Saturday, July 05, 2008

Ghosts at the table

As I mentioned elsewhere, I've spent the last few days laying around in a hospital getting some heart bypass surgery.

One of the byproducts of that is that I got a chance to read a couple of books I've been meaning to read. Ghosts at the Table: Riverboat Gamblers, Texas Rounders, Roadside Hucksters, and the Living Legends Who Made Poker What It Is Today is one of them I've been meaning to read.

In the preface he touts himself as something of a historical treatment of poker. I'm not sure that's really accurate. It's more a treatment of the legends of poker than of the history of poker.

For example, the first chapter deals with the death of Wild Bill Hickock while playing in a poker game in Deadwood, South Dakota with the focus of the discussion on the Aces and Eights "Dead Man's Hand Legend".

History and legend are two different ways to use the past as a device to illuminate the present or future. Legends are cultural traditions formed around a story. They aren't true in a factual sense, but are true in a cultural sense.

That's not to say that legends are never factually true. Often they are. But the factual truth of a legend isn't the point of the legend.

On the first page of his preface, Wilson talks about a classic myth of poker, one that he (and almost everybody) treats as if it's factual. That's the idea that a poker player has to win at poker to be a winner at poker. That, of course, isn't true, and never has been. Many of the examples he gives in the book are of "professional poker players" who made their living making book on sporting events, or dealing faro games, or providing government protection to bordellos, or play using money from "backers", etc, etc.

There's nothing new in the book, although it's well put together. If you aren't up to date on the works on poker myths and legends it might be a good read for you. If you are it's probably a waste of time.


I wrote this review before finishing the book. I did run across something I hadn't run across in a book before -- a short discussion about poker in Victoria, Texas. I lived and played poker in Victoria in the period shortly after the boom time he talks about in the book and can verify the accuracy of what he has about Victoria. And, it is something you would not have run across in previous readings.



Blogger TenMile said...

Good article, good to see you are up for it.

7:02 PM  
Blogger DMW said...

I hope that you recover well from the surgery.

I got that book from Borders on an impulse buy. Maybe I will read it on the plane tomorrow.

3:03 PM  

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