If you’re a fan of devouring books in a couple of sittings these nine must-read poker books are definitely for you. They’re perfect for the beach, a long flight, or just a good evening on the couch at home.
The Moneymaker Effect, by Eric Raskin (2013)
Eric Raskin’s, The Moneymaker Effect: The Inside Story of the Tournament That Forever Changed Poker, is an expanded version of his 2013 Grantland column titled When We Held Kings.
This collection of interviews with the major principles involved in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event and Chris Moneymaker’s improbable run to the title give it a significantly different feel than the others on the list.
Not only is the story riveting, but the book chronicles one of the most important and misunderstood periods in poker history. The Moneymaker Effect fleshes out how the entire 2003 WSOP experience came together. It chronicles PokerStars involvement to ESPN to Binion’s, and how the massive success snuck up on everyone involved.
Big Deal, by Anthony Holden (1990)
In 1988, UK writer Anthony Holden decided to play in the World Series of Poker Main Event, which turned out to be a life-altering event. He didn’t win, or even cash, but Holden’s WSOP experience (which included a big hand against Stu Ungar) gave him the idea to try his luck as a professional poker player for an entire year and chronicle his experiences.
The result is Big Deal, One Year As A Professional Poker Player.
Holden ends up failing as a poker player, but his encounters with some of the game’s legends, and the resulting story he’s able to weave make his year as a professional poker player one of the most successful in history.
It’s a fascinating tale bookended by Holden’s 1988 and 1989 WSOP Main Event entries.
Positively Fifth Street, by James McManus (2003)
In 2000, writer James McManus headed to the World Series of Poker with three ideas in his head:
- McManus was tasked with writing an article on women in poker for Harpers;
- He wanted to cover the Ted Binion murder trial; and
- He wanted to use some of his advance money from Harpers to satellite into the World Series of Poker Main Event.
McManus was able to accomplish all three things. He not only played in the Main Event, he made the final table and finished in fifth place. The resulting interwoven stories turned into the New York Times best seller, Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion’s World Series of Poker.
Fifth Street is a lot like Rounders. Meaning: it’s so good its audience isn’t limited to poker aficionados.
The Professor, the Banker, And The Suicide King, by Michael Craig (2006)
At the height of poker’s popularity, billionaire Andy Beal decided to test his wits against the game’s very best. Beal decided in order to do it, why not take them on at the highest stakes possible. That led to multiple heads-up limit hold’em matches where millions of dollars changed hands.
The heads-up matches between Beal and “The Corporation,” a group of professional poker players who pooled their money together in order to take on Beal, were the stuff of legend… Until Michael Craig came along and got the principles to discuss the matches.
Craig’s book, The Professor Banker And The Suicide King: Inside The Richest Poker Game Of All Time, is the story of Andy Beal’s games against The Corporation. It offers up a brief vision of what could have happened to the high stakes poker community had the final session gone the other way.
Ship It Holla Ballas!, by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback (2014)
The full title of this book is quite the mouthful: Ship It Holla Ballas!: How a Bunch of 19-Year-Old College Dropouts Used the Internet to Become Poker’s Loudest, Craziest, and Richest Crew.
I expected to hate this book and the people in it with every fiber of my being, but Reback and Grotenstein wouldn’t let me. Not only did they humanize what I expected to be nothing but a bunch of young kids living a life of excess, he also brought to life the online poker backdrop that allowed the Holla Ballas to become poker legends; a case of right place right time.
In the end, Ship It Holla Ballas is as much a cautionary tale as it is a celebration of success.
All In, by Storms Reback and Jonathan Grotenstein (2005)
The authors of All In The Almost Entirely True Story Of The World Series of Poker, examine the WSOP Main Event from its origins to the modern day.
Every WSOP is covered to varying extents, so All In reads like a blow-by-blow recap of each year’s Main Event through 2005.
The book covers a lot of ground, and mainly recounts the traditional history of the WSOP, with a focus on the poker players the WSOP turned into poker legends. It also chronicled key moments that defined each WSOP Main Event.
However, in addition to the “known” stories, the authors dug up some interesting factoids and tidbits that add a bit more color. The book has a lot of good quotes from the poker archives, as well as from interviews conducted by Reback and Grotenstein with some of the people involved.
Shut Up And Deal, by Jesse May (1998)
This book is categorized as a novel, but it’s better categorized as, a “based on real events” type of story.
Shut Up And Deal paints a picture of life as a typical poker pro during the 1990’s. Most of the book focuses on Atlantic City, New Jersey, and other East Coast poker rooms, but there are also trips to Las Vegas and beyond where the hero “Mickey Dane” plies his trade and learns to handle the swings and dangers of his chosen profession.
More than anything, May’s novel reveals the grit under the fingernail of the poker world.
If you read Shut Up And Deal you’ll be able to associate many of the characters in the book with people you’ve met in poker. This is what makes it hard to call the book “fiction,” since the people in the book are undoubtedly peopled May met during his time in poker rooms and the stories recounting actual events he witnessed.
Fast Company, by Jon Bradshaw (1975)
Fast Company author Jon Bradshaw was known for his willingness to exaggerate, and for having a certain flair to his prose. These attributes are on full display in Fast Company… and truth be told, it’s glorious, and makes this book hard to put down.
A lot of people poo-poo the book because of its “fictional” parts and Bradshaw’s style, but forget the debate over what’s fact, what’s fiction, and what’s trademark Bradshaw embellished, just enjoy Fast Company for what it is.
It’s a fun read about legendary gamblers, and it’s probably more fictional than Jesse May’s Shut Up and Deal. Just like the tall tales of Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok in dime novels, Bradshaw’s portrayals of Puggy Pearson, Titanic Thompson, Minnesota Fats, Bobby Riggs, Johnny Moss, and Tim Holland are sometimes only loosely based on truths, but they’re still entertaining as hell, and there is some truth to be found.
Lost Vegas, by Paul McGuire (2010)
Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker takes you on a wild ride through the poker boom with Paul “Dr. Pauly” McGuire as your guide.
McGuire sheds some light on the real poker world during the boom years of the World Series of Poker, and what it’s like to watch the action unfold from the birds-eye view of poker media.
It also details a particular period of poker where things were happening so fast and largely behind the scenes that no one bothered recording it. Nobody really knew what to expect from year-to-year during the period the book covers, mainly 2005-2007, and it was a wild ride for anyone who jumped aboard that train.
McGuire goes from relative anonymity and having to stay in one of the seediest parts of town during his first WSOP, to being a well-known industry figure and Las Vegas resident the next.
Las Vegas is a place where money flows freely and wanton excesses are around every corner. It’s also a place of monotony and boredom. These two dichotomous dynamics are constantly at odds in McGuire’s life during this time, and play a key role in Lost Vegas.