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In 2000, novelist and poet James McManus was sent to Las Vegas, innocently enough, byHarper'smagazine to write a story about the World Series of Poker held annually at Binion's Horseshoe. But then, as so often happens on trips to Sin City, something kind of ... happened. Rather than becoming an objective report, McManus's article evolved into a memoir as he put his entire advance on the line, got lucky with his cards and won a spot in the competition, and came much closer than anyone expected to winning the darn thing. The result,Positively Fifth Street, is just as dazzling, exciting, and disturbing as Vegas itself.

McManus details his battles not only against his opponents but also against "Bad Jim," the portion of his own personality that needs to get in on a poker game in spite of both common and fiscal sense. Besides telling his own story, he relates the considerably more unpleasant tale of Ted Binion, whose grisly death was blamed on Binion's former stripper-girlfriend and her ex-linebacker beau. In the hands of a lesser author, the pursuit of these separate through lines of poker and the seedy personal lives of wealthy casino heirs may have lead readers to wish the author had picked just one subject. But under McManus's careful watch, they're really pretty similar: steeped in adrenaline, mystery, deception, and skating on thrillingly thin ice. Each story underscores the other, a neat little "narrative as metaphor" device, while also painting a vivid picture of Vegas casino life. Poker, as anyone who has lost at it will tell you, is an intricate game and it's nice to see a top-notch author and player relate its finer points in an entertaining style that will appeal even to non-players. The author's hilariously self-aware and at times self-loathing style make Positively Fifth Street a fun read. But beyond that, his account of nearly winning the biggest poker tournament in the world and subsequently watching as the verdicts are announced for Binion's accused murderers makes for a great story. Even if it wasn't the one he was sent there to write. --John Moe --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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ISBN-10:  0312422520
ISBN-13:  978-0312422523
Author:  James McManus
Publisher:  Picador
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review by . July 14, 2010
I had known about Positively Fifth Street for quite some time, but only recently finished reading it. I expected an instant classic in the realm of poker, instead I got an average/above average book that is dated and jumpy to say the least. Back in 2003 this book would have been fresh and more interesting, but the emphasis on this book is more on the murder of Ted Binion and the parties related than the WSOP. Having said that, I still think this book could have been a lot better if McManus had done …
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