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Ghosts at the Table: Riverboat Gamblers, Texas Rounders, Internet Gamers, and the Living Legends Who Made Poker What It Is Today Hardcover – April 22, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A colorful classic...A remarkably thorough history of the game of poker...A must-read history-biography book...A book to relish and enjoy for the facts compiled, the questions answered, and as a resource to help you enjoy the game more than ever, as a player or observer."--CasinoGaming.com, 5/14/08 "A long look at the history of one of the most popular card games of present day...For those whose eyes have ever stayed glued to a cable poker tourney, this book's a sure bet."--Bookgasm.com, 5/15/08 "Wilson makes an elegant and entertaining case for the idea that poker's current popularity can be directly linked to its long and colorful history...Every time you sit down to play, you sit down with the 'ghosts at the table.' This book will teach you their names and their roles in the ongoing, endlessly fascinating history of poker."--"Card Player" 5/21/08 "An engaging narrative that occasionally resembles a "whodunit"-styled detective novel, with Wilson himself taking on the role of lead investigator...Wilson doesn't shy away from difficult or controversial subjects."--PokerNews.com 5/23/08 "From the dusty roads of Tombstone and Deadwood to the early Vegas playing parlors to today's internet whiz kids, Des Wilson takes us on a colorful, interesting and well researched journey. His writing style--direct, no nonsense--is perfect for the history of a game--a high stakes game, indeed--where nonsense is clearly not tolerated."--Blogcritics.org 5/19/08 "The saga of poker from its Wild West origins to today's show-biz scene in Las Vegas...Wilson concerns himself with contemporary as well as departed guests of the game...Wilson's time machine conveys him from the days of riverboatgambling to the age of cyber poker and all stops between."--"Magill Book Reviews "" ""The American Interest," November/December 2008"Not just a history of poker. Wilson's travels throughout America are as much a part of the book as the actual history of poker he relates...His autobiographical detours work...Wilson is a sympathetic character, as well--a legitimately nice guy, and it comes through."

About the Author

Des Wilson, a former political activist and businessman, is today a journalist, well-known poker personality, and author of the highly acclaimed Swimming With the Devilfish. He lives in London.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press Ed edition (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780306816284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306816284
  • ASIN: 0306816288
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,459,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dave Schwartz VINE VOICE on June 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Wilson starts his book with a helpful preface that divides poker into four ages: the initial frontier stages, that lasted from the game's introduction to the US to the closing of the frontier, which in poker terms correlates with the last mineral booms in the 1890s/1900s.

The second age starts much later, with the heyday of the Texas road gamblers in the 1950s. This is a short era that is followed by the Las Vegas era, which symbolically began with the first World Series of Poker held at Binion's Horseshoe in 1970.

The final age of poker is the current boom, fueled equally by television and the Internet, which most people would date to 2002.

It's a good division, though it neglects the "rank and file" of poker in some ways. The thousands of backroom poker games that sustained the "sport" during the first half of the 20th century, for example, are nowhere here. There's good reason for that-they were mostly undocumented, and little heralded. For good reason. There is nothing exceptional or heroic about them. But history is rarely exceptional or heroic.

The book properly begins with Wilson checking into the Bullock Hotel in Deadwood, South Dakota, and learning that a real ghost lives there-the spirit of Seth Bullock, the original proprietor, who frequently shows his disgust over the current staff's lassitude by shaking the odd plate or turning on a random blender.

That's when I realized that the ghosts of the title aren't a metaphor: for Wilson (and for poker players) the legends of the past really are ghosts, who still have an incorporeal presence and can still do us harm.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An enjoyable history of poker. Author concentrates on the american history of poker but does not devote enough space to the origins of the game and its french version which is the one introduced to the US in the early 19th century. I recommend it to those of us who play the game and love to know more about it.
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Format: Hardcover
2008 World Series of Poker starts May 30 and runs through July 17, 2008. The biggest event in poker today is described in this anthology of United States players from old western gaming in Arizona, Texas, and Nevada. We are swept along the trail from North Dakota and meander down the gold and silver rush towns to now ghost towns. As time passes in the twentieth century we are told of the exploits of Wild Bill Hickok and how he played poker with his six shooter. In response to a full house, Wild Bill said that he had 3 Aces over 2 sixes, when the other player said he saw only one six Hickok put his pistol on the table and said here is the other six. He won the hand!

This anecdotal form of writing is most interesting as Des Wilson takes us through the portals of moments when ghosts are visited in many poker parlors as he tries to imagine what it was like to have lived in that bygone era. Brief skirmishes are recounted as he tells of battles which were fought and the connection to poker is related in all of them.

His description of the gun fight at the OK Corral is wonderful, and the fact they all played poker the night before is fascinating.

The book seems to be two books in one; Wilson is so enamored with the WSOP that the second half tells of the personalities of the players of today. He does relate the formation of the event by Benny Binion at his famous Horseshoe in Las Vegas in 1970 and touches upon his ghost. Those players who will pay $10,000 to enter Harrah's Rio, the situs of the 2008 contest, owe their opportunity to play to the ghosts of the past and those of the present. Being lucky and getting good cards is only part of winning in Texas Hold 'Em, winning the gold bracelet is exemplified as being a paragon of the bluff.

Clark Isaacs
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book with high hopes of getting a rich history of poker, but after finishing, I felt like I was taken on five minute mini-journeys of a wanna be mystery writer.

I'm sure the author meant well, but he tried to create, then un-ravel many mysteries of poker's past. And while the attempt was admirable, I was never drawn into his vision. It was actually one of the first books I've read in a while where I debated not finishing it simply because it was kind of boring and lacked depth.

The middle part of the book regarding the Texas Road gamblers was probably the best as some of the old timers are still alive and you do realize you're looking at living legends when you see them play. But even that portion lacked a depth I was hoping for.

I realize it's a lot to ask with so much to cover, but I think the author could have done better. Saying that, even though the book's covering of many players was shorter than the biographies of "Deal Me In," I thought "Ghosts at the Table" did a more concise job of hitting the present day gamblers.

I was disappointed by this book, and in fact you could go to Cardplayer or other sites to actually read a detailed history of poker in archived Magazines they keep online.

It was definitely not a one star book, but I don't think I can give this more than two.
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