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“Poker Nation” by Andy Bellin

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Poker Nation: A High-Stakes, Low-Life Adventure into the Heart of a Gambling Country starts out with a great hook. The author is playing Texas Hold’em at a dingy New York City (illegal) poker club and gets Oldsmobile clubs in his pocket. Then the flop comes and he’s looking at a gut shot for a straight, which comes on the turn card. But then the river card is the Jack of Spades and suddenly he’s into a nut flush. He’s feeling pretty good until another player taps him – goes all-in – and our author starts to wonder if he’s been dealt a bad beat with quads. Andy calls and…

Well, you have to wait until the end of the book, which is why I read the whole thing in two days. (I won’t reveal what happened) In between, Andy Bellin serves up a behind-the-scenes travelogue of poker games stretching from L.A. to NYC, with many side trips to Vegas. There’s also a lot of autobiography, basic strategy, and the human drama of gamblers who are up, up, up, then very far down.

This book is definitely a mixed bag. If you want to join in on the heartbreak of a bad beat, or the alternate thrill of a hard-won win, those chapters are enthralling. When Bellin drifts into his days in and out of graduate school, I quickly lost interest and started skimming. I found the writing a little pedestrian – which is surprising considering Bellin did a stint at the Paris Review – but maybe a more charitable adjective is “accessible.” Bellin is trying to reach an audience as broad as the characters found in his book (ministers, stockbrokers, bookies) so he’s keeping the prose as unvarnished as the felt on a poker table. On the whole, I could only recommend half the book, but as soon as I finished, I started to wonder where I put my cards and whether there was a game somewhere with a chair open for me.

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About Eric Lindholm

  • The Theory

    i love poker narratives. found an amazing one in a magazine once… 15 pages long, but it was good enough i decided to photocopy the darn thing.

    I’ll have to check the book out sometime.


  • gonzo marx

    >tosses the spammer feet first into the woodchipper< Excelsior!

  • You have to feel sad for spammers. Its truly one of life’s truly meaningless professions. Its gotta be a pretty hollow feeling, to do that for a living. I pity the spammer. Regardless of how much they may make by doing this empty work, I pity them.

  • Bennett Dawson

    Nice review, thanks!

  • It’s a cinch that any post with “poker” in the title is bound to attract ’em!

  • At least the spammer just drops his fecal load and departs…

  • Spammers’re getting sly now… Put a few words of bogus comment first, then the recycled Twinkies!

  • Jim Reid

    Page 182 of poker nation discusses a limit hold em hand. It has to be bull. No hand with one ace on the flop and no outs would entice 5 players with lots of raises.