Book Review – Positively Fifth Street

by john on June 21, 2003

I’ve been reading a lot of gambling related books recently – although Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion’s World Series of Poker by James McManus is the first non-fiction book I’ll review here. Sent by Harper’s to produce a story on the growing success of women in the biggest poker event on the planet and on the trial of the stripper and her boyfriend charged with killing Ted Binion, McManus finds himself in the middle of his story when he risks his book advance to win entry into the 2000 tournament. His story takes on a new dimension when he bucks the odds and makes it to the promised land of poker, the “final table.”

Poker, in particular Texas Holdem poker, is becoming more and more popular these days – especially over the last few months with the success of the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel and the unlikely winner’s story in the 2003 Binion’s World Series of Poker where a completely inexperienced tournament player, Chris Moneymaker (with a name like that how could he not win?), went from playing on-line poker over the Internet to winning $2.5 Million against the pros in Vegas. At my card club the holdem tables are packed morning, noon and night and the number of new players has been quite welcome by those looking to “teach” the novices.

The heart of Positively Fifth Street is definitely the story of McManus’ progress through the World Series of Poker that year, but through it all the author winds in the trial of Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish, accused in the killing of Ted Binion of the infamous Vegas Binions. Ted Binion represents everything that “Bad Jim,” McManus’ evil persona, would do on a trip to Vegas – a Hunter S. Thompson smorgasbord of drugs, women and gambling. Sandy and Rick are the “Murderers” in the subtitle and the strip club where she danced and met Ted Binion is the “Cheetahs.”

The challenge of writing a book that has many stories intertwined is keeping the readers interest in all of the stories, lest he skip forward to the parts he has become more interested in. While I enjoyed this book immensely I only gave it a 3 for that reason – I found myself skimming the non-poker related parts of the book. It’s not that the background of Ted Binion and the murderers is not interesting, on the contrary it makes for a very unique story, it’s just that I enjoy more reading about the details of the poker tournament. I’d be willing to bet other readers skimmed those parts instead!

McManus does a nice job telling the story of his progress through the tournament. We share his tension as more than once he almost succumbs to an early departure, only to be saved “on the river,” or the final card of a Texas Holdem hand (that’s also Fifth Street, hence the book’s title). His description of the hands and his interaction with the players both at the table and off is memorable and enjoyable reading. It’s worth the price of admission.

Overall I rate Positively Fifth Street a solid 3 and if you can focus on the entire book better than I, you may just find it deserves even higher.

If you are interested in learning how to play Texas Holdem I highly recommend Winning Low-Limit Holdem (2nd Edition) by Lee Jones. Two great poker narratives are The Biggest Game in Town by A. Alvarez and Big Deal: One Year as a Professional Poker Player by Anthony Holden. Watch, read and learn – and I’ll see you at the river.

{ 1 comment }

Anita Rowland June 21, 2003 at 10:03 am

If you like poker, take a look at Alan Bostick’s weblog, As I Please:

he takes his poker seriously:

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