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Positively Fifth Street: Murderers,…

Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of…

by James McManus

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Another poker classic but this one has parallel narratives: the Binion murder case and the 2000 World Series of Poker. McManus dropped his freelance fee for Harper's on the buy-in for the WSOP and improbably made the final table. At the same time, the Ted Binion murder trial was taking place (Binion was an heir to the Binion casino fortune, which included hosting rights to the WSOP). I especially enjoyed McManus's literary allusions, which provided nice dissonance with his subject matter. I did, however, find the last forty or so pages of the book completely extraneous. Do I really need the close-up look at the Vegas strip clubs McManus frequented? His editor should have guided him a bit more here, I feel. It had little to no relevence to the narrative--and his attempt to explain it away by paralleing his experience with Binion's penchant for strip clubs was pretty weak. But overall, a really enjoyable read. ( )
  bookofmoons | Sep 1, 2016 |
Story of the 2001 WSOP, with a little murder/S&M, and a side of history of the game. The unlikely writer makes the final table. Great story. ( )
  kcshankd | Sep 17, 2015 |
First of all, I have to say that I don't know how to play poker, so large swathes of this book went sailing over my head. It opens with a gory murder reenactment, also not something I fancy. Those two things notwithstanding, this was a solid and entertaining listen. I didn't like McManus' habit of referring to himself as "Good Jim" and "Bad Jim". Every time he did so I found myself rolling my eyes. It was quite a window into a totally foreign lifestyle. Enjoyable. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
Just did not like. Didnt finish. Started out strong with the Binion crime. But went downhill from there. I just didnt care what he had to say. Way too many tangents. ( )
  bermandog | Dec 5, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312422520, Paperback)

In 2000, novelist and poet James McManus was sent to Las Vegas, innocently enough, by Harper's magazine to write a story about the World Series of Poker held annually at Binion's Horseshoe. But then, as so often happens on trips to Sin City, something kind of ... happened. Rather than becoming an objective report, McManus's article evolved into a memoir as he put his entire advance on the line, got lucky with his cards and won a spot in the competition, and came much closer than anyone expected to winning the darn thing. The result, Positively Fifth Street, is just as dazzling, exciting, and disturbing as Vegas itself.

McManus details his battles not only against his opponents but also against "Bad Jim," the portion of his own personality that needs to get in on a poker game in spite of both common and fiscal sense. Besides telling his own story, he relates the considerably more unpleasant tale of Ted Binion, whose grisly death was blamed on Binion's former stripper-girlfriend and her ex-linebacker beau. In the hands of a lesser author, the pursuit of these separate through lines of poker and the seedy personal lives of wealthy casino heirs may have lead readers to wish the author had picked just one subject. But under McManus's careful watch, they're really pretty similar: steeped in adrenaline, mystery, deception, and skating on thrillingly thin ice. Each story underscores the other, a neat little "narrative as metaphor" device, while also painting a vivid picture of Vegas casino life. Poker, as anyone who has lost at it will tell you, is an intricate game and it's nice to see a top-notch author and player relate its finer points in an entertaining style that will appeal even to non-players. The author's hilariously self-aware and at times self-loathing style make Positively Fifth Street a fun read. But beyond that, his account of nearly winning the biggest poker tournament in the world and subsequently watching as the verdicts are announced for Binion's accused murderers makes for a great story. Even if it wasn't the one he was sent there to write. --John Moe

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:29 -0400)

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"In the spring of 2000, Harper's Magazine sent James McManus to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker - in particular, the mushrooming progress of women in the $23 million event, and the murder of Ted Binion, the tournament's prodigal host, purportedly done in by a stripper and her boyfriend with a technique so outre it took a Manhatten pathologist to identify it. Whether a jury would convict the attractive young couple was another story altogether." "But when McManus sets foot in town, the lure of the tables is too strong: he proceeds to risk his entire Harper's advance in a long-shot attempt to play in the tournament himself. Only with actual experience at the table (he tells his skeptical wife) can he capture the hair-raising subtleties of the kind of poker that determines he world champion. The heart of the book is his deliciously suspenseful account of the tournament itself - the players, the hands, and his own unlikely progress in it."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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