Writer James McManus has an excellent career in the literary world. The Chicagoan is known for two groundbreaking works regarding the game of poker (more on those in a moment), but what is one to do when people like their information in shorter, more concise bursts? You take your subject to TED-Ed, an offshoot of the TED Talks, and create a short video on your topic, which McManus has done with poker.

Five-Minute Animated Video Entices You to Learn More

The five-minute-plus video created from information provided by McManus is a perfect snapshot of his work regarding the game. Narrated by Addison Anderson, it starts with the bold statement, “From its earliest incarnations, poker has always been a battle of nerves.” The video then launches into an (extremely) brief history of the game that entices you to want to learn more about the subject, which a good TED essay is supposed to do.

In the video, 1800 is seen as the pivotal year in the development of what would become today’s poker. In New Orleans, a combination of the French poque and the British game “brag” were seen as the ancestors. While there were minor differences – poque used a 20-card deck, while brag used a 52-card deck – the object was the same – make the best five-card hand possible.

The Mississippi River and the Southern states would be fertile ground for the development of the new game. The South is credited with merging the two versions together and, via the riverboats that raced up and down the “Big Muddy,” what was now called “poker” was exported to the nation. The start of the Civil War expanded this explosion and, after the conclusion, the game moved as the once again United States moved into the Wild West.

However, with the game’s development and the desire for more people to play, cheating became more prevalent. Nicking cards with a thumbnail, using ink, or introducing “cold decks” (preset deck setups that gave one player a big hand and the cheater a bigger one) were commonplace. Cheating became so rampant that, in 1885, California outlawed all versions of the game for over sixty years.

The video ends with a smattering of info about John von Neumann, the developer of game theory, and how the game of poker has now become an international phenomenon. As Andersons states at the close of the video, “While a single game’s outcome will never be certain, poker is definitely here to stay.”

McManus Responsible for Two of Poker’s Greatest Literary Works

If there were someone to discuss the history of poker, McManus is the man for the job. McManus put himself into the first tome he wrote regarding the game, Positively Fifth Street, which took a two-pronged approach to talking about poker. On one hand, McManus’ journey in the 2000 World Series of Poker Championship Event is documented, including his usage of the advance given him by Harper’s Magazine to enter the $10,000 tournament and his eventual fifth-place finish in the event. On the other, McManus traced the murder trial of Ted Binion, allegedly by his girlfriend and a co-conspirator, and the “dark side” of the Vegas gaming world.

Positively Fifth Street may have put McManus on the map, but his second poker work was arguably much better and more impactful. The history of the game of poker has never been fully documented but, in 2009, McManus presented Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker, which took the most concise look at the lengthy history of what has become poker. Weaving through the legends and the truth, McManus presented a thorough examination of poker, its impact on the growth of the U. S., and how it has gone around the world – and now to a TED-Ed video.

Check out the video here and you may be interested in a further dive into McManus’ works!

The history of poker: Bluffing, betting, and busting – James McManus (youtube.com)

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