Magazine article The Spectator

'He Played for His Wife and Other Stories', by Edited by Anthony Holden and Natalie Galustian - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'He Played for His Wife and Other Stories', by Edited by Anthony Holden and Natalie Galustian - Review

Article excerpt

According to the subtitle, this is a collection of 'short stories of long nights at the poker table'. Were that the case, this would be a more enjoyable book, but there are too many stories here that stray from the baize.

As a game, poker is relatively simple. The deal gives you your 'hole' cards, the ones you and no one else can see. They determine whether you play the hand or not. The betting follows as cards are further distributed. One by one players drop out, hopes dashed. Finally someone wins, not necessarily with the best hand. Beginning, middle, end.

Poker has a richer literature than any other card game. Its attraction to writers is in its inherent suspense and the tension that creates. An old poker saw maintains that you play the players, not the cards. Everyone has a 'tell' that betrays their excitement or disappointment: a licking of the lips, a scratching of the nose, a stroking of the beard. Poker players wear sunglasses, baseball caps, hoodies, low-pulled Stetsons, hoping to give nothing away and yet, for the writer, each player is a 'character'.

The best stories here are about actual games, full of poker's rich argot. A character in Barny Boatman's terrific opener is told that 'Sit-down is ten lumps but most start with a pony, and you need a couple of pull-ups'. James McManus, whose true-life story is a highlight, writes: 'Three hands later, after calling a min-raise with the A-Q of hearts, I flop the nut flush draw, check, call an almost pot-sized bet on the flop, hit the third heart on the turn, and get it all in. …

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