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Wednesday, April 30th, 2003


Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker

by James McManus

The Gambler

A review by Adrienne Miller

When James McManus, a novelist and poet, risks a $4,000 advance from Harper's in an attempt to play his way into the World Series of Poker (entry fee: $10,000), I guess we shouldn't be surprised literary writers are often not the most fiscally responsible people. Think, for instance, of Mark Twain.

In early 2000, McManus was dispatched by Harper's to cover the WSOP in Las Vegas. Specifically, the rise of women in game. The spring of 2000 also neatly overlapped with the murder trial of Ted Binion, poker's most famous son (his father was the creator of the World Series of Poker and the owner of the Horseshoe, the last family-owned casino in the country). While in Vegas reporting the Harper's story, McManus became obsessed with the Binion case and everything it represented: Binion, a heroin addict, was supposedly murdered by his girlfriend Sandy Murphy (possessor of a $5,000-a-month clothing habit) and his best friend Rick Tabish. They murdered him for money (principally, Binion's $300,000 and his mansion) and lust (Murphy and Tabish were lovers at the time of his murder). McManus tidily weaves in unfolding information about the case with his own trials at the poker table.

I found the author's writing about the tournament heart-stoppingly dramatic, as brilliant as anything ever written about poker. And while his coverage of the Binion trial feels less compelling, less fought-for, Positively Fifth Street, like Sin City itself, is an endlessly fascinating spectacle.

Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor.

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