There’s a bitter irony in the U.S. government’s recent attempts to bar Americans from online poker. They come just as a game steeped in American culture and history has swept the globe. Born in New Orleans, poker evolved with the country: on Mississippi riverboats, in Civil War pup tents, in saloons and speakeasies, over felt casino tables.
Cable TV and the “hole cam,” which allows viewers to see the players’ hidden cards and thus discern poker pros’ betting strategies, made the game a global phenomenon. That spurred the surge of online poker, the game’s latest incarnation and a $6 billion industry.
In Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), James McManus deals up poker’s rich history, from the whiskey-drenched, bullet-ridden game of five-card draw, familiar to anyone who’s seen a western, to the application of poker’s lessons in bluffing, game theory, and detecting deception by military officials, politicians, and State Department diplomats.