Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Review :: Cowboys Full

cowboysfullSuper System, Harrington on Hold’em and Poker for Dummies are all text books that would be required reading if your local college offered poker as a subject. (In the case of Poker for Dummies, think community college.) Cowboys Full, on the other hand, is the book you would give a high school grad you are pushing toward said class. I just finished reading Cowboys Full and didn’t learn so much as a good opening hand. If there was a lesson in the book at all, it was a history lesson.

James McManus first wrote of the poker world in his book Positively Fifth Street, an exploration of the Ted Binion murder. It was a book that appealed to both fans of the game and fans of murder mysteries. In contrast, Cowboys Full appeals to a narrower audience and covers a wider subject matter. To like Cowboys Full you have to really like poker. Much of the book reads as a celebration of poker. It covers the European roots of the game and follows it’s evolution through the US revolution, into the wild west with Bill Hiccock, hitches a ride on Mark Twain’s steam boats, and ends with the creation and popularization of the WSOP. If you have been playing as long as I have, I’m sure you’ve picked up some of the game’s history; I’m also sure there is more to learn within.

Overall, I enjoyed the history lesson.

The later third of Cowboys Full is a play by play account of the most high-stakes games in recent history. If you liked The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King you’ll like this part, but if you read The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King you can probably skip much of this part. There are some interesting bits about Asian culture and why the Vietnamese are ideal poker players, but not enough. When it comes to learning about WSOP final tables, television is my preferred medium. Call me when McManus makes Cowboys Full the documentary.

I like both books about poker and studies of poker. Cowboys Full just isn’t my favorite, Ace on the River is. For me, Cowboys Full was just too much poker on parade and would have benefited in editing out a few (dozen) pages.

Have you read the book? Am I wrong? Please let me know your favorite poker in print, I always have room on my shelf.

7 comments:

  1. Kinda shocked this website is still going...

    You "playing" poker again?

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  2. I never stopped. Well, I stopped online for a bit, but I'm back now.

    Still going strong! I don't need a fresh coat of paint to stay fresh, unlike your puny site.

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  3. My friend from college is so hooked-up with playing poker, I might give him this kind of book.

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  4. My friend from college is so hooked-up with playing poker, I might give him this kind of book.

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  5. Grundy: you write, "I just finished reading Cowboys Full and didn’t learn so much as a good opening hand. If there was a lesson in the book at all, it was a history lesson." Since the title and dust-jacket information makes it 100 percent clear that the book is a history, and nowhere suggests it will offer strategy lessons, then why do you sound surprised and disappointed that you learned nothing about starting-hand selection?

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  6. It's a good book if he talks about poker as much as he plays it.

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  7. Hi, Jim, any relation to the author?

    You can't really call me out for stating something that is true. I'm assuming my readers don't have the dust cover handy. I'm just making it a 100% clear to people who haven't yet looked at the book that it is, in fact, strategy-free. I wasn't disappointed, I'm just getting it out there.

    I think I made it clear that I liked parts of the book, but most of what I liked can be summed up in McManus' article here: http://chronicle.com/article/What-Poker-Can-Tea...

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