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Shut Up and Deal: A Novel Paperback – Deckle Edge, April 13, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

The vignettes in Shut Up and Deal are a bizarre mingling of Damon Runyon and David Mamet. Mickey, the book's narrator, is always playing cards with people who have monikers such as Uptown Raoul, Hot Mama Earl, Johnny World, and Vinnie the Greek, and he himself generally wears at these card games something like "yellow pants and a green double-breasted jacket from the seventies and a green and yellow flowered shirt with dark sunglasses" in order to sucker the unsuspecting mark into maybe thinking that he is not such a good poker player and that his money can be easily won, which it usually cannot. Yet the dialogue, relecting life on the professional poker circuit, is stark and brutal, as in Mickey's advice to a dilettante who is considering following in his footsteps: "All I can tell you is that it's lonely out there, real fuckin' lonely, and your play doesn't matter so much as how tough you are and whether or not you fall apart."

The plot, like poker itself, is a transitory affair. "I been playing for over six years now," says Mickey, the narrator of Shut Up and Deal, "and I still try and start each day as a new day, pick myself off the floor and get focused." This works fine when you're sitting at the poker table, where no given hand means anything in the context of any other given hand, but readers who enjoy traditional narrative, where events have a causal relationship to the events immediately preceding, will face a stiff challenge in the unrelenting cycle of hands won and lost with no visible grander scheme of things in which player--and reader--might take solace. --Ron Hogan

From Publishers Weekly

May's speedy, coming-of-age debut unfolds in the insular, all-male world of high-stakes professional poker, where staying in the action is everything and money is just a way of keeping score. Narrator Mickey, who joins the pro circuit at the age of 21, is surrounded by a large cast of eccentrics with stereotypical nicknames like Vinnie the Greek, Fresca Kid and Uptown Raoul. They're all constantly searching for the next "big game," moving like nomads across America as if it were no more than a barren desert speckled with casino oases like the Mirage in Las Vegas, Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and Foxwoods in Connecticut. In a world where you are who you pretend to be, image, bluff and reputation are as important as talent and luck: Mickey opts for sunglasses and garish Salvation Army clothes, makes a place for himself on the circuit during the early 1990s and then feels it slipping away. As he reels off one tale after another about hitting it big or going broke, Mickey's voice rings true, his obsession, insecurity and self-delusion barely hidden beneath a thin mask of bravado. Yet the price for accuracy is a lot of jargon: rudimentary knowledge of poker is not enough to understand the repetitive, blow-by-blow accounts of games like 10-20 Hold 'em, Pot Limit Omaha and Seven Stud Hilo. "There is no reality away from the poker table," Mickey says. He may be right, but that exclusionary attitude will keep most readers standing "on the rail," watching the play without anteing a stake of their own.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Anchor Books ed edition (April 13, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385489404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385489409
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #828,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By roGER on September 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
First, (most important) if you don't play poker you won't get much out of this book, if you do play... read on.
Good poker is a boring, often frustrating business, and this "novel" (like most first novels, it's fact thinly disguised as fiction) struggles with that reality.
Narrated by a jaded, yet moderately sucessful young pro named Mike (in the original manuscript he was probably called Jesse) its a frank honest look at the "glamourous" world of professional poker. Poker is a game of skill in the long term, but because of the high chance element, can be anything but skill day-to-day. As Mike says early on "the skill ain't hard, its mastering the luck that's difficult."
As the novel progresses we gradually realise that Mike isn't really going anywhere. At times he's quite wealthy, at other times he can hardly make the buy-in for a medium stakes game, but the only thing that distinguishes him from other skilled players, is his persistence; the gritty resolution to ride out the streaks of bad luck and keep going.
Like any cardroom, the book has its "regulars" - players who appear over and over again. Among them is the vividly drawn Bart Stone, who may be the devil - a reckless evil conman with occasional flashes of charm. Opposed to him is John, a mellow, amazingly talented player who's blown his winnings on cocaine and is making a comeback. The two play several times, eagerly watched by Mike, but the end result, like many a poker game, is less about winners and losers, and more about a few bucks up or down due to the cards on the day.
People complain (rightly) that "Shut Up and Deal" has no plot, and doesn't go anywhere. But its this honesty that makes the book so real.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Carl Skutsch on January 16, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For non poker players, I can't imagine that this is worth buying. It is completely focused on the world of poker playing, mostly in east coast casinos. For poker players looking for advice, techniques, and ways of winning, this book won't help much. It's not about poker strategy, it's about the poker world, or one part of it.

But if you are interested in that poker world, this book is fantastic. I swallowed it in one grim, exciting, painful gulp. As previous reviewers said, there is no real plot, no real story, just poker and the strange world it creates. It's almsot philosophical. It tries to figure out what makes people keep on playing, what separates the live-ones from the sharks (and how easy it is to cross back and forth from one to the other), it's zen and poker. As a poker wannabe I found it to be a powerful warning of where I could go if I tried to walk in May's footsteps.

I'd also love to meet the guy, which I think says something about his book.

Whatever you do, don't play with a guy named Bart.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Sultan on February 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
I agree with the other reviewers that this book is for poker players only! The author uses lots of poker terms and jargon that is familiar mostly to poker players. And it's hard for a non-"rounder" to understand what's truly going on in the authors mind.adrenaline, excitement, bluffs, and that one critical decision that separates winners from losers! Personally, as a poker player, I enjoyed the book all the way to the end, got my adrenaline pumped up several times from just reading some of the action and decision making in the story.
Like I said, this book can be really entertaining if you are a rounder, however, the storyline lacks a progressive organized story plot, not terribly bad for a person who doesn't write for a living but the story and character development could've used some refining. It's more of a personal daily diary than a true novel...just keep that in mind while reading the book and you'll enjoy it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R@zrBakGWC on June 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
Shut up and deal is a unique book that provides players of all skill levels a constant reminder that the philosophy of luck is as important to learn and understand as all of the "how to and statistical calculation" books ever written about poker. It does so in one book that also stands out as entertaining poker fiction. The underlying truths provide what it takes to win at playing poker at the highest levels and the pitfalls that are there everyday to test any player that has chosen to make poker their profession, or who have chosen to play semi-pro. I understand that to a literary critic, this book rambles, but to players who have been there it is a must read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S. Sassoon on July 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
Jesse May has really captured the true essence of life inside the detached and all-consuming world of Poker 24/7. Though officially a work of fiction, I can say with fair certainty that the story is probably based on observed or lived truth. Having myself seen the vacuous life of Poker, I can attest that this is the first book that I've seen that presents Poker in a light other than what has been documented on the Travel and Discovery channels. Jesse incarnates an intellectual Poker Hero through which readers witness the unrelenting preoccuptation that all professionals and wanna-be pros alike face in the course of their often short, crash & burn-prone careers: bankroll volatility, fear, confidence, scams, image, discipline, on-lookers, self-consciousness and addiction of all varieties. Arguably, Poker is a fold, hit & run game. 'Shut and Deal' illustrates with chilling accuracy what happens in between the folding, the hitting the big pots, the running, and sometimes, even the running back! A great read from beginning to end, with terrific insight into the pathology of Poker, and her devout and eccentric participants. Warning: Casual poker enthusiasts beware!
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