The world of poker is one that is rife for storytelling. Whether based in truth or the legend of “tall tales,” poker stories seem to capture all the idiosyncrasies of life – the highs, lows and every point in between. But there has never been a collection of these stories ever put on the printed page…until now.
Released in the United Kingdom last year and due for release in the States of America on April 24, “He Played for His Wife and Other Stories” is a welcomed collection of these anecdotes and tales. Compiled and edited by noted poker author Anthony Holden and literary agent Natalie Galustian, the book features the works of 17 people, some noted writers, some noted poker players and some noted people who used poker to promulgate their stories. Other than the consistent poker theme, the stories all are witty, sometimes too close to the truth tales that are always entertaining.
To pick just one of the stories from the book to highlight is too difficult because there are several that come to the fore for being noteworthy. “He Played For…” comes out of the gate with an entirely believable yet fictitious (?) story from the mind of poker professional Barny Boatman. Boatman, who is well known for his mischievous personality, comes up with a story that simultaneously kicks off the book superbly as well as lays down what to expect the rest of the way.
Boatman’s tale is “Drawing Dead,” about a poker player who is visited by the dearly departed spirit of a fellow poker playing friend. The spirit of that friend, who owed the poker player money, offers to square their ledger by literally “ghosting” a poker game the gentleman is playing that night. After being made whole, the poker player is able to talk the specter into sticking around so he can win more money and the ghost agrees, with the caveat that the ghost will leave automatically at a point the player cannot determine.
Without giving away the ending of the story, Boatman’s story makes you want to sit down with the man and hear some more tall tales. That he put this one to pen is hoping that it wasn’t his best because Boatman has a natural storyteller’s abilities. The choice of his story to lead off the collection was an outstanding one by Holden and Galustian.
The second noteworthy entry for “He Played For…” comes from what some might consider another unlikely source. Although she is known as an Academy Award nominated actress, Jennifer Tilly has never been one to put her creativity into the literary arena. With her tale “Once More, Into the Abyss!” Tilly came up with another jewel between the book’s covers.
Tilly’s tale seems a bit autobiographical, about a woman who plays the mid-roller games in Hollywood, and an acquaintance that she watches climb and fall to the whims of fortune. Tilly ably weaves the tale to come to an eventual robbery attempt of the game her heroine is playing in and a sudden realization that comes during that robbery. Tilly’s work in “He Played For…” is just as good as Boatman’s tale and, with the eerie feeling that it could have been more than just a fictitious story, gives the book more power.
Another lady offers up a story that is excellent in its own right. Lucy Porter’s “Lady Luck” is the story of a has-been/never-was “actress” who is looking to reestablish herself in the celebrity world through a televised celebrity poker game. While it might not sound like much from this description, Porter pens a rollicking tale that never quits entertaining the reader. By the time of the twist at the end, it is a story that is well worthy of being included in this mix.
The final story that we’ll highlight here (and, once again, it bears noting that ANY of the stories in the book could have been picked for highlighting) is one from the author of “Positively Fifth Street,” James McManus. McManus’ tale is from his perspective of playing at the World Series of Poker years after his storybook run in the 2000 WSOP Championship Event. In this tale, McManus is driving deep in a $1500 bracelet event while he battles the demons – mental and physical – that bedevil him as he builds a mountain of chips. McManus’ story is gripping (and hopefully fictional) in its telling and, by the time you’ve reached the shocking end of it, it only reaffirms McManus’ position as one of the top writers ever in the poker genre and an underrated American writer overall.
It would be a special treat to be able to see what Holden and Galustian decided to leave out of the book because they didn’t miss at all with the stories they chose. The stories are well told and, if the authors wanted to, could have been expanded into a longer novella or even a full book of their own. The reading audience must be thankful that these authors were willing to part with their stories for Holden and Galustian’s tome.
You’re not going to learn any great mysteries about poker from “He Played For…” You’re not going to magically learn how to play suited connectors off the button. But you will be entertained by the efforts that Holden and Galustian present for your entertainment and, sometimes, being aptly entertained is just as good as learning. “He Played for His Wife and Other Stories” is a worthy addition to not just your poker library but your literary library overall.