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Poker: America's Game


Twenty-one year old Joe Cada won the World Series of Poker and $8.5 million last week in Las Vegas. A heck of a pot for the youngest winner ever.

But fully of a piece, says my guest today, with poker’s fabled place in American history. And in American culture.

Presidents, generals, gangsters, cowboys — and now millions of Americans online — have embraced the part-Puritan, part go-for-it gambler ethos of poker. A new history tells the story.

This hour, On Point: The tangled American roots of poker. And we’ll hear from the 21-year-old who won it all.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


James McManus, bestselling journalist and author who writes about poker for the New York Times and other publications. His new book is “Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker,” came out last month. He came in fifth in the World Series of Poker in 2000 and wrote a memoir about that experience, “Positively 5th Street.”

Read the first chapter of “Cowboys Full” (pdf).

Joseph Cada, winner of the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event. He was 21 when he won on November 10, the youngest champion ever. His winnings totaled $8.5 million.

Laura Lane, co-host of ESPN.com’s Inside Deal, a weekly show about online poker.

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  • Shane from Boston

    I’ve heard that Poker is the perfect blend of skill and chance. I’m wondering if your guest can tell me which one is more imortant….skill or chance?

    Thank You,

  • Michael Long

    My favorite cross-over poker term is “four-flusher”, which refers to a person who makes unsubstantiated boasts.

  • Joe E.

    How is poker defined? I haven’t played it for years, but I recall numerous variations of it, some with 7 cards, some with 5.

  • Lauren B.

    Plenty of wives play poker too!

  • Blithe

    I agree. I think Poker is a very American game that embodies the belief in the abilities of the individual. My grandfather was drafted from NYU into WWII – he was a very bright man, and he sent his poker winning to his immigrant father in Florida. His father used the winnings to buy land. How very American.
    Gramp lost it all in the stock market – but I’ve always thought about that his story is exclusively American. If his parents had stayed in Poland it wouldn’t have been possible. He was permitted to make or brake himself without outside factors. I just think it’s a shame he went out broke (but I’m sure he will never regret taking Gram out and buying her sparklies when ever he wanted).

  • http://www.pokerlistings.com acrow1

    Can’t wait to read McManus’ new book. The best part of Postively Fifth Street is him retelling his historic run in the WSOP Main Event. In my opinion anyways.

    I think his view on the history of the game will be fascinating.

    To answer a couple of questions from above I think most poker players will agree that poker is a skill game. There is luck involved, to be sure, but there the better players win long term.

    There are some great resources out there for anyone getting started in poker and I’d recommend PokerListings (which I write for) and the beginner section of two plus two poker forum.

  • Brett

    I had to laugh–in all the talk about poker metaphors in politics–when the one guest said McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin was analogous to a crap shoot!

    My favorite poker game: Jacks or better, ‘trips’ to win!

  • Brett

    what a great (and very American!) story. I enjoyed your comment

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com akilez

    Poker is starting point for excessive gambling.

    Very addictive and can make you broke.
    I stop playing poker by the age 15.

  • Arthur

    I’m looking forward to reading McManus’ new book. His breakdown of his impressive run at the WSOP Main Event was my favorite part of Positively Fifth Street.

    To answer some of the questions above: I think most poker pros would agree that poker is more skill than luck. The most popular game of poker currently played is No-Limit Hold’em where players are given two cards and use them in combination with the five card board to make the best hand.

    There are some great resources for players getting back into poker and I recommend twoplustwo poker forum and PokerListings (which I write for).

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