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The Bookworm Gambler’s Digest: Positively Fifth Street

James McManus Positively Fifth street cover poker table

What happens if you send a writer to cover a murder trial that is on during the WSOP tournament? Chilling action, that’s what.

James McManus was sent on a mission to Las Vegas by Harper’s Magazine to feature the trial of Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish. The pair was charged with the murder of Binion’s Horseshoes Casino owner Ted Binion. Lucky for McManus, the 2000 World Series of Poker tournament was going on at the same time, so he spent time covering that, too. He also entered the contest and won a separate tournament that got him into the Main Event. He eventually reached the final table and finished fifth. This is the story where he uncovers what’s going on behind the scenes at the WSOP.


• Story of the WSOP with a hint of murder
• Real account of poker characters
• True happenings of Binion trial

Let’s talk about the specifics of McManus’ gripping adventure. Harper’s Magazine decided to send him to Vegas to follow the happenings in the women’s USD 23 million tournament. And, in the spirit of two birds, one stone, he was given another assignment: report on the progress of the Binion murder trial. Apparently, casino owner Ted Binion was murdered by his girlfriend and her boyfriend. What a soap opera! Fun fact: McManus actually used his advance paycheck get into the event. The book shows us the competitiveness of it all. I guess there would be a similar atmosphere in any US poker room.

He won USD 247,760 in the Main Event

James McManus
McManus is a poker winner. He managed to make is way up to the final table all while reporting on the events he was supposed to. That’s some real dedication right there. And it takes multitasking to a whole new level. McManus’ humbleness shows through the fact that he credited his success to a poker manual written by Tom McEvoy and T.J. CLoutier: Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em. An interesting piece of information: they both were there at the final table. His account of the tournament is extremely enjoyable: his honest tone makes it a delight to read about the various players and the events that unfold. He describes perfectly his surprise regarding his own advancement in the game.

And now, for the murder trial. Gambling news was buzzing with it at the time and it is worth mentioning, because after reading the circumstances, you’ll want to read the book for McManus’ version… This homicide really reminds me of a television drama packed with so many clichés that it’s almost surreal. Enter Sandy Murphy, who, according to the Chicago Tribune, was a topless dancer at a strip club. She “falls in love” with Binion and they become boyfriend and girlfriend. The only slight problem with this is that Sandy had another man on the side, Rick Tabish. It was known that Ted Binion was dealing with a heroin problem. So, why not, thought the two good Samaritans, and they planned to rule Binion out of the picture.

Suicide due to drug overdose

Sandy Murphy
At first, it seemed like Sandy and her bonnie lad would get away with it, they managed to stage the whole thing so it looked like a suicide. According to the Forbes, “All evidence pointed to Ted Binion dying of a self-induced drug overdose after losing his gaming license for his drug use and hanging out with a known gangster. He was banned from going into a casino, including his family’s gambling joint, the infamous Binion’s Horseshoe, home of the WSOP. His life had spiralled and he handled it by diving even deeper into drugs.” Not a happy story, but it is one that provides a stripper and her lover with enough background to get incredibly rich.

The sentencing wasn’t straightforward, either: at first, they were sentenced, then they were acquitted due to a retrial. McManus gives us the specifics while masterfully combining the two storylines: his journey within the WSOP to the Main Event and the progress of the trial. There must’ve been so much action and movement during his stay in Las Vegas, it’s a miracle he managed to report everything in such an entertaining manner. While reading the book, you can feel how happy he was that he didn’t stay at home playing on mobile casinos, the novel is a perfect reflection of how taken he was by the events. If you want a true account of the WSOP with a twist of murder, this is a read for you. Buy it and dig in!

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