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The Story of Poker - James McManus Interviewed

Author Jim McManus Discusses 'The Story of Poker' With


James McManusJames McManus, author of Positively Fifth Street and Word Series of Poker main event finalist tells about his new book Cowboys Full – The Story of Poker.

What inspired you to write this book?

While writing Positively Fifth Street, I researched the history of poker and was surprised to discover that, while historical events were described in a wide variety of books and articles, there was no single book that covered the complete story of the most popular card game on the planet. I decided to try and write it myself.

Of all the facts and stories you uncovered during your research which surprised and/or delighted you the most?

The extent to which poker logic was deployed by the leaders of countries with nuclear weapons to help them figure out when and how to bluff, as well as which adversaries are or aren’t bluffing: from the war between the US and Japan, through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, to the standoffs today with Iran and North Korea. The highest-stakes action we can imagine between Andy Beal and the Corporation are laughably minuscule compared to what’s at stake between, say, Israel and Iran. Yet a similar logic prevails in both kinds of contest.

There were many pivotal points in the development of poker – the invention of playing cards, the growth of the game on the Mississippi steamboats, Vegas and the WSOP, the Internet. Which do you think was the most important?

They’re all important. Without playing cards, no vying games, and specifically poker, would have ever evolved in New Orleans. Without the riverboats, the action would have stayed in New Orleans for quite a bit longer. Without televised tournaments such as the WSOP and its imitators, games like no-limit hold’em wouldn’t have been discovered by the tens of millions of folks who play them today. (Speaking to a more literate audience, books such as Al Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town and Tony Holden’s Big Deal provided stylish introductions to tournament poker.) And since the Internet qualifier Chris Moneymaker won the main event in 2003, many millions more have decided they can become the world champion. Online poker provides easy access to games 24/7, including the highest stakes action around, no matter which country or time zone you live in. The downside (or upside for a growing number of players) is that, as more and more of the action takes place online, the ability to read physical tells, as well as the need to disguise them, has all but disappeared.

Who do you think was the most important player of all time and for what reasons?

No single player is the most important. Wild Bill Hickok was the face of poker for many decades, mainly because he was gunned down while playing. After a century and a half in which poker was accurately called the Cheater’s Game, Herbert O. Yardley’s The Education of a Poker Player became a bestseller in 1957, in part because of the strong case he made for playing on the square. Doyle Brunson is important because he’s been a winner for sixty years at a wide variety of styles—road games, tournaments, live action, online, as well as writing advice books and launching a site—which is why for most people he is now the face of poker. David Sklansky and Dan Harrington have taught millions of players how to think about poker decisions much more intelligently. Jennifer Harman and Annie Duke and Annette Obrestad are important for being among the first and most high-profile women to succeed at what was until recently a men’s-only game. I could go on . . .

Given the impressive historical timeline presented in the book, where do you see poker in the future and do you think it will continue to have such cultural cache?

Poker has never been more popular than it is now, and I think it will continue to grow, especially online and in countries like China where it is only now being introduced. I think the new International Federation of Poker will help enormously in standardizing the rules, keeping it legal in as many jurisdictions as possible, and encouraging people to see it as a skillful mind sport instead of a mindless gambling game.

Cowboys Full – The Story of Poker by James McManus is published in the UK and Ireland today by Souvenir Press priced £14.99.