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Book Review

by Brendan Murray |  Published: Oct 01, 2010


Lost Vegas by Paul McGuire
Book Reviews by Brendan Murray

Lost Vegas by Paul McGuireAnyone familiar with the writing of Paul “Dr. Pauly” McGuire will know that his scabrously honest and often hilarious take on poker — the business and the characters that populate it — is required reading for everyone who wants the truth.

Or at least as close to the truth as one man can sail in an industry that simultaneously invites all comers to the never ending party while regularly shoveling thousands of charred and disfigured poker dreams into mass, unmarked graves.

Through his myriad blogs covering poker, music, road trips, and bacon (!) this prolific writer from New York was a breath of fresh air in the poker world when he began live reporting at the World Series of Poker in 2005.

Now the best of his acutely observed, darkly poignant tales of excess and everyday drudgery at the dark heart of the poker beast, and particularly Las Vegas, is now available as a page-turning, train-wreck memoir: Lost Vegas – The Redneck Riviera, Existential Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker.

Largely spanning the period 2005 to 2008 McGuire witnesses at first hand the explosive growth of the World Series after it was sold by Binion’s to mega-conglomerate Harrah’s.

As a live reporter putting in extraordinarily long shifts daily for various poker media for the duration of the Series at the Rio, McGuire descends into a kind of madness as he chronicles the highs and lows (very literally) of the desperados who make up the cast of thousands in a city built on dreams and sustained on devilment.

McGuire’s love/hate relationship with Sin City is a recurring theme and anyone who has ever spent any length of time there will empathise easily — scratch beneath the bright lights of the big city and sadness and loneliness are never far away.

Nor is irony, gallows humour, and the plain outrageous.

As McGuire moves up the poker media food chain he seems to simultaneously move down the human weirdness chain, and his observations, cloaked in a subjective patina alternating between the bleak and the righteous, make for a fascinating insight into a city, a culture, a species, and ultimately one man, McGuire himself.

Strippers, killers, cheats, drug fiends, and idiots rub shoulders from page to page with the honest working class, dreamers, family men, the quasi-religious, and the invisible.

Clearly influenced by the writing of Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, and the European existentialists of the early 20th century, McGuire pays homage to the language and philosophies of his literary heroes, and they are words and thoughts which lend themselves well to the subject matter.

In doing so he creates an easy, road trip-like rhythm, steering the book deftly through some wretched twists and turns, bumpy skullduggery (are those dead hookers under the road through the Red Rock Canyon?) and occasionally almost innocent giddiness.

Above all, however, McGuire’s book will stand as a singular, historically significant testament to the guts spilled and the glory intangible on the floor of the Rio, the back rooms of the strip bars, the hotel rooms of the hopeless, and the streets of Sin City — and I should know.

In 2008 your reviewer spent the duration of the WSOP as a live reporter, staying at the titular Redneck Riviera and can attest to the frightening accuracy of McGuire’s take on the ribald roach motel.

His descriptions of the grinding monotony of six weeks on the “killing floor” of the Rio bring a shudder to the spine. Heavy drinking, the thousand yard stare, sleep deprivation, the every-growing sense of numbness and disgust of my fellow man (mostly spectators) is an experience I can recall all too vividly, and it’s difficult to explain that feeling of being lost in a semi-psychedelic dream state to someone who hasn’t done it.

Articulately, McGuire does just that and Lost Vegas is a minor triumph, written by a survivor who, perhaps despite himself, has managed to retain his soul.

Lost Vegas – The Redneck Riviera, Existential Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker is available for purchase at for around €18. Spade Suit

Devilfish — The Life & Times of a Poker Legend by Dave Ulliott

Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, poker legend. People either love him or hate him but the one thing no one in poker can do is ignore him. Now he has told his life story in Devilfish — The Life & Times of a Poker Legend and what a story it is.

DevilfishFrom rags to riches, prisons to penthouses, mug gambler to millionaire poker genius, Ulliott regales us with his bawdy northerner humour —quick witted and self-deprecating — in a fast-paced tale that is part kitchen-sink drama part Hollywood blockbuster.

Born into a working class family in Hull, England — a rather bleak, industrial northern city in post-war Britain — a boisterous and wayward young Ulliott soon developed a penchant for thrills to spice up an otherwise drab, poverty-filled existence and thus began an early career as a sneak thief, safe cracker, bad gambler, and serial womaniser.

He came to the attention of the local police at an early age and was constantly under their watchful, but often inept, eye.

He engaged in a long-running battle of wits with the law, often escaping its long arm with barely an inch to spare until eventually he was “well and truly dropped in it” when his stolen-good seller Fred got nicked, grassed Ulliott up, and our resourceful hero went on the run, staying at friends’ houses to avoid capture.

Eventually having decided it was safe to head home he was finally caught hiding under his own bed.

He was on remand for four months before receiving a sentence of 12 months in jail and during this time his first marriage broke down with his wife moving away to marry, much to his chagrin, a policeman, and taking their kids with her.

Upon leaving jail he fell in love, married, had more kids, then went back for another extended period at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, all the while hustling and getting into violent confrontations.

After his release he decided to go straight. A short-lived plan but one that did result in him opening a successful pawnbrokers shop which allowed him to start a regular poker game in a room upstairs. The rest is history.

Finding it increasingly difficult to get a game in Hull he began travelling around the north with his driver, playing seedy backroom games and eventually fetched up in the Vic in London for the biggest games in the country at the time.

While his bankroll grew he was still dissatisfied with the challenge of the games he was dominating on home soil so he opted to hit Las Vegas, first on a reconnaissance mission, then, a few months later, to the World Series of Poker where he won a bracelet.

So began a rollercoaster period in his life where his bankroll (and beyond) was frequently on the line and swings of hundreds of thousands of dollars peppered an increasingly fruitful but edgy career as a full-time poker player.

After winning the first series of seminal poker TV show, Late Night Poker, he became virtually a household name in Britain and his notoriety grew hand-in-hand with his outrageous lifestyle populated with celebrity encounters and runs of cards veering from the sublime to the near ruinous.

He became the most successful British tournament poker player of all time, amassing a staggering $6 million in career winnings, a World Poker Tour title, and 11 WSOP final tables.

Ulliott’s book is a thrilling ride out of the darkness and into the light. He tells his story with his trademark, tongue-in-cheek humour and is effortlessly charming — even when it turns dark, violent, and is verging on the amoral.

Even when he’s unlucky at the table (and boy does he get unlucky — on one occasion one of his opponents suffers a fatal heart attack at the table but not before calling Dave’s bet and winning the pot), Devilfish acknowledges his luck in life and tells his story with the air of a man who knows he’s been blessed.

Everyone loves a “lying in the gutter but staring at the stars” story and Devilfish provides a bona fide, page-turning classic of the genre. And despite his hubris (of which there is plenty, mostly comedic) he’s one in a million and his autobiography tells an ultimately heartwarming tale of a bad boy made good and all on his own terms. Spade Suit

Devilish – The Life & Times of a Poker Legend is published by Penguin and available from for £9.09.