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Grochowski Reviews "The Vegas Kid"

7 December 2004

Last week's column of book reviews eased the strain on my shelves only slightly. Let's check out a few more worthy contenders for your reading list, with a new book on Texas Hold'em by a poker pro, some light, fun fiction by a casino veteran and an outstanding biography I've been meaning to review for months.

Poker: The Real Deal, by Phil Gordon and Jonathan Grotenstein (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $19.95, hardcover, 271 pages)

Texas Hold'em is the hottest thing going in gambling today, and Phil Gordon is one of the hottest names in Hold'em thanks to his dual role as a pro on the World Poker Tour and expert analyst on Bravo's telecasts of "Celebrity Poker Showdown."

In Poker: The Real Deal, Gordon and co-author Jonathan Grotenstein give an inside look at what it takes to play a winning game. To a much greater degree than anything you'll commonly find on casino floors, poker is a game of skill -- albeit one with strong elements of chance.

The skills needed have many levels. Where should you play -- at home, in casinos, on the Internet or perhaps all of the above? Limit games or no-limit games? Ring games or tournaments? Is it profitable to bluff? (Partial answer: More so at high-limit or no-limit games than at low-limit tables full of players all too willing to call.)

Are the others at the table aggressive or passive? Tight or loose? What's your position at the table relative to the button? Whether you're betting early or late makes a difference in what hands are profitable to play and how aggressively you bet them.

Among the parts of Poker: The Real Deal I really enjoyed are a series of "Your Defining Moment" problems that put into practice the authors' tips. You check an online poker site and see three open tables, with varying average pots, percentage of hands seeing the flop and hands per hour. Which do you choose? You arrive late at a game and get a chance to see a hand and gauge other players' tendencies. Between which players do you pull up a chair?

Poker: The Real Deal doesn't pretend it's the only poker book you'll ever need. In fact, it makes recommendations along the way of others that belong in the poker player's survival kit. But Gordon informs and entertains with plenty of tips from one who has been at the final table more than a time or two. Any Texas Hold'em player, from novice to veteran, should find value in this book.

The Vegas Kid, by Barney Vinson (Huntington Press, $12.95, softcover, 197 pages)

I've admired Barney Vinson's knack for telling a funny story ever since I first read Las Vegas Behind the Tables a couple of decades ago.

That book, and others by Vinson, regaled readers with true-life tales from the land of neon and craps by a veteran casino dealer, pit boss and gaming instructor. I still like to pull out one of Barney's books every now and then to get in a Vegas frame of mind.

In The Vegas Kid, Vinson turns his storytelling gift to fiction. Sam Durango, star of one of the last TV Westerns, loses his show, his agent, his wife and most of what had been his life in one fell swoop. He finds a confrontation with would-be armed robbers along with a new life, new love and a new career as a craps dealer in Las Vegas.

Vinson has just the right touch to turn it all into a light, fun romp, one I breezed through in one sitting.

Of Rats and Men by John L. Smith (Huntington Press, $25.95, hardcover, 383 pages)

Subtitled Oscar Goodman's Life From Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas, this one isn't really a gambling book, and it's not strictly a Las Vegas book, either. It's a fascinating, thoroughly researched look at the seeming improbability of the attorney to some of the biggest names in the crime pages being elected to the mayor's office.

I've not seen such a collection of names since the late Art Petacque was patrolling the crime beat for the Sun-Times: Tony "the Ant" Spilotro. Sam Giancana. Tony Accardo. Joey "the Clown" Lombardo.

Goodman's connections to the Chicago underworld will be of special interest to local readers, as Smith draws on his extensive interviews with Goodman as well as background from Smith's own lengthy career as a reporter and columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Interaction between Goodman and those he represented sometimes went beyond the usual lawyer-client business. Of his friendship with Spilotro, Goodman tells Smith, "I probably liked Tony as much or more than anyone I ever represented. He was very good to me in the sense that he made a concerted effort to shield me from any kind of discussion about criminal activity. It's almost as though he was protective of me. ... And I think Tony was genuinely interested in my family. He gave my daughter a little matchstick necklace with a ruby at the end, and she really cherished that. We always had a good time."

Of Rats and Men is a first-rate profile of one of our most unusual public figures. This Las Vegas book deserves attention far beyond those interested in gambling.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski