Can you reccomened a gambling novel?
January 21, 2011 9:19 PM   Subscribe

What novels with a heavy focus on gambling should I read?

Once again my (entirely healthy) obession with gambling narratives has griped me in its neon claws. What novels would you reccomend? I'm especially interested in wagering that takes place outside of casnio or cardroom, though that is not a strict requirement. Further, I like best those stories that focus on the gambler and the gambling, rather than sidelining them as part of crime/mystery story. Walter Tevis' The Hustler is a good example of what I'm looking for.
posted by Gin and Comics to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Apologies if you already know it, but I'm just dying to recommend the obvious, so I will: Dostoyevsky's "The Gambler," written to, natch, pay off gambling debts!
posted by Violet Blue at 9:32 PM on January 21, 2011

Playing off the Rail, though I don't think it's fiction.
posted by dobbs at 10:16 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tim Powers, Last Call… more or less.
posted by zamboni at 10:17 PM on January 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

The MIT blackjack book...I'm sure someone here will provide the name.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:36 PM on January 21, 2011

For me, gambling is about finding an overlay and exploiting it. In that vein, Michael Lewis' recent book about the economic crash, "The Big Short," might be the best gambling book I've ever read. Not a novel, not at all about stereotypically seedy underworld characters, but certainly a great read about the few people smart enough to find an edge against the house and profit handsomely from it.
posted by GamblingBlues at 10:40 PM on January 21, 2011

Does The Grifters count?

Because I f#^king loved that book.
posted by jbenben at 10:50 PM on January 21, 2011

To be clear, does it need to be fiction? Playing Off the Rail, cited by dobbs above, is excellent but it's non-fiction.

By far, the single best book about gambling I have ever read -- and I've read a bunch -- is Al Alvarez's The Biggest Game in Town. I can't recommend it strongly enough.

Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious, the Last Great American Pool Hustler is also very good.

Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything just came out in November. Titanic Thompson was the real life sharp behind Damon Runyon's fictional Sky Masterson, and he was the master of the proposition bet (and he never bet on anything without an edge, skill or otherwise). His life was...interesting.

Michael Konik's, The Man With the $100,000 Breasts is also an entertaining read, though some chapters are much better than others.

Hmmm...I'll think on this a bit more, and may post a few more suggestions later.
posted by mosk at 10:54 PM on January 21, 2011

OK, a few more non-fiction favorites:

The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King: Inside the Richest Poker Game of All Time by Michael Craig is a fascinating look at a very big poker game (well, series of matches) that took place a few years ago between Texas Banker and mathematics dilettante Andy Beal and a shifting coalition of top Vegas poker pros. Millions of dollars changed hands in each session. It's a good read but a better story, if you follow me. There was a rematch of sorts after the book was published, and Craig wrote about those encounters for Bluff magazine a few years ago. Worth tracking down if you read the book and like it.

Robert Byrne's McGoorty: A Pool Room Hustler is another well written book on gambling and pool hustling, though in this case Danny McGoorty was an old billiards hustler. They don't make 'em like that any more.

Finally, if you haven't already seen it, be sure to check out Robert Altman's early 70's classic, California Split. It is a flawed movie, but it expertly captures the spirit of gambling better than any other piece of fiction save The Hustler or Dostoyevsky's The Gambler.
posted by mosk at 11:14 PM on January 21, 2011

Divisidero by Michael Ondaatje isn't one of his best books, but it's heavy on the gambling.
posted by soviet sleepover at 11:49 PM on January 21, 2011

Not about gambling, but about stock speculation, which some would argue is similar: Reminiscences of a Stock Operator. It's a fictionalized biography of Jesse Livermore, a legendary speculator around the turn of the century. Awesome read.
posted by jclovebrew at 12:14 AM on January 22, 2011

Oscar and Lucinda, obviously.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 12:28 AM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Diceman by Luke Rhinehart. Whilst not strictly about gambling per se - that is, it's not about casino games or betting, the theme is about a man whose every decision in life is determined by the throw of a dice.
posted by essexjan at 1:17 AM on January 22, 2011

Balling the Jack is a fun read and probably just what you're looking for:

"Betting all you have cleans the system," says young Wall Street paralegal Tom Reasons as he hands over $400 of his weekly $447 paycheck to his bookie, Toadie, in bets on baseball games. But it's the low-profile sport of darts that gets Tom into real trouble, in this raucous, raunchy thriller. When he loses $40,000 ..."
posted by zanni at 1:39 AM on January 22, 2011

Bob the Gambler by Frederick Barthelme.

Related is the 'True Story' behind the novel: Double Down. About the novelist and his brother blowing their inheritance on the gambling boats in Mississippi.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:46 AM on January 22, 2011

Stung, the book on which the film Owning Mahowny was based.
posted by analog at 5:07 AM on January 22, 2011

Hrm. Casino Royale is about Bond playing baccarat in a casino.
posted by Tapioca at 5:52 AM on January 22, 2011

The Master Mechanic by I.G Broat. Centered around dice.
posted by Ferrari328 at 6:40 AM on January 22, 2011

Thought it had originally been a novel, but apparently not. I'm talking of Croupier, a favorite of mine.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:36 AM on January 22, 2011

"The gambler", by Dostojevski. Obviously. Also Paul Auster "Music of Chance"
posted by slimeline at 7:42 AM on January 22, 2011

The MIT gambling book is Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich. It's supposed to be a true story but some of it just seems too good to be true. Still a nice read.

Micheal Konik also wrote Telling Lies and Getting Paid, which is a collection of gambling stories.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 7:50 AM on January 22, 2011

NOVELS MEAN FICTION PEOPLE. Jeez. Stop suggesting nonfiction and movies, those are wrong.

Anyway, Auster's The Music of Chance is about traveling poker players and probability.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:02 AM on January 22, 2011

It's embedded in a spy thriller but the casino sections of Casino Royale might be of some interest.
posted by Artw at 8:05 AM on January 22, 2011

Of course just as I get snippy I also suggest a novel that's already been said. Standard.

But and so, a friend of mine recommended Henry of Atlantic City to me a while ago and it sounds great.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:10 AM on January 22, 2011

I just finished a collection of short stories by Roald Dahl, and he had several stories about high-stakes bets:

Man from the South
Dip in the Pool
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

The first three take place outside a casino. They're all fantastic, you should definitely try to find them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:17 AM on January 22, 2011

You mentioned "The Hustler." Have you read Tevis's other novels about gaming, "The Color of Money" (sequel to "The Hustler") and (my favorite) "The Queen's Gambit"?
posted by grumblebee at 8:29 AM on January 22, 2011

Seconding Last Call.

Also, while not about gambling specifically, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas does paint a very vivid picture of the end of the Las Vegas glory days.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:39 AM on January 22, 2011

The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren

It is incredible, but dark.

wiki link, may have spoilers
posted by iurodivii at 2:44 PM on January 22, 2011

Pushkin Queen of Spades.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:03 PM on January 22, 2011

Not a novel, sorry, but this was intriguing. The Big Con: the story of confidence men, written in about 1935 giving a history of the short con into the long con. Much of it with the message that you can't cheat an honest man.
posted by mearls at 3:44 PM on January 22, 2011

Gods! How could I have forgotten Shut Up And Deal by Jesse May, the only truly great funny novel by and about a professional poker player.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:32 AM on January 23, 2011

Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker is a lot of fun. Even for someone as unversed in poker as myself, the detail re the intricacies of the game wasn't enough to turn me off, while the historical account of the World Series and some of its better known names (as well as the recent influence of much younger players able to train with software instead of honing their chops in back rooms) was absolutely fascinating.
posted by subajestad at 11:13 AM on January 25, 2011

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