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Jonny Magic & the Card Shark Kids: How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds and Stormed Las Vegas Paperback – August 29, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Jon Finkel was just another nerdy kid in middle school when the card game Magic swept his world. It wasn't quite Dungeons and Dragons, though it had a similar otherworldliness, and it wasn't quite like collecting baseball cards, though it had a similar -collection-building quality. Magic, the brainchild of Ivy League mathematician Dr. Richard Garfield, turned out to transform this overweight, bored kid into a hero among his peers. But it didn't stop with winning Magic tournaments. Finkel and his math-whiz cohorts (the Card Shark Kids) next moved to blackjack, forming the most sophisticated card-counting team in history. Then it was on to the World Series of Poker and a $3.5 million payout. Kushner's account of Finkel's triumphs transforms gambling into the stuff of a terrific underdog story in which lovable nerds conquer the universe. Mary Frances Wilkens
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (August 29, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812974387
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812974386
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,113,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. J. Hulbert on March 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jon Finkel was an overweight, middle school nerd who was bullied, laughed at, and ostracized until he found his calling in a fantasy game called Magic. Magic combines the otherworldliness of Dungeons and Dragons with complex elements of card play and has become a cult game with tournaments of its own. In Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids, David Kushner follows the transformation of Finkel from teenage geek in the throes of Magic mania into a thin, sophisticated and extremely wealthy professional gambler who joins the highly successful blackjack counting team known as The Lawyers. The true-life story traces Finkel's evolution from bully magnet to World Champion Magic master, to card counter and shuffle tracker, to sports bettor, and onto the World Series of Poker. Throughout his adventures, Finkel is accompanied by the so-called "Card Shark Kids," a strange mix of misfits and brainiacs who find a sense of belonging through the addictive escape of Magic and carry that into the gambling world.

Kushner does an impressive job of providing condensed explanations of such wide-ranging gaming concepts as the underlying premise of Magic, the mathematical foundation of card counting, and sports betting theory, while keeping the reader engaged in Finkel's ongoing tribulations and triumphs. Interwoven within the biography is also an intriguing account of Dr. Richard Garfield, the inventor of Magic, who would be a worthy subject for his own story.

Ironically, the story's pinnacle comes via the success not of Finkel but of David Williams, another Card Shark Kid and Magic enthusiast, who claimed the 3.5 million dollar second prize of the 2004 World Series of Poker.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Thus ends the first biography of [...] Jon Finkel [my Hero] by author David Kushner [Masters of Doom]. A Casino Pit Boss has seen the author chatting with a known card counter, and Mr Finkel wants to remain uncontaminated thus Mr Kushner must move on so Mr Finkel can continue to play…A pretty perfect ending to a not so perfect book…
Jonny Magic is a quick read—ideal for anyone interested in background information on the greatest game created in the last 30 years or one of the greatest athletes of our generation. This book is fun to read—a lot of the early bullying stories and later gambling tales are really eye opening. Mr Kushner has unearthed some interesting background details & covers most of the high points in Finkel’s life.

However, this book mostly misses the point when trying to draw larger social conclusions that are so far not evident in the facts of Mr Finkel’s life. Mr Kushner would have done better with more subjects and more time in the trenches with Magic Players. The book would have been rewarded by a more laser like focus on Magic and less discussion of poker and black jack—chapters of why some people play magic for reasons other than money, would have been refreshing.

More focus on Jon Finkel and why “when he plays a card it is amazing, and when you play the same card it is just ok”—the story of what makes Finkel the best Magic Player requires more analysis of what makes a good Magic player and what playing Magic means. That story, which is the story I bought the book to read, is not meant to be the story of this book and still remains to be written.

What is evident in Finkel’s life so far is that he is the best magic player ever. How he got there is detailed, what he did while he was at the top of his game is discussed, where is he is today is addressed. Unfortunately, what exactly that means is left to the reader to figure out.
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Format: Hardcover
What a great book! If you liked books like "Bringing Down the House" or "Word Freak", you'll enjoy this one too. I liked it even more on account of the gradual transformation of Finkel's persona from dork to pretty cool guy. I really felt that he was somebody worth rooting for (as opposed to Moneymaker, for example, another unlikely hero, who just seemed like a jerk in his autobiography)

Highly recommended read, quick, fun, entertaining.
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Format: Paperback
Pros: The book was enjoyable, and what's more it's true. It was great to read about the cliche' "zero to hero" in the book, and how people are using their brains to earn millions of dollars. Having read "Bringing down the house", I was surprised that there were other teams counting cards in Vegas, and it was great to see how Jon Finkle, the main character wound up.

Cons: The writing could be better. Some parts of the book were a bit sloppy in my opinion.

Summary: A good book about a man who achieved his dreams in an unconventional way.

Overall: A solid 8/10.
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Format: Hardcover
I read Kushner's Masters Of Doom and couldn't put it down. Same with his newest book. I found myself drawn in and unable to slow down...read it in only three sittings. Reminds me of Tom Wolfe's style in terms of telling a non-fiction story though in an interesting way with imagery, dialogue, etc. Could easily be a movie.
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Format: Hardcover
It was just terrific book. I really have to congratulate the author, David Kushner on his writing skills. The subject matter was unknown to me, but his style of writing [...] me right in, and the more I learned about Magic, the more intrigued I became. Can't say enough good about it, and am telling all of my friends!
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