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It's the fantasy of many a red-blooded American male, and increasingly, many a female: to stare down a grizzled "rounder" (or professional) in the final hand to win the million-dollar prize of the world's biggest poker tournament. Harper's magazine sent poet and novelist McManus (Going to the Sun, etc.) to cover the 2000 event in Las Vegas. Playing in his first tournament, he was more successful than anyone could have dared hope. For a writer, this is the equivalent of drawing a straight flush-no small part of the appeal here is watching McManus as he skillfully converts a chance into a sure thing. Moreover, coinciding with the tournament that year was the salacious trial of the murderer of Ted Binion, legendarily profligate scion to the family that created the event. He probes the trial at length, but the theme-scummy people are capable of scummy behavior-is hardly as interesting, and the book always perks up when McManus returns to the green felt, where "flop" and "river" can combine to end the author's streak at any moment. Of course, opponents and spectators alike were well aware of McManus's identity as erudite literatus and tourney neophyte-which at once made him prey and permitted him to play possum. While refusing to downplay his No Limit Hold'em chops (earned by practicing with a computer program), McManus modestly charts his delirium as he prevailed in one nervy confrontation after another. The drama of high-stakes poker is inherently compelling-here is a rare opportunity to read an account by someone who can really write. B&w illus. Agent, Sloan Harris. (Apr. 16) Forecast: While the initiated will greedily devour this, it has considerable crossover potential, justifying the 75,000-copy first printing. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Here is a rare work that combines personal memoir, journalism, nonfiction, and lurid crime reporting into a book that is genuinely informative, fun, and well constructed. Novelist and poet McManus wraps together three stories. First is his reporting on the trial of a well-known Vegas socialite and her boyfriend for the killing of her husband, casino owner and poker tournament host Ted Binion. The second story is that of the bizarre and fantastic world of no-limit "hold 'em" poker (the game favored at the World Series). The last thread is McManus's decision to take his advance from Harper's to cover the trial and the tournament and enter it himself. McManus moves gracefully among topics like the corrupt intersection of Vegas politics and casinos; game theory, statistics and poker odds; his own history with the game; the culture of high-stakes poker; and Ted Binion's transparent and grisly murder. As well as providing a guide to poker's seminal works (Doyle Brunson's Super/System and David Sklanksy's Theory of Poker), this book is the heir to Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as the effortless distillation of a small piece of Las Vegas's madness. Recommended for all collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-James Miller, Springfield Coll. Lib., MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
McManus went to Las Vegas in May 2000 on assignment for Harper's to cover the World Series of Poker, which has grown into a hugely popular, heavily publicized $23 million event. He was to throw in coverage of the trial of Sandy Murphy, an ex-stripper, and her boyfriend, Rick Tabish, accused of murdering Ted Binion, the tournament's host, well known for his voracious addictions to sex, violence, gambling, and drugs. To satisfy his own gambling urge, McManus enters the poker competition and spends 10 days immersed in the culture of Vegas and gambling, rendering a fast-paced, riveting account of his progress through the tournament. At one point, after losing $10,000, he parallels his own irrational, impatient behavior with that of defendants Murphy and Tabish. McManus also offers a play-by-play account of his long-shot action, with sidelines on the pros and cons of computerized poker, reviews of classic gambling texts, and virtually anything else that crosses his mind. Most fascinating is his portrait of the customs and sensibilities of the eclectic homo pokereins across every race and nationality, male and female (including a very aggressive barefoot and pregnant professional poker player). A delicious inside look. --Vanessa Bush