If you look around the table and you can't tell who the sucker is, it's you.
On any given Friday night, hundreds of thousands of Americansmen and women alike pile into kitchens, garages, and backrooms to play their weekly poker game. From basement games in the suburbs to illegal gambling clubs in New York City to the high-stakes World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, Andy Bellin has anted up with some of the world's greatest players. In Poker Nation, he takes us on a raucous journey into the shut-up-and-deal world of professional poker.
Even if you don't know the difference between a flop and a river card or you do know exactly what it means to have "the nuts" Bellin is your ace in the hole as you navigate this uniquely American terrain. Look over his shoulder as he learns to count cards, read a legendary player's body language, hang in there when the chips are down, and, yes, take his beatings like a man. Watch what goes on behind the scenes in illegal poker clubs found in every major city in the country. Meet the colorful personalities and skewed psyches of the players, the dreamers, hustlers, eccentrics, and hucksters who are all part of this strange subculture.
Part memoir, part exposé, part how-to (or how-not-to), Poker Nation takes a frank and funny look at one of America's enduring obsessions. It's a sure bet.
About the Author
On his way to a master's degree in astrophysics, Andy Bellin made the fatal mistake of falling in love with poker. Leaving graduate school at age twenty-two, he has played semipro poker for ten years. His writing has appeared in such publications as Esquire, Details and Maxim, and he is an editor at the Paris Review. Bellin lives in New York City, where there are no fewer than four underground poker clubs within a mile of his apartment. You can find him at one on almost any given night.
Read an Excerpt
It's My Deal
If you look around the table and you can't tell who the sucker is, it's you.
playing the role of Mark Van Doren in Quiz Show
I am an excellent poker player. If I had to be more specific, my guess would be that I'm in the top .01 percentile in the world. That's a fancy statistic if you're talking about SATs or something like archery, but when it comes to poker, it can create an enormous problem. With somewhere in the neighborhood of 135 million people across the planet who play the game, a little eighth-grade math will tell you that there are about 135,000 people shuffling cards at this very moment who are better than me.
A bigger problem is that three or four of those individuals are usually seated at my card table on any given night. My home club, the Winchester'where I have spent around three thousand hours playing over the past three years'is in the heart of New York City, where poker is technically illegal. That's kind of a sexy fact if you are one of those people who likes life a little dirty (which I do), but it also means that every individual in my club is the genuine article. There is no tourist/insurance salesman who just got lucky at the craps table wandering into my game like in Vegas or Atlantic City. We've got no sheep who bet into your flush with a straight thinking their hand is the winner.
At those casino tables, I'm a huge favorite to win. Almost any semiconscious human being is. An average casino game of Texas Hold'em poker is played with nine or ten people. If you're in a $500 buy-in game, and you'vegot two sheep at the table, that's $1,000 for the other six or seven of us to chop up. I just made 22 percent on my money, and I haven't even started to play. God bless America. But that's why my home club is so tough'no sheep.
So why play there? There was a big-time Wild West gambler named “Canada Bill” Jones. Asked once why he voluntarily played in a small-town game he knew to be crooked, Bill replied, “Because it's the only game in town.” There's your answer.
The club is basically a low-rent glorified basement. On any given night you can find a hundred strippers, chiropractors, tax attorneys, and cabdrivers huddled around fifteen tables, stacking chips, shuffling cards, and watching sports. Some people even find time to eat their dinner there. That's the worst part'grown men shoveling forkfuls of food into their mouths at a panicked pace, trying not to miss a hand. Three burritos in four minutes can't be good for the digestion.
A typical night at my club is unlike a typical night anywhere else. These people are true originals. As the old adage goes: The only thing stranger than a poker player is the person sitting next to him.
“Jesus Christ, Morty! Deal the cards.” Amy has no patience at a poker table. She is a beautiful, petite Filipino woman in her early forties who has a metabolism that could power the Vegas strip for two weeks straight. She's always moving, always doing something, talking, smoking, shuffling, and when she does sit still, she has a look in her eyes like she's going to combust at any moment. “Deal, or I'll cut your balls off!” Like I said, she's got no patience.
Morty, on the other hand, has all the time in the world. Slow by nature, he goes through moments of total disorientation and detachment, as if the minute dust particle floating by his face has taken complete control of his consciousness. These episodes could last forever if it were not for the caring attention his fellow cardplayers give to him. From under the table comes a noise that sounds suspiciously like a switchblade knife opening. Amy leans toward Morty, her hands out of sight, and says very slowly and deliberately into his ear, “Get the cards in the air, old man.” Morty's back from the ethereal plane now. He deals.
Everybody thinks Morty'a garmento from Manhattan's Lower East Side in his late fifties'is losing his mind. In poker, when you “put” somebody on a hand, that means you're making an assumption about what they are holding. “I put that guy on two pair” means that's what you think he's got. Most people at the club put Morty on the early stages of Alzheimer's.
But I know what's really going on with him. Covered head to toe in silver American Indian jewelry, always well tanned from a week in Jamaica, Morty should be bronzed in the Natural History Museum as the last living semi-functional hippie. My read . . . I put him on burnout. When that tiny dust particle carries him off into his private little world, he's not trying to remember his girlfriend's name, or where he was born; he's back at Woodstock contemplating whether one or two hits of LSD is necessary to get him off just right for the upcoming Santana set. And remember this: Morty is a good cardplayer. He wouldn't be at the club if he wasn't. So most of the time, when he's daydreaming, he's doing it to piss everybody else off. Poker players play much worse when they're pissed. It's called being “on tilt.” And Morty can tilt anybody. That's his gift.
He finally gets the cards in the air. We're playing no-limit Texas Hold'em. It's the perfect gambling game. Each player (there can be up to ten at a time) is dealt two cards down, called pocket cards...Poker Nation. Copyright © by Andy Bellin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
“…Smart, insightful. It’s one of the few entertaining poker books around.”
“Andy Bellin has written a good—oh hell make that great—book. Bellin entertains, educates, and illuminates.”
“Quite simply, a royal flush of a book!”
Field Trip: High-Rolling Author Andy Bellin Takes Our Writer on a Tour of Manhattan's Underground Poker Clubs
From the May/June 2002 issue of Book magazine.
The game of the night was a style of poker known as pot-limit Texas hold 'em. Andy Bellin, whose witty and instructive first book, Poker Nation: A High-Stakes, Low-Life Adventure into the Heart of a Gambling Country, was published in March, did most of the playing. I just watched: I wasn't about to sit down at a table with a $500 buy-in and go toe-to-toe with a guy who has spent most of the last decade or so taking money off of marks like me. But since I had never ventured into any of the private poker clubs that add a wrinkle of character to the face of New York City, Bellin agreed to introduce me to the sorts of places that form the stage for the wry adventures in his book.
After warning me not to take out my notebook or tell anyone that I'm a journalist -- "unless," Bellin explained, "you want to get kneecapped" -- he led me, much to my surprise, through a nondescript doorway not far from my apartment in Greenwich Village, into a "football club" named after an Italian city.
"None of these guys went to high school," Bellin muttered as we entered a small, deteriorating room with smoke-stained wood paneling. It was early still, and the club's two tables had only about ten people distributed between them. At one, a group of older, heavyset, Italian-looking men held their cards in grim silence; at the other, four Asian guys waited for a game to begin. To play at the football club, you pay the house only $5 for every half hour at the table, but this seemed too low-rolling for Bellin. He decided to lead me over to another, seemingly less-seedy joint up in Midtown, the one with the $500 buy-in and two more tables than the downtown club.
Getting into the nameless midtown spot, reputedly run by an infamous New York crime family, was a bit more difficult. Bellin stood before a two-way mirror on the second floor of a nondescript office building and pushed a buzzer. After a moment, somebody opened the door, and there we stood, in a converted office space more suitable for a nonprofit organization than a poker joint.
Usually voluble, Bellin assumed an almost completely different personality at the table. He was quiet, concentrating. After folding a few hands, Bellin went on a short winning streak. Then, with four queens, ace high, he won a fairly large pot, going up some $1,200. That's when I really began to get nervous. How long would this last? How long would I have to sit there? By 2 a.m., though, he was up about $200, and, wanting to exit with some money in his pocket, he folded, said goodnight, and led me out. "You've got to know when to walk," he said with a smile. (Daniel Kunitz)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
this book takes you into the american culture of poker.it has tips on improving your game and is a fantastic read to have around the house. you learn the aspects of poker that you can use in the world series of poker or in a game with the guys and girls. after reading this book i noticed an improvement in my game. this book really brings the high stakes game of poker from the poker table to you. this book takes you on the high-stakes adventure were you live and die with the river.
Nice blend of real life experience, history of some of the legends of the game, and poker strategy. You pick up strategy without even realizing it - I had a hard time putting this book down to go play a couple games.
I was expecting more of a story around the poker lifestyle than a review of strategy.