Review of Poker! (Las Vegas Style)

I’m a bit of a sucker for gambling books. A few weeks ago, I saw one I didn’t own, the very one I’m reviewing here, I saw that it was marked down to $9.95 from $16.95, and figured, “What the heck, I’ll give it a shot.” Often I find a diamond in the rough. Sometimes I don’t.

This book is essentially a collection of columns written by Bill “Bulldog” Sykes for Card Player back when it just started out, in the fall of 1988. Sykes was one of the original columnists, and he has reprinted in book form “the best of” his columns from those early years. There are 60 essays here covering topics ranging from compulsive gambling to misbehavior by poker professionals. The essays are witty, short and to the point. Interspersed between them, Sykes prints quotes from gambling legends such as Benny Binion and “Amarillo Slim” Preston.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this work. Honestly, I didn’t even enjoy it a little. Oh, okay, I guess I did enjoy some of the quotes, Benny Binion was a fascinating man, but that’s about it. The essays are ostensibly about poker, although I didn’t learn anything about the game. They’re obviously meant to entertain, although the jokes are well worn, and the topics range from the banal to the mildly offensive. They’re not even controversial, coming out against bad manners and for well lit cardrooms just doesn’t seem worth the time and ink it takes to record.

The first third of the essays seem overloaded with Sykes complaining about being told “bad beat” stories. While it’s true that these Slot Gacor stories get tiresome, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d much rather hear bad beat stories than anyone whine about hearing too many of them. There are a couple of essays in the middle that aren’t too bad, although Caro, Malmuth, and Sklansky have all done a better job of covering this ground. The last few essays drop in quality again.

Early in the book, Sykes promises all his essays will be about poker. If they all are, though, I can’t find the connection. In one essay he goes so far as to complain, “… where in heck was that Koop fellow when they were advertising, “Move up to Marlboro country,…”.” What kind of cave does one have to be living in to make this news to anyone living between 1988 and 1992?

To be fair, this, and many other passages, could very well have been intended tongue-in-cheek, but this passage (and essay and, in my opinion, book) doesn’t work straight or as a joke, and quite honestly, I can’t tell when he’s representing his honest opinions and when he’s joking. There’s nothing new here, nothing at all. If this is the best of his work, though, I’m not sorry I missed the rest.

I suppose if you have to have every book that is remotely associated with poker on your bookshelves, nothing I say will stop you from picking up Poker! (Las Vegas Style), but don’t say I didn’t advise against it.

The essays in this collection range from banal to mediocre. Unfortunately, the author has nothing to add to the collective poker wit or wisdom. Additionally, his style is awkward at best. I can’t recommend this book at any price.