series of Poker. McManus, who'd been an amateur card player for thirty years, decided to leverage his advance on the magazine article into a spot at the World Series. Not only did he win the satellite tournament to get in, but he also made it to the final table, bringing home a take of close to a quarter million dollars. The account of his run forms the heart of "Positively Fifth Street," a book-length expansion of the Harper's article. The writing comes alive when McManus describes his own experiences in the tournament. He paints accurate portraits of the pros around him--how good they truly are and how much skill and smarts go into their games. But luck can't be factored out completely, so we also see the uncertainty that hangs over every hand. The author describes all this, and his own part in it, with a self-deprecating wit that makes him a winning narrator. We find ourselves rooting for him, the little fish out of his depths, particularly when he ends up at the final table with T.J. Cloutier, whose how-to tome on poker McManus studied repeatedly before the tournament. Cloutier's annoyance at the underdog becomes evident, and he becomes a sort of foil for McManus. Ratcheting up the author's fears of losing everything are his thoughts of his family back in Chicago, particularly his wife, who is ambivalent about McManus's gambling. The book's main flaw is that it keeps drawing us away from the central narrative of the author's risky run to the final table. "Positively Fifth Street" could've been far more focused and a hundred pages shorter if McManus had eliminated the excess baggage. He bookends his account with details about a murder trial he was assigned to cover by Lapham, and while the writing here is dutiful, it is also less sure-footed. Adding to this are lengthy and unnecessary asides on the history of playing card design, the advantages and drawbacks of private strip-club dances, and book reviews of various poker manuals. One gets the sense McManus is attempting to provide a comprehensive account of the world of Las Vegas poker, but unfortunately he fails to tie the various strands together. Ultimately "Fifth Street" is a rewarding read if you don't mind mucking a few bad hands to get to the jackpot.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Corielle

    Jim McManus wrote Positively Fifth Street to investigate two things for Harper’s Magazine: the murder of Ted Binion, and the 2000 World Series of Poker. He tells you right up front that he mostly just wants to play in the 2000 World Series of Poker (it’s common for journalists to participate, to get a front-row seat to what they’re covering). He loves poker, and gambling, and Vegas, and despite a promise to his wife to keep “Good Jim” in the driver’s seat, “Bad Jim” takes over quite a bit as McM Jim McManus wrote Positively Fifth Street to investigate two things for Harper’s Magazine: the murder of Ted Binion, and the 2000 World Series of Poker. He tells you right up front that he mostly just wants to play in the 2000 World Series of Poker (it’s common for journalists to participate, to get a front-row seat to what they’re covering). He loves poker, and gambling, and Vegas, and despite a promise to his wife to keep “Good Jim” in the driver’s seat, “Bad Jim” takes over quite a bit as McManus gets more and more wrapped up in the insane story of Binion’s murder, and the lure of the tables. Ted Binion’s family owns the Horseshoe in Vegas, and Binion loved to spend his money on gambling, drugs and women. The book begins with a fictionalized account of his murder by his girlfriend, Sandy Murphy, and her boyfriend (and Binion’s good friend). McManus goes to Vegas to find out more, as the two go to trial for the murder. He also participates in the WSOP, letting the reader see how everything happens in this particular event. The book is incredibly detailed and well researched — probably easy to do when you’re researching such things as casinos, drugs and strip clubs (3 of Binion’s favorite things–and Bad Jim’s, too, it seems). There’s two pages of text about the legal requirements for G-strings in strip clubs where alcohol is served. You will probably also come away with a head full of poker terms (which might not be such a great thing — I found the poker the least interesting aspect of the whole book). But McManus’s writing is fantastic — he’s funny and self-deprecating and full of great trivia. He gives a crash course on the history of Vegas, the history of poker, and everything you could possibly need to know about the World Series. Plus, you know — the murder. While I found myself skimming the pages detailing the poker tournament, which McManus stays in for a good amount of time, because poker is just as boring to read about as it is to watch, I still found his writing funny and engaging. He gets very involved in what he’s reporting, the murder trial as well as the poker tournament, and it makes for a great read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Curtis Seven

    Parts of this book where used almost wholesale as building blocks for Cowboys Full so no matter which you might read first at this point if you read both you hit parts you swore you read somewhere before (because you did). Unlike Cowboys Full which is a later book that discusses the history of poker this book is specifically about the authors experience at the 2000 WSOP at which Chris Ferguson won the main event and during which the trial of Ted Binion's accused killers was taking place just a f Parts of this book where used almost wholesale as building blocks for Cowboys Full so no matter which you might read first at this point if you read both you hit parts you swore you read somewhere before (because you did). Unlike Cowboys Full which is a later book that discusses the history of poker this book is specifically about the authors experience at the 2000 WSOP at which Chris Ferguson won the main event and during which the trial of Ted Binion's accused killers was taking place just a few short blocks away. The author was a journalist assigned to A) cover the murder trial B) write a story about the best female poker players at that time and C) for extra credit satelite into the main event beating among others two former runners up and then writing a book about. This is one of the current events but also part history stories I recommend for the non-academic. I think most academic historians might pooh pooh journalistic works like this but I don't. I think it widens societal knowledge by putting it into a vernacular with wider appeal. Simply put here is a guy that spins a good yarn and easy to read. It also touched on things where even if you usually read fiction you'll find that sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. Especially in Vegas baby. So another way to separate this from say college thesis paper: it's written to be an interesting story about events and people around the WSOP that is also written to be entertaining. No huge idea behind it all no real moral to the story even just reportage on facts and his experinces in 2000 (as well as the muder of the sone of the founder of WSOP in 1998 that had just gone to trial). That said I also think it's a useful memoir from an academic standpoint but most PhD types would probably have added many more sources and a much drier third person perspective. Thus it is more a book for everyone as opposed to a thesis aimed at eggheads such as myself (though technically I am only partly egghead).

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Jones

    James McManus was sent by Harper's to cover the 2000 World Series of Poker (hereafter in this review to be referred to as the WSOP) in Las Vegas and to also report on the trial of the couple accused of murdering Ted Binion, son of the WSOP founder Benny Binion. This dual assignment was apparently not enough for McManus, a lifelong poker enthusiast, who could not resist the temptation of playing in the main event himself. With an advance less than half of the entry fee, he won his way in though a James McManus was sent by Harper's to cover the 2000 World Series of Poker (hereafter in this review to be referred to as the WSOP) in Las Vegas and to also report on the trial of the couple accused of murdering Ted Binion, son of the WSOP founder Benny Binion. This dual assignment was apparently not enough for McManus, a lifelong poker enthusiast, who could not resist the temptation of playing in the main event himself. With an advance less than half of the entry fee, he won his way in though a "satellite" and managed, with both skill and luck, to outlast most of the field of over five hundred to make it to the final table. Positively Fifth Street is many books in one. While the Binion trial and the author's tournament experience counterpoint each other nicely, McManus added a great deal more to the mix, including a history of the game that borrows heavily from other books. McManus clearly acknowledges his sources, particularly the beautifully written The Biggest Game in Town, by A. Alvarez, however at a certain point I wished he would concentrate more on writing his own book than summarizing the books of others. Perhaps there are just too many subjects covered; in addition to those already mentioned, McManus also waxes on about the psychology of poker, poker and science, and also gives us three generations of his family history. One or two less side trips may have made the book more cohesive. These small criticisms aside, the tone, pace, and structure of the book all work to propel the reader through with very few slow downs. Mcmanus's background as a fiction writer has served him well in developing a narrative with real tension. In particular his structure of interspersing his tournament experience with other topics is so effective that it has already been copied by many inferior poker biographies. (Hey, you like poker? Why not check out my poker blog: http://jacksfullofnines.blogspot.com/)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Robert Beveridge

    Jim McManus, Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2003) Jim McManus made the final table at the World Series of Poker. That alone should make any poker player want to pick this book up and read it immediately. It gets better when you realize that McManus went in as the rankest of rank amateurs, the guy whose previous poker career revolved around the $3-$6 Hold 'em game at the local VFW. Yes, folks, Jim McManus is living proo Jim McManus, Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2003) Jim McManus made the final table at the World Series of Poker. That alone should make any poker player want to pick this book up and read it immediately. It gets better when you realize that McManus went in as the rankest of rank amateurs, the guy whose previous poker career revolved around the $3-$6 Hold 'em game at the local VFW. Yes, folks, Jim McManus is living proof that anyone CAN do it. And, as This American Life host Ira Glass says on the back cover, the poker writing to be found here really is some of the best sports writing you are likely to ever see; McManus' descriptions are easily the equal of Laura Hillenbrand's race descriptions in Seabiscuit (and this is high praise indeed). Its when McManus gets off the subject of poker that things tend to go downhill. Unfortunately, this happens often. McManus was in Vegas for the purpose of covering the Murphy/Tabish trial (Murphy and Tabish were accused of murdering Ted Binion, wayward son of the owner of the casino where the World Series of Poker is held*), and much of the book details McManus' attempts to get at the meat of the psyches of Binion, Murphy, and Tabish, in order to write the article. Despite the tenuous connections McManus makes between murder and poker towards the end of the book, these are two separate pieces, and should have been treated as such. Worth reading for the cards. Skim the rest. *** * For the sticklers in the audience: yes, "is" is the correct tense. Binion's reopened on April 1, 2004.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mike Mathews

    A few years ago I read the article that contained the seed for this book in Ira Glass's New Kings of Nonfiction. (If you haven't read that book you should stop reading this now, and go find a copy.) I really enjoyed that article. I was not terribly interested in poker, but was fascinated by the idea of an amateur entering the world's premier poker tournament in order to write a story about it...then finishing fifth overall. I recently ran across a copy of Positively Fifth Street in a thrift stor A few years ago I read the article that contained the seed for this book in Ira Glass's New Kings of Nonfiction. (If you haven't read that book you should stop reading this now, and go find a copy.) I really enjoyed that article. I was not terribly interested in poker, but was fascinated by the idea of an amateur entering the world's premier poker tournament in order to write a story about it...then finishing fifth overall. I recently ran across a copy of Positively Fifth Street in a thrift store, and when I realized it was a fuller version of the story in that article, I decided to take a chance on it. The book describes the author's assignment to cover trial of the murderers of Ted Binion, heir to the Binion casino fortune and the World Series of Poker event. A lifelong fan of the game, McManus decides to use his advance money to enter the tournament himself. He weaves the Murder trial, the history of poker, the Binion family's rise to powerful Las Vegas casino owners, and his own experience in the tournament into 400 pages that I couldn't put down. A word of warning to the prospective reader...McManus's descriptions of some of the finer strategies and nuances of the game, and his tales of some of the colorful characters playing today could lead to an uncontrollable urge to get in on the action. Before reading I had no interest in poker. Since reading I have purchased chips and cards, and am trying to recruit some friends to start a regular game.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey

    I thought this book would be more about the infamous murder of Ted Binion (former owner of Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas) allegedly by Sandra Murphy and Rick Tabish. However, it was more so about the renowned World Series of Poker Tournament that was going on at the same time as the trial of Sandra Murphy and Rick Tabish. I did, however, learn a lot more about poker than I ever knew (which is very little) and the amazing rush that comes with playing the captivating game. I also think it's incred I thought this book would be more about the infamous murder of Ted Binion (former owner of Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas) allegedly by Sandra Murphy and Rick Tabish. However, it was more so about the renowned World Series of Poker Tournament that was going on at the same time as the trial of Sandra Murphy and Rick Tabish. I did, however, learn a lot more about poker than I ever knew (which is very little) and the amazing rush that comes with playing the captivating game. I also think it's incredible that the author was able to get 448 pages out of one week in Las Vegas and it never gets boring, only more and more stirring. The author, Jim McManus, not only writes about what is going on around him, but also his inner battles of which he calls "Good Jim" and "Bad Jim," when he experiences temptations to spend money and receive lap dances all the while married. The author, I believe, also gives new meaning to going into detail. Overall he writes about the WSOP, his experience of actually playing in the WSOP in which he was one of the top 10 and won a significant amount of money, his temptations past and present, the trial of Sandra Murphy and Rick Tabish, his own family history and the basics of poker and much of the advice that seasoned poker players bestowed on him which helped him come close to nearly winning the big event.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    "Positively Fifth Street" takes two disparate but related stories and tells them together, much like "Devil in the White City". The murder of Ted Binion of the Horseshoe Casino and the 2000 World Series of Poker tournament at the Horseshoe are loosely combined into one narrative, full of tangential twists and turns. Many of the passages are stream of consciousness, and they start to feel extremely over-indulgent, but that is understandable given the event that McManus is participating. I persona "Positively Fifth Street" takes two disparate but related stories and tells them together, much like "Devil in the White City". The murder of Ted Binion of the Horseshoe Casino and the 2000 World Series of Poker tournament at the Horseshoe are loosely combined into one narrative, full of tangential twists and turns. Many of the passages are stream of consciousness, and they start to feel extremely over-indulgent, but that is understandable given the event that McManus is participating. I personally didn't like the juxtaposed stories but I felt that the WSOP story really carried the book. It was a fun read, especially seeing the amateur poker player show so well. I do have a bone to pick with the audiobook version. The author mentions a few cities in Illinois and Missouri and they are mispronounced (Lisle, Creve Coeur), as is the author's high school name and another high school (Benet, New Trier). Folks, if you spend money to make an unabridged audiobook, check out how to pronounce the names. At one point the book makes fun of some yokel mispronouncing a poker player's name -- what would the author say of this sloppiness? I purchased the audiobook at the community library whose name was mispronounced multiple times -- I wondered why they would sell off this audiobook in like-new condition but I suspect they found it defective!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Hecht

    There can be no finer book to pick up in the middle of the TV coverage of Binion's WSOP. McManus's tales of how he parlayed his 4G advance from Harper's first to a seat at the WSOP Big Game and then made it all the way to the final table all with the backdrop of the heroin laced/circus sex Ted Binion murder trial. It makes for a compelling read. But it's McManus's literary flourishes, his background as a Catholic altar boy that inform his decision making on so many levels, his references to Dant There can be no finer book to pick up in the middle of the TV coverage of Binion's WSOP. McManus's tales of how he parlayed his 4G advance from Harper's first to a seat at the WSOP Big Game and then made it all the way to the final table all with the backdrop of the heroin laced/circus sex Ted Binion murder trial. It makes for a compelling read. But it's McManus's literary flourishes, his background as a Catholic altar boy that inform his decision making on so many levels, his references to Dante, Joyce and other literary greats, his reliance on book knowledge from Doyle Brunson, T.J. Cloutier and other poker giants and his ultimate devotion to his family turn what would otherwise be an interesting piece of nonfiction into brilliant literature. The WSOP is back on ESPN tonight and every Tuesday night at 6PST (check your local listings). The first few weeks of the programming shows the many ganes that lead up the WSOP "Big Game", what, in fact, makes the series a series. It's not as compelling because the stakes are lower and the games can be slightly different variations of poker (i.e. not necessarily Texas Hold 'em), but who cares? It's still great poker action. I know where I'll be at 6pm. Ass firmly glued to the couch with eyes similarly glued to the telly.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ensiform

    The author goes to Vegas in 2000 to cover two stories: the brutal murder of seedy blacklisted casino mogul Ted Binion by his girlfriend and her lover; and the rise of female poker players at the Big One. Like nearly all journalists, he goes to play as well as observe, so blows his entire "Harper's" advance on an entry fee, and actually makes it to the final table. Part autobiography, part meditation on the rush of thrill seeking and the cut-throat world of professional poker, part history of the The author goes to Vegas in 2000 to cover two stories: the brutal murder of seedy blacklisted casino mogul Ted Binion by his girlfriend and her lover; and the rise of female poker players at the Big One. Like nearly all journalists, he goes to play as well as observe, so blows his entire "Harper's" advance on an entry fee, and actually makes it to the final table. Part autobiography, part meditation on the rush of thrill seeking and the cut-throat world of professional poker, part history of the Binion clan, in part a series of profiles, the books covers it all: the nail-biting suspense of the flop and the river, the temptations of Vegas' underbelly, sex and love and family, the journalists and chroniclers in whose shoes McManus is walking, and the ego-crushing nature of a bad beat. As thrilling as a novel, and crammed with excursions on poetry, the symbolism of cards, and a host of other erudite topics not typically found in books about poker or true crime. McManus does lay on the melodrama a bit thick at times, as when he gets a lap dance near the end – you can practically her him begging to be compared to Hunter Thompson – but on the whole, a brilliant piece of history and a testament to the extremes human competitiveness will take us.

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