|Authors: James McManus
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pub. Date: 2003
Book Review: Part 1
Here’s a classic poker-book delight: James McManus’s first-person odyssey at the 2000 World Series of Poker, Positively Fifth Street. It’s not a strategy book, though still a “must read” for poker players. It’s one novice’s immersion into both the WSOP and gritty Las Vegas, a rollicking, joyful tour.
It’s rare that the true gifted writer has bestowed those gifts upon the poker world, with McManus’s Positively Fifth Street one of the three most important of these tales (along with Big Deal and The Biggest Game in Town). That poker – as with all these things Vegas – has an allure for rich and poor, famous and anonymous alike is part of what makes Positively Fifth Street click. It’s the twinned tale of the McManus’s own unlikely trip to the final table of the 2000 World Series of Poker’s main event, which develops as he tracks a sordid Vegas tale running along on a not-too-distant track – the gruesome Ted Binion murder and the ongoing trial of his accused murderers. The playboy Ted Binion was the son of Benny Binion, founder of Binion’s Horseshoe, itself the longtime home of the WSOP. These unlikely and converging story lines provided the duality that gives the book its extra punch, and from McManus’s capable hands Positively Fifth Street emerged as a worthy bestseller.
McManus begins Positively Fifth Street in a most titillating way, with an imagined death scene featuring the slain Ted Binion and his accused murderers, Las Vegas strip-club dancer Sandra Murphy and her later boyfriend, Rick Tabish. This lead is an extended “What if?” – an extrapolation of what might have happened based on the facts as they were known. Not quite fiction, not quite fact, but a clever jumping-off point for the romping New Age-style tale waiting in the pages ahead.
When it comes time to introduce himself into the tale, McManus makes sure readers know he’s the outsider looking in, the hobbyist poker player with a yen for the game and the common dream to participate on poker’s biggest stage… the WSOP. McManus wrangled seed money for the trip by landing a gig with Harper’s for a piece on the emergence of female poker players – a neverending story pitch within the poker world if ever there was one – plus the emergence of books and computers as poker teaching aids. The Harper’s story evolves over time as McManus’s personal tale progresses, all kicked off when, fresh into Vegas, McManus’s self-described “Bad Jim” personality takes over and he spends a good chunk of his not-yet-paid story fee on a $1,000 satellite to the $10,000 Main Event. McManus wins that satellite against several strong, notable players, but a late “save” chews up much of his remaining cash, meaning that he had his dream – a WSOP Main Event seat – and a view from the sidelines for just about everything else.