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"Positively Fifth Street" Review

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TitlePositively Fifth Street
AuthorJames McManus
Skill Levelany
ProsVery well written account of the author's journey to and through the 2000 WSOP Main Event.
ConsAbout half the book has little to do with poker and may not be interesting if you aren't into sensational murders.

Table of Contents
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3The End1
21Dead Money2
35Family, Career, Even Life3
69Black Magic4
87Urge Overkill5
107The Poker of Science6
125Nobody Said Anything7
149Chicks With Decks8
185Death in the Afternoon9
222On the Bubble11
249Song for Two Jims12
311The Last Supper14
337Either Way15
355Zombies Is Bawth of 'Em16
369Tons and Tons of Luck17
387Afterword: A Gray Aria
403Poker Terminology

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Lots of poker players dream about playing in the World Series of Poker Main Event. Many poker-playing authors dream about writing about their experience in doing it. And a few lucky ones have managed to get paid to do it. Unfortunately, almost without exception, most of these books are filled with the lead-up to the event -- the poker training (cue the Rocky music), the warm-up events, the obligatory airplane landing in Las Vegas, sometimes even a satellite event to qualify for the big one -- because their stay in the Main Event doesn't last long enough to fill more than a brief chapter or two.

Positively Fifth Street is the sole, notable exception. It has a great writeup of the 2000 WSOP Main Event because James McManus managed to last long enough to give a personal account of most of it.1

Harper's magazine actually sent him to Vegas to cover several other stories:

  1. Women at the World Series of Poker.
  2. The impact of the growing crop of advice books and computer programs on poker.
  3. The death of Ted Binion.

But this isn't a murder mystery. McManus begins his book by giving a hypothetical, R-rated 2 account of how Binion's girlfriend Sandy Murphy and her new boyfriend Rick Tabish murdered him for a stash of silver and other valuables. Fascinating, but its only connection to poker is that Binion's family owns Binion's Horseshoe, where the World Series of Poker takes place. Ted had helped to run the business for a couple of decades but had been banned in 1996, over two years earlier, because of his persistent heroin abuse.

While that sounds more exciting than poker, the rest of the story about how they almost got away with it but were later put on trial begins to drag a little. But that's when the poker part of the book picks up.

McManus gives a short history of poker, including the invention of playing cards, the Wild West, Wild Bill Hickok, and Las Vegas. He lays out the tale of Nick Dandolos and Johnny Moss's supposed marathon poker match3 and gives a biography of Benny Binion, Ted's father. He discusses the top women in poker since 2000.

After some last-minute strategy advice from a T.J. Cloutier book and a lamentation of the corners Becky Behnen has cut with the World Series of Poker, the 2000 WSOP Main Event finally begins in Chapter 9 with a few hand recaps from Day 1. The meat of the Main Event with many more hand descriptions runs from Chapters 11 to 14, continuing through the end of the tournament.


Positively Fifth Street has two suspenseful threads. For the poker player, McManus's World Series of Poker run leaves the reader wondering how far he can go. For everyone else, the sordid story of murder and the theft of millions of dollars appeals to the baser, more primal urges. The question remains whether Murphy and Tabish will be convicted and on what charges.

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