Friday, June 13, 2008

BOOKSHELF

GHOSTS AT THE TABLE

Riverboat Gamblers, Texas Rounders, Roadside Hucksters,

and the Living Legends Who Made Poker What It Is Today

Des Wilson is a former contributing columnist from Britain for the Progressive Review who has lost his taste for politics and replaced it with a fascination with poker. Your editor, once a pretty fair poker player, has gone the other way. Even though Wilson is a close friend, I wouldn't put up with any British crap about American history and can firmly state that Wilson has made a serious contribution to the subject. - Sam

DAVID G. SCHWARTZ, LA VEGAS - As Wilson admits in the preface, this is not an exhaustive history of poker as a historian would write it, chronological narrative interspersed with hard-won quantitative data about numbers of card decks sold, arrest for poker-playing, and the like. Instead, it's an impressionistic journey-literally-through the past and into the present of poker.

Wilson's strategy is to revisit the scenes of past poker greatness, from Tombstone to Texas to Binion's Horseshoe, and through research, interviews, and observation, try to recover what is lost. Luckily, many of the figures of the last three eras are still alive, and those that have passed on are survived by friends, rivals, and associates. There a real richness of detail here, and no matter what your previous knowledge of poker, your insight into its history will be enriched. Two sections that stand out are Wilson's conversation with Amarillo Slim, probably the most controversial poker figure in its modern era, and his investigation into the disappearance of 1979 WSOP champion Hal Fowler.

As an active narrator, Wilson himself becomes a character in the book. This has the potential for disaster-should the writer show up as a swashbuckling hero, the reader might be turned off by the braggadocio. But Wilson appears as an honest, curious, student of the game, who's taking a trip and bringing a few close friends-including you, the reader-along with him. He's the foil to some of the game's legends and rising stars, driving Amarillo Slim's ranch and listening to his act, seeking out Bobby Hoff in a California card room, and almost invisibly eliciting recollections from other poker icons. When he does step into the frame-in the book's coda-it is for him to try his luck at the 2007 World Series of Poker. Since he's humble without being self-effacing, the reader can't help but root for him.

Don't view this as a narrative; see it as a collection of stories told to you as you're driving down a dark, endless Texas highway (or English road) on the way to your next big game.

ORDER

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