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Positively Fifth Street Positively Outstanding

5 June 2006

When James McManus first proposed his trip to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker (WSOP) to Harper's Magazine in 2000, he expected his own experience to merely be a footnote in the story. Instead, he ended up being one of the main characters in the story, which he expanded on in his book Positively Fifth Street.



Early in the book, McManus describes the decision to use his advance to buy into a satellite, which he wins to earn a $10,000 seat in the tournament. The veteran writer and long-time poker amateur ends up making the final table and winning nearly a quarter of a million dollars.



McManus intertwines his story of success on the poker tables with the story of the Ted Binion murder trial, alternating between the lure of quick riches and the dark seedy underbelly of Sin City.



Making the final table of the WSOP Main Event is one of the most difficult challenges a poker player can face, but writing quality prose about the experience is almost as challenging. The book succeeds in large part because McManus spends the first half of the book building the characters, setting up the battles he ends up having with some of the world's top poker players, including T.J. Cloutier, Annie Duke, Kathy Liebert and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson.



In one particularly memorable moment, McManus, who has memorized the strategies detailed in Cloutier's book Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold'em, takes on his idol and becomes the chip leader by doing the exact opposite of what Cloutier recommends.



The details of the Binion murder trial are also fascinating. The book opens with a gruesome description of how the author imagines the crime took place, giving the reader ample reason to keep turning pages to learn more. McManus brilliantly alternates between two seemingly disparate story lines that converge as the book concludes.



McManus is a writer first and a poker player second. As a result, Positively Fifth Street is a fine piece of literature, not a guide on how to play poker. The self-effacing writer points out his own flaws as a writer, a poker player, and as a man, giving the reader ample reason to root for the author as he describes the thrills of advancing deep into the world's most prestigious poker tournament.



The result is a fabulous book that gives the reader an inside look at the World Series of Poker and one of the most fascinating murder trials in Las Vegas history.



Visit these Web sites for more information about the Ted Binion murder trial.
Las Vegas Review Journal: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/binion/



In his previous life, Aaron Todd was a sports journalist by day and a poker player by night. He can now be found covering the poker beat for Casino City and making horrendously unsuccessful bluffs in his home game. Write to Aaron at aarontodd@casinocity.com.


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Best of Aaron Todd
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.