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

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

by James McManus

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.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Nonfiction
  • Rating: 3.86
  • Pages: 448
  • Publish Date: March 1st 2004 by Picador
  • Isbn10: 0312422520
  • Isbn13: 9780312422523

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Entertaining tale of how the author, with little experience, made it to the final table of the World Series of Poker.

Librarians from all over the nation descend on Las Vegas in 3 days. 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. 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.

Positively Fifth Street is one of those rare nonfiction books that read like a great first person novel. 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.

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.

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 playingand final tablingthe 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. 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. 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?

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.

What I don't love is an author shoving every note and scribbled piece of information he came across during research into a book. 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.

There are two interesting stories which the author has attempted to cram into one book.

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.

I didn't like McManus' habit of referring to himself as "Good Jim" and "Bad Jim".