By Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead has written mostly fiction prior to this volume, which is an expanded version of a non-fiction piece he wrote for Grantland magazine. Who anted up to send him to the 2011 incarnation of the World Series of Poker. The article and book chronicle his experiences as he tries to ramp up from being a casual player in small stakes home games to playing the WSOP Main Event, arguably the top tournament event in all of poker.
It’s a fairly entertaining look at the author’s adventures in the poker mines but it seems a bit sparse – perhaps that has something to do with that business of it being an expanded article. It was also a bit slim on the actual nuts and bolts of poker. Not that I was expecting a Doyle Brunson-styled treatise of massive length and detail. But it seems that a lot of the nitty-gritty of what it’s like to go from home player to WSOP hopeful has been omitted, particularly in the closing section of the work, when Whitehead actually arrives in Las Vegas and the proceedings get underway. Perhaps I overlooked it but I don’t even recall him mentioning how far into the ranks of the losers he advanced. And no, it’s probably not a spoiler to reveal that he didn’t win the event.
I also can’t help wondering if the author – in finest Woody Allen fashion - exaggerates his anhedonia (a psychological condition characterized by inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts) just a bit for comic effect. But he’s got a way at turning a witty phrase and gems like “misdemeanor hairdo” will probably stick in my memory banks for a while.
The verdict - it’s a slim volume with a breezy style and if you don’t object to the fact that it could go a little more in-depth about poker it’s probably worth a look.