Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hold Me from Deuce to Seven, Omaha Stud

Let's be upfront about this--I'm often on here talking about books before I've finished them. Sometimes before I've seen them. I admit that I have a problem when it comes to blogging that I will refer to as Impatience. I can't wait to finish a book before I start telling others about it. Right now, that book is Jim McManus's Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker [1].

McManus is a journalist, a poker journalist, who's written for mainstream publications like the New York Times, in addition to the more niche Card Player. I came across him first in Ira Glass's collection The New Kings of Nonfiction [2], which was one of the best books I read last year.  In New Kings, the McManus piece concerns his entry into the World Series of Poker, and he gives the suspense-building play-by-play of hands all the way up to his placement at the final table.  If you don't know the story, I won't spoil the outcome--I recommend you check out New Kings.

Cowboys Full covers the history of the game, especially the Texas Hold 'em variant, from a variety of angles.  Early chapters concern other popular betting card games that likely contributed to the creation of Poker in New Orleans, and then chronicles its spread to the rest of the country, first by steamboat, and then by wars.

Other chapters concern people--politicians from Andrew Jackson to Barrack Obama who used friendly poker games to make connections and forge friendships with more popular politicians; cardsharps and their methods and devices of cheating, from marking cards to mirrored rings; and famous people who played (Mark Twain, Bill Hickok, the creator of the modern CIA, the scientists of the Manhattan Project), and people who poker made famous (World Series of Poker founder Jack Binion, aggressive repeat champion and cocaine addict Stu Ungar, the women and international champions who've diversified the sport).

McManus also links the poker prowess of some of our politicians to their actions on the global arena, reconsidering global issues like the Cuban missle crisis and Iran's development of nuclear weapons as high stakes games where lives hang on effective bluffing. 

I love this book.  I had declared it my nightstand book for awhile due to how wonderfully self-contained the chapters are.  I read somewhere that the book collects articles McManus wrote, but there's no evidence of this in the book itself.  Each short chapter before bed was just the thing--interestingly informative and over in a few pages.  Then, McManus brought on the suspense as he did in his New Kings article, giving play-by-plays from various World Series final hands.  That sort of action does not make one restful, nor does it encourage one to stop reading for the night--I had to have the book with me at breakfast and on lunch breaks, too.

Making this book equally readable to newcomers as experienced players is McManus wonderful glossary, which you could use to figure out what/how many games I'm referring to in the title of this post.  To any experienced players, I hope it's not a horribly cliche title.

Listen, don't normally ask for feedback in these posts because you people don't give it, but I'm going to make myself feel foolish anyway. After this book, I realize we don't have a very good selection of books on how to play poker. Are there many players in town who'd like access to more guides on how to play [3]?  If so, what would you like?  Any interest in Card Player magazine, or another periodical [4]?

Don't be shy, the knitters have books, videos, magazines, themed-mysteries, themed-romances, themed-melodramatic fiction, and probably more--there's no reason you poker players can't have nice things, too. Seriously, help me spend your tax dollars on something you'd like. Or I'll blow it all on self-help books on how to be patient.

Aces full of links:
1. Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker

2. The New Kings of Nonfiction
Library link and table of contents link?

3. These are poker books we own. These poker books are bestsellers on Amazon.  Which belong in our collection, but aren't?

4. This is Card Player Magazine--is it any good?


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