From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Underground Railroad
In 2011, Grantland magazine gave bestselling novelist Colson Whitehead $10,000 to play at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. It was the assignment of a lifetime, except for one hitch—he’d never played in a casino tournament before. With just six weeks to train, our humble narrator took the Greyhound to Atlantic City to learn the ways of high-stakes Texas Hold’em.
Poker culture, he discovered, is marked by joy, heartbreak, and grizzled veterans playing against teenage hotshots weaned on Internet gambling. Not to mention the not-to-be overlooked issue of coordinating Port Authority bus schedules with your kid’s drop-off and pickup at school. Finally arriving in Vegas for the multimillion-dollar tournament, Whitehead brilliantly details his progress, both literal and existential, through the event’s antes and turns, through its gritty moments of calculation, hope, and spectacle. Entertaining, ironic, and strangely profound, this epic search for meaning at the World Series of Poker is a sure bet.
An NPR Best Book of the Year
The eternal tension between good luck and remorseless odds animates this loose-limbed jaunt through the world of high-stakes poker. Novelist Whitehead (Zone One) was staked to a berth in the World Series of Poker by Grantland magazine, a mission for which he frankly declares himself unqualified, owing to his rather desultory pick-up games, haphazard training regimen featuring yoga lessons, deep and semi-baffled immersion in the arcana of poker-playing manuals, and bus trips to Atlantic City for seedy practice tournaments. His journey unfolds in a series of jazzy, jokey riffs on the cultural detritus of poker: the take-over of the game by young "Robotrons" honed by online gaming; Vegas's "Leisure-Industrial Complex," a terrain of soulful soullessness where "your true self is laid bare with all its hungers and flaws and grubby aspirations." Along the way, poker emerges as the national sport of "the Republic of Anhedonia," his habitually depressive, fatalistic State of mind that recognizes that "eventually, you will lose it all" and that playing it safe is therefore the ultimate sucker's strategy. Whitehead serves up an engrossing mix of casual yet astute reportage and hang-dog philosophizing, showing us that, for all of poker's intricate calculations and shrewd stratagems, everything still hangs on the turn of a card.