Ask a Book Question: The Eighteenth in a Series (Showing Your Cards)

May 11, 2004 | 4 books mentioned 3 min read

My good and old friend Hot Face, I mean, “Larry ‘Boom Boom’ Delvechhio” writes in with this question about going for broke and laying it all out on the line.

Howyadoin’. I was recently in beyootyful Atlantic City–business trip–and I’m thinkin’, geez, this crap is fascinatin’. Is there any, like, books on the subject of gambling/casinos/slots/A.C./Vegas youse might know about? I’m thinkin’ like a New Yorkery piece of joinalism with an eye for the math and the drama of the whole thing.

Mr. Delvechhio, fresh off celebrating his swiftly disappearing bachelorhood, must have caught the gambling bug in Atlantic City last weekend. I know because I had a similar experience during my celebrations in Vegas about a month ago. Remember? At the time I discussed a number of books that are related to Sin City in one way or another, but I left out books about gambling. Nonetheless, I can recommend three that might serve Mr. Delvechhio’s purposes, though I’m sure there are countless others. The first is one that I have read, or rather listened to as an audiobook. In 2000 James McManus arrived in Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker for Harper’s. He would leave a lot richer and with a seed for book to be called Positively Fifth Street planted in his brain. A poker player his whole life, McManus couldn’t resist jumping into the fray. He used his advance to pay the entrance fee for the tournament. Remarkably, McManus, an unassuming family man, makes it to the final table of the tournament, and in the process is able to give a great insider’s view of a grueling tournament that features bizarre personalities and incredibly high stakes. He also weaves into the narrative the intrigue and murder surrounding the Binions, the family whose casino hosts the tournament. It’s a fantastic, quick read that will get you hooked on poker if you aren’t already. Another poker book is called The Biggest Game in Town by the mysterious A. Alvarez. This book also focuses on the World Series of Poker, though it hails from an earlier era. Though I haven’t read it, I’ve had this book recommended to me dozens of times since I started working at the book store. By all accounts it is a very quality book; in fact, large portions of it originally appeared in the New Yorker in 1981 or so. And finally, a blackjack book: Ben Mezrich uncovered a pretty remarkable story last year when he wrote about the M.I.T. blackjack team in his book Bringing Down the House. I haven’t read this one either, but I heard Mizrach several times on the radio last year. The revelation: apparently, for years, there has been a highly secretive blackjack team at M.I.T. Created, recruited, and originally bankrolled by a professor, the team used their considerable math skills to make a killing counting cards in Vegas. Before the operation was permanently blackballed from the casinos, they racked up millions. It got to the point where they were traveling with suitcases full of cash and sitting next to NBA stars at the blackjack table. If you see yourself as a money-making, mathematical genius, this might be the book for you. Oh, and, Delvechhio, I’m looking forward to the nuptuals.

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The Hype Continues

More news in a story that is sure to dominate the book-related headlines for months to come: it has been announced that former prez Bill Clinton has completed his a 900-page manuscript for his memoir due out this June, putting an end to fears that he wouldn’t finish on time. They have also released the cover photo, which is just a standard portrait. The remaining intrigue surrounds how revelatory this memoir will be and the timing of the memoir’s release, with some conspiracy theorists claiming that Clinton’s stealing of the spotlight is meant to sabotage John Kerry in an attempt to clear the way for Hillary in 2008.

created and edits The Millions. He is co-editor of the collection of essays The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, called "funny, poignant, relentlessly thought-provoking" by The Atlantic. He and his family live in New Jersey. If you'd like to correspond, please don't hesitate to email.

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