If you think a gang of real-life geeks can’t take on the world and win big . . . think again. And whatever you do, don’t sit down across a gaming table from Jon Finkel, better known as Jonny Magic. Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids is his amazing true story: the jaw-dropping, zero-to-hero chronicle of a fat, friendless boy from New Jersey who found his edge in a game of cards–and turned it into a fortune.
The ultimate bully-magnet, Finkel grew up heckled and hazed until destiny came in the form of a trading-card game called Magic: The Gathering. Magic exploded from nerdy obsession to mainstream mania and made the teenage Finkel an ultracool world champion.
Once transformed, this young shark stormed poker rooms from the underground clubs of New York City to the high-stakes tables online, until he landed on the largest card-counting blackjack team in the country. Taking Vegas for millions, Finkel’s squad of brainy gamers became the biggest players in town. Then they took on the town’s biggest game, the World Series of Poker, and walked away with more than $3.5 million.
Thrilling, edgy, and ferociously feel-good, the odyssey of these underdogs-turned-overlords is the stuff of pop-culture legend. And David Kushner, acclaimed author of Masters of Doom, masterfully deals out the outrageous details while bringing to life a cast of characters rife with aces, kings, knaves . . . and more than a few jokers. If you secretly believe every player has his day, you’re right. Here’s the proof.
A fat, gross, know-it-all teen whom bullies urinated upon, Jon Finkel found his calling as a champion of the Dungeons-and-Dragons-with-a-deck-of-cards fantasy game known as Magic: the Gathering. His mental acuity honed by the complex card game, Finkel went on, with his cohort of Magic cronies, to conquer grown-up gambling as a blackjack card-counter, sports bettor and tournament-caliber Texas Hold-'em poker player. Journalist Kushner, author of Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture, treats Finkel's saga as a journey toward self-knowledge and manhood, as he loses weight, starts scoring babes (with the help of arcane womanizing strategies gleaned from PickUpGuide.com) and develops the stoic grace under pressure that defines mature masculinity. It also symbolizes the liberation struggle of dorky "young brainiacs" who are "ridiculed, stomped and beaten" for their intellect and find solidarity and empowerment through fantasy gaming and online wagering. The author flogs his revenge of the nerds theme half to death, even after the nerd has metamorphosed into a sleek, wealthy professional gambler ("here he was, once again, being beaten down by the system for being too smart," Kushner rails after Finkel has a run-in with tribal casino officials), and his celebration of gambling's socially sterile, zero-sum path to personal growth tastes a little rancid. Still, his tour through the colorful subcultures of fantasy gaming and casino gambling makes for a lively, if somewhat pulpy, picaresque.