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

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  2,781 ratings  ·  189 reviews
In the spring of 2000, Harper's Magazine sent James McManus to Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker, in particular the progress of women in the $23 million event, and the murder of Ted Binion, the tournament's prodigal host, purportedly done in by a stripper and her boyfriend. But when McManus arrives, the lure of the tables compels him to risk his entire Harper's ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published March 1st 2004 by Picador (first published January 1st 2003)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  2,781 ratings  ·  189 reviews

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Jason Koivu
Nov 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Entertaining tale of how the author, with little experience, made it to the final table of the World Series of Poker.

This was in the days prior to when the WSOP globally exploded in popularity, especially after a nobody named Chris Moneymaker (yeah, that name is suspicious) beat out all the pros and won the whole thing against monumental odds. That televised event spawned a poker craze that drew amateurs in droves. All the tv networks started showing their own poker series, even the bloody Trav
Jun 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Librarians from all over the nation descend on Las Vegas in 3 days. Like a good librarian, efficient and thrifty, the American Library Association likes to choose favorite vacation destinations, but always in the off season. I imagine that, while most of the thousands of descending librarians will bitch about the heat and unload their dollars on iced teas, souvenir tote bags, and perhaps an evening of entertainment with Celine Dion, few of them will contribute much to the betting pot. Did I ment ...more
Tom Stamper
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Positively Fifth Street is one of those rare nonfiction books that read like a great first person novel. It doesn't hurt that McManus follows in the gonzo tradition of Hunter Thompson on his journey. The book begins with McManus a professor and freelance writer who is hired to write a story on how women are appearing more and more at the World Series of Poker and how women are becoming more visible in the game. But this is no ordinary World Series, because the Binion family that has run the even ...more
Greg Pettit
Aug 13, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It's a great thriller where the suspense is more about the poker than the murder trial.

Ostensibly about both the World Series of Poker and a dirty murder trial related to it, the book is really more about what it's like to be IN the WSoP. And in that, it excelled. I am by no means a great poker player, but I was thrilled by the tales of the table.

Some of the author's observations seem a little dated, since the world of poker has changed significantly even in just
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
On my managing editor's advice, I decided that the next step in my poker education would be losing a chunk of money to Ricky and Alexis on Friday reading James McManus's Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker, a journalist's account of playing—and final tabling—the World Series of Poker in 2000, just a few years before the Chris Moneymaker thing happened.

The story in brief: James McManus was assigned by Harper's to cover women players in the 2000 Worl
Feb 12, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
McManus' non-fiction book enters the world of high stakes poker and murder in Las Vegas and when he sticks to those two topics--Positively Fifth Street comes up A-K and sitting on quad Aces on the River (couldn't resist!). When he veers off into a tangent, or starts talking endless poker strategy from one of the many books he has read--then the book takes a dip.

I'm not a poker player so some of the poker action in this got lost on me. Since I don't know what hands really beat another hand, the
Jul 13, 2008 rated it did not like it
This is another example of a potentially good story that was badly edited. Or, more likely, not edited at all. The story was, or at least I think was supposed to be, about Ted Binion's murder and the author's experience playing in World Series of Poker at Binion's casino in Las Vegas.

Instead it was about blah blah blah. Seriously, I have no idea how many pages in the hundred or so I read (except to say *many*) where in my head I read "blah, blah, blaaaaah". I skimmed and skipped paragraphs, and

There are two interesting stories which the author has attempted to cram into one book.

I would have liked more about the Ted Binion murder case, it just shows up mainly in the beginning and the end, which would be fine as a device to get the author to Vegas, but he tries to bring it up at times, most annoyingly attempting to draw parallels between himself and Ted Binion.

At times I wanted to yell at the author--you are a journalist, a family man from Chicago, he was the son of a Vegas leg
Nov 15, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
McManus is an excellent writer, and he's able to make the world of professional poker engrossing. (He also, probably unintentionally, makes it clear how truly boring it is.) The parts of the book about his tournament play and the murder trial that surrounds it are page turners. His tangents about the psychology of gambling, evolutionary biology, etc. etc. are much less so and have a distinct barnyard smell. They feel like padding in a book that's already as padded as a term paper by a second-sem ...more
Oct 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: heard
First of all, I have to say that I don't know how to play poker, so large swathes of this book went sailing over my head. It opens with a gory murder reenactment, also not something I fancy. Those two things notwithstanding, this was a solid and entertaining listen. I didn't like McManus' habit of referring to himself as "Good Jim" and "Bad Jim". Every time he did so I found myself rolling my eyes. It was quite a window into a totally foreign lifestyle. Enjoyable. ...more
Jan 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
I thought this book was going to be more interesting than it was. The author sets it up as though he is going to delve through the details of a murder mystery in Vegas at the same time as he follows his own progress in the World Series of Poker. But in truth, he lays out all the facts of the murder in the first chapter and then makes forced analogies throughout the rest of the book. The poker game commentary was interesting, but otherwise I found the book lacking in cohesiveness.
May 07, 2015 rated it liked it
This was relatively interesting, since I like poker, and gambling. I think it probably could have lost about 100 pages. The author goes on quite a few tangents, especially in the middle section, but his writing style is good enough and he did give you a good feeling of being there in that moment. Also, I really didn't know how the story ended so the suspense was there right up to the end. Not a bad read. ...more
Karl Lehtinen
Jan 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Have to read this if you've ever played Hold'em. Almost seems quaint by todays Poker-Explosion standards. But it's still a classic. And the asshole actually made the final table. Respect. ...more
I picked this one up used ages ago and read it immediately. As a long-time poker player, I had heard the "legend" before reading about it. The legend is about Ted Binion's murder at the hands of his girlfriend/stripper and her boyfriend. James McManus was a journalist sent by Harpers to cover the trial and the World Series of Poker, held that year at the Binion family's casino. Instead of just covering it, he decides to bet his whole advance to play in the tournament -- to really get the feel of ...more
Peter Mortimer
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jim McManus writes about his experience of making it to the final table of the World Series of Poker in 2000, despite him being an amateur to professional poker tournament play. Apart from the WSOP, Jim also discusses the origin of poker, its growth to a truly American game, and the allure of Las Vegas for many hopeless souls. These themes all tie in together with the Sandy Murphy & Rick Tabish murder trial on Ted Binion, one of the owners of the Horseshoe casino and originator of the WSOP. This ...more
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read about the world of high stakes poker. Set in 2000, the book is about the author’s stay in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker. The book offers much with regard to poker: the game, the history, the challenge of playing it well, and the characters who populate it. All told with humor, insight, and detail.
Josh Sutton
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
great book... kept me in at the entire time... would recommend to anybody
Apr 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 48-in-2012
In 2003 Chris Moneymaker and ESPN made poker a country wide obsession and a viable television sport when Moneymaker went from online poker amateur to World Series of Poker champion on national TV. But before there was Chris Moneymaker there was James McManus, a Chicago journalist who was sent to Las Vegas in 2000 by Harper’s Magazine to cover the rise of women in poker and the Ted Binion murder trial and ended up at the last table of the WSOP. Positively Fifth Street is the chronicle of this jo ...more
Oct 03, 2011 rated it liked it
The lurid opening of this book -- a reconstruction of how gambling magnate Ted Binion was probably murdered in 1998 -- is quite a page-turner. I enjoyed how McManus jumped into the action without much explanation. At first, I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought perhaps it was merely a kinky but poorly executed menage a trois; but it slowly dawned on me that something vicious was going on. Eventually, I realized that McManus was describing a brutal murder.

McManus is certainly an accomplishe
Dean Hamilton
Jan 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"Never play cards with a man called Doc." - Nelson Algren

I've never played a serious game of poker in my life.

The few times I've sat down and played a few hands, it has been in almost total ignorance of the odds, poker strategy and anything but the most basic dos and don'ts...but...the first thing I wanted to do having finished Positively Fifth Street was jet down to Vegas and set myself down at a table.

James McManus's book Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs and Binion's World Series
Oct 08, 2012 rated it liked it
James McManus stumbled onto a once-in-a-lifetime story when the Harper's editor, Lewis Lapham, sent him to Las Vegas to cover the 2000 World Series of Poker. McManus, who'd been an amateur card player for thirty years, decided to leverage his advance on the magazine article into a spot at the World Series. Not only did he win the satellite tournament to get in, but he also made it to the final table, bringing home a take of close to a quarter million dollars. The account of his run forms the hea ...more
Aug 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Jim McManus wrote Positively Fifth Street to investigate two things for Harper’s Magazine: the murder of Ted Binion, and the 2000 World Series of Poker. He tells you right up front that he mostly just wants to play in the 2000 World Series of Poker (it’s common for journalists to participate, to get a front-row seat to what they’re covering). He loves poker, and gambling, and Vegas, and despite a promise to his wife to keep “Good Jim” in the driver’s seat, “Bad Jim” takes over quite a bit as McM ...more
Curtis Seven
Oct 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, games, travel
Parts of this book where used almost wholesale as building blocks for Cowboys Full so no matter which you might read first at this point if you read both you hit parts you swore you read somewhere before (because you did). Unlike Cowboys Full which is a later book that discusses the history of poker this book is specifically about the authors experience at the 2000 WSOP at which Chris Ferguson won the main event and during which the trial of Ted Binion's accused killers was taking place just a f ...more
Tyler Jones
Nov 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: poker
James McManus was sent by Harper's to cover the 2000 World Series of Poker (hereafter in this review to be referred to as the WSOP) in Las Vegas and to also report on the trial of the couple accused of murdering Ted Binion, son of the WSOP founder Benny Binion. This dual assignment was apparently not enough for McManus, a lifelong poker enthusiast, who could not resist the temptation of playing in the main event himself. With an advance less than half of the entry fee, he won his way in though a ...more
Robert Beveridge
Jan 20, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: finished
Jim McManus, Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2003)

Jim McManus made the final table at the World Series of Poker.

That alone should make any poker player want to pick this book up and read it immediately. It gets better when you realize that McManus went in as the rankest of rank amateurs, the guy whose previous poker career revolved around the $3-$6 Hold 'em game at the local VFW. Yes, folks, Jim McManus is living proo
Mike Mathews
Mar 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A few years ago I read the article that contained the seed for this book in Ira Glass's New Kings of Nonfiction. (If you haven't read that book you should stop reading this now, and go find a copy.) I really enjoyed that article.

I was not terribly interested in poker, but was fascinated by the idea of an amateur entering the world's premier poker tournament in order to write a story about it...then finishing fifth overall. I recently ran across a copy of Positively Fifth Street in a thrift stor
Apr 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to learn more about poker
I thought this book would be more about the infamous murder of Ted Binion (former owner of Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas) allegedly by Sandra Murphy and Rick Tabish. However, it was more so about the renowned World Series of Poker Tournament that was going on at the same time as the trial of Sandra Murphy and Rick Tabish. I did, however, learn a lot more about poker than I ever knew (which is very little) and the amazing rush that comes with playing the captivating game. I also think it's incred ...more
Feb 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, audiobook
"Positively Fifth Street" takes two disparate but related stories and tells them together, much like "Devil in the White City". The murder of Ted Binion of the Horseshoe Casino and the 2000 World Series of Poker tournament at the Horseshoe are loosely combined into one narrative, full of tangential twists and turns. Many of the passages are stream of consciousness, and they start to feel extremely over-indulgent, but that is understandable given the event that McManus is participating. I persona ...more
Andrew Hecht
Oct 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: poker players and enthusiasts
There can be no finer book to pick up in the middle of the TV coverage of Binion's WSOP. McManus's tales of how he parlayed his 4G advance from Harper's first to a seat at the WSOP Big Game and then made it all the way to the final table all with the backdrop of the heroin laced/circus sex Ted Binion murder trial. It makes for a compelling read. But it's McManus's literary flourishes, his background as a Catholic altar boy that inform his decision making on so many levels, his references to Dant ...more
Jul 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The author goes to Vegas in 2000 to cover two stories: the brutal murder of seedy blacklisted casino mogul Ted Binion by his girlfriend and her lover; and the rise of female poker players at the Big One. Like nearly all journalists, he goes to play as well as observe, so blows his entire "Harper's" advance on an entry fee, and actually makes it to the final table.

Part autobiography, part meditation on the rush of thrill seeking and the cut-throat world of professional poker, part history of the
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James "Jim" McManus is an American poker player, teacher and writer living in Kenilworth, Illinois. ...more

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