The end-all, be-all history of the World Series of Poker, whether you like it or not.
Once confined to bachelors’ apartments, men’s clubs and dingy backrooms, poker is now, with all the websites and cable shows reveling in its alternately dull and dramatic minutiae, as popular as the Las Vegas Strip itself. The Series began in 1970 as a publicity stunt: Nick “The Greek” Dandalos, who had supposedly broken every East Coast roller, including 1919 World Series fixer Arnold Rothstein, got Horseshoe owner Benny Binion to host a poker game with the highest stakes in history. From then on, year after year, the Horseshoe was home to an annual gathering of poker’s dark stars, the eccentric natures of whom provide most of what is worthwhile in Grotenstein and Reback’s intermittently entertaining book. Best of the lot is Amarillo Slim, whose prodigious talent was matched only by his outfits and habit of taking absolutely any kind of bet (he once bet $37,500 that a fly would land on a particular sugar cube), and was the inspiration for Kenny Rogers’s song “The Gambler.” Binion himself made for a good story, too: A Texas roughneck, he killed two men before being run out of the state by a sheriff who couldn’t be bribed. Though they keep card-play analysis to a minimum, the authors’ recording of each year’s tournament may prove less than thrilling to the non-obsessed. As the years pile up, the Series grows bigger, ESPN starts broadcasting it and the tables of shady old pros start getting replaced by young suburban kids who learned to play online. As of 2006, the whole operation is being moved to the Rio, just off the Strip.
His book sometimes too detailed for its own good, Blecha gets the allure of the game and the characters populating its darker fringes.