Novelist and poet McManus (Going to the Sun, 1996, etc.) sits in on the World Series of Poker.
Harper’s magazine assigned him to cover the progress of female players, the impact of information-age technology on the game, and the murder trial of Ted Binion, a member of the family whose Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas hosts the series. But McManus is also a player—kitchen-table level, granted—who wants in on the action (that Harper's advance will do nicely) and does very well indeed. As he charts his play through the ranks, the author reports on his guilt at having so much fun while so far from his wife and daughters (in short, wonderful phone conversations, his spouse invariably punches his ticket) and deals out aperçus (“the beauty of no-limit hold ’em, in fact, parallels that of all human mating procedures”) while spinning off like sparks from a pinwheel all manner of subplot and tangential material: game theory, card-deck history, the poker table’s strange weather, the literature of poker, and the software that has opened the game to so many. The murder tale is vile, the female players a story in themselves, but what powers it all is McManus’s nearly hand-by-hand recounting of his time at the table: the rhythm of play, the feints and dares, the unbearable Russian-roulette drama of the all-in hands. Though the language of poker can be as obtuse as haiku, McManus uses it to dazzle the reader, convey the torque (“I’m afraid my adrenaline might rupture an eye”), and share the fall when “with an ace on the turn, and a ten on the river, it's not even close. The Satanic Prince of Noodges has forked me down into the pitch.”
A heart-in-its-mouth card story: urgent, potent, and damn jolly.