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Monday, May 3, 2010

Poker Nation

This was the first book I picked up at the used book store that just opened in Nashua.  I was so excited to hear about this place.  When I was in my twenties I spent hour after hour in used book stores looking for books.  Those were the days when I made a little over four dollars and hour and had hours to spend reading.  I never appreciated how valuable time to read a book is and I wish I would have enjoyed it rather than dreading the long stretches of time laying around on a couch in my friend's basement or on the floor of an apartment before I could afford a couch.  I'm afraid if I could have appreciated how enjoyable it is to while away an afternoon I may still be waiting tables in a Mexican restaurant and going home to a small one bedroom apartment with no TV and the furniture that came with the place.  I would still read Vonnegut books and Tom Robbins and wonder why life is so pointless and pick up extra shifts so that I could afford to go home early on my regular ones.

So Poker Nation spends a good share of it's time wandering over well tread ground.  The first paragraphs of every chapter made me grown in agony because Andy Bellin starts out each chapter assuming the reader has never played a hand of poker in their life.  I checked the copyright to see if this was published back in 1980 but it was first seen in print in 2002 right in the middle of the poker boom.  I wish he would have made an assumption that his core audience may have played a hand or two and read a poker book or two.  Every chapter is filled with the stories that everyone who has done any semi-serious reading about poker has heard.  The story of Benny Binion, how the W.S.O.P. got it's start, the famous game in front of Binion's between Nick the Greek and Johnny Moss, it's all there in detail.  Painful detail if you read the genre enough, he even has a section where he explains the order of hands.  The book has a few charts on odds and probability and I, who am no statistician, quickly found errors in two of them.

I wanted to hate this book so bad my teeth hurt but I couldn't.  Andy did what good poker writers do and tells his own story.  How he ended up as a professional player, what happened to all the girlfriends who thought dating a professional gambler would be a blast, he even committed the primary gambling sin and admitted to cheating a time or two.  Although of course he is reformed now so if you see him at the tables you can trust him right?

Since Bellin's primary stomping grounds were the underground clubs in New York City he gives you a good picture of how the scene looks  in a jurisdiction where poker isn't technically legal but the police have higher priorities than to break up poker games.  This was the part of Rounders I was most interested in but the part that got completely overshadowed by Matt Damon's perverse feeling of responsibility for Edward Norton.  Now that was a story I had no problems hating.

So if you haven't read a mountain of poker books I would highly recommend this book.  If you have I'd say it's worth a whirl but don't expect that more than half of what's covered will feel new to you.

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Hey I appreciate you leaving your thoughts behind! Be well my friend.