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Book Review: How to Win the World Series of Poker (or Not)

7 June 2006

If you're looking for a feel good story about an amateur who fulfills a lifelong dream of winning the World Series of Poker - this is not your book.

Pat Walsh is not the main character from "Rounders" nor is he Chris Moneymaker. He's simply an author with a publisher willing to front him the money required to learn about poker. Why? Because reading about an underdog is more fun than reading about champions.

And Walsh is funny as hell.

Walsh - a poker beginner, a full time writer, and a little bit of a nerd, buys all the strategy books and computer programs he can and embarks on a journey to learn poker. He begins by playing freerolls on the Internet, moves on to seedy charity tournaments in church basements, makes his way through a brick and mortar casino tournament and finally ends up ready to take on Vegas.

The writing is brilliant. Combining anecdotes of his disapproving wife with honest self-deprecating humor, Walsh is able to show how he balances family life and work while cultivating a desire to make millions playing poker. The humor begins when the desire becomes an obsession.

Any poker player can relate to this story. During the beginning stages of his poker education, Walsh experiences first-timer luck, parlaying his small buy-ins into wins large enough to convince the author that he's good enough to play for a living.

Reality strikes when Walsh goes on a losing streak. Like many amateur poker players, the more he learns about the game, the more he loses, begging him to ask the question, is poker more about skill or about luck? Eventually, he comes to the time-tested conclusion that it's a little of both.

The best part in the book is the event Walsh participates in before the actual Main Event. Invited to play in the media and celebrity tournament, Walsh is seated at a table with James Woods, arguably one of today's best celebrity poker players.

A rant on poor-poker-playing celebrities is inevitable and Walsh goes off on "celebrities and amateurs who can't play poker for sh*t," marking the culmination of his poker education because now he's good enough to tell others they suck.

The pictures Walsh paints of Woods basking in the limelight while the author silently plots his poker demise is priceless; especially considering Walsh subconsciously knows he's dead money in the Main Event and not nearly as talented as Woods.

This is not a strategy book and never claims to be. It's a story designed to take advantage of America's craze for everything poker and it serves the worthwhile purpose of highlighting one man on an everyman quest.

BOTTOMLINE:

Serious poker players will enjoy this book because Walsh has a simple style that allows a reader to see glimpses of how ridiculous the current poker craze has become. Any poker fan looking for a summer quickie should also consider the purchase. A small caution is necessary, as some of the language use and stories are inappropriate for younger readers.

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Best of Ryan McLane
Ryan McLane

Ryan McLane was a poker reporter for Casino City. Although he has a strong background in reporting, the same can't be said for his poker skills. He has never won a major tournament nor is he a professional player. He applied for this job thinking it was a joke, only to find it out that it's true, people will pay you to write about poker. His favorite word is ridiculous.

After receiving his BA in History from Stonehill College in Easton, MA, he somehow ended up freelance reporting for a couple years before being deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom III with the Massachusetts National Guard. He's back now and is a strong advocate of the phrase "God Bless America."

Currently, Ryan lives in Boston and occasionally makes international treks to cover tournament poker and news. Feature writing is his passion and there is no need to ask for his opinion, he'll probably offer it first - free of charge.
Ryan McLane
Ryan McLane was a poker reporter for Casino City. Although he has a strong background in reporting, the same can't be said for his poker skills. He has never won a major tournament nor is he a professional player. He applied for this job thinking it was a joke, only to find it out that it's true, people will pay you to write about poker. His favorite word is ridiculous.

After receiving his BA in History from Stonehill College in Easton, MA, he somehow ended up freelance reporting for a couple years before being deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom III with the Massachusetts National Guard. He's back now and is a strong advocate of the phrase "God Bless America."

Currently, Ryan lives in Boston and occasionally makes international treks to cover tournament poker and news. Feature writing is his passion and there is no need to ask for his opinion, he'll probably offer it first - free of charge.