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Best of Howard Schwartz

Gaming Guru

 

McManus's 'Cowboys Full' is packed with poker history, characters

12 November 2009

Jim McManus, whose blockbuster Positively Fifth Street was an instant hit some years ago, has penned a super poker history book titled Cowboys Full (516 pages, hardbound, $30) designed to answer a jillion questions about the origins of the game, the characters, showdowns, big money days and stuff you never knew before.

With 70 pages of research sources, footnotes, index and photos, this book is destined to be a classic reference work. Coincidentally, there are 52 chapters describing everything from the development of playing cards to cheats, the big smoky-room play, no-limit, tournaments to super tournaments, the authors who made the greatest contributions to the game along with the role of television and high-tech gadgetry in transforming poker into an international money-making phenomenon.

One of the more fascinating chapters discusses the evolution of poker from the game of five-card stud and draw to hold'em. One theory about the beginnings of the game involves a group of Texas ranch hands who had only one deck but knew almost two-dozen players could still play if each were dealt two cards. That chapter also contains several other theories about who, where and how the game came about.

The age-old question of skill versus luck is discussed. Lawyers, judges and those regulating gaming should be aware of the controversy and McManus cover the subject well.

The book raises the now legendary question about the big game Nick the Greek played against Johnny Moss in 1949. Was the game played the way people seem to remember it? Did it actually occur or was it a publicity stunt to attract players to Binion's? The controversy continues today, and McManus documents it colorfully and with depth.

Authors like Herbert Yardley, A. Alvarez and David Sklansky rarely get the praise they truly earned for the shot in the arm they gave the game. Yardley's Education of a Poker Player in the 1950s brought in thousands of new players. Alvarez's Biggest Game in Town brought worldwide attention to the tournament format, in particular, the World Series of Poker. Sklansky's 1976 Hold'em Poker became the must-read work for beginners and of course Doyle Brunson's Super System two years later became a virtual "bible" for advanced and tournament players.

Presidents, politicians, military leaders, astute businessmen all learned the game -- some were better than others, but the principles they applied helped them in battle and in making big money decisions. It was risk-taking at the highest level, a school teaching survival, bluffing and attack techniques -- reading the "tells" and making the other guy blink.

There's enough colorful stuff in McManus's book to make several movies and to make many a reader a "maven" on the game. It's a fine gift item for the relative, friend or co-worker with many a question or who loves history and the role poker played in a developing nation.

For McManus, this book seems a true labor of love. He enjoys the details, the stories, the theories, the hand re-creations (amazing how people can remember those key hands or all the hands for that matter). His enjoyment of the game and the people shines through. Bravo, McManus -- a dynamite classic.
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com