ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล Review of Playing Off the Rail

David McCumber, a professional author and pool enthusiast, finding himself with some money to his name and time on his hands, decides to finally carry out a boyhood fantasy, that of touring the country as an old time pool hustler. Unfortunately, McCumber doesn’t play well enough to hustle himself, so he becomes the backer for his friend and pool master Tony Annigoni. This book is the story of their almost four month adventure.

We follow these players as they tour around the country encountering interesting characters and situations, playing against both the biggest names and the best unknowns in pool. This true story covers the ins and outs of hustling pool, contrasting the similarities and differences between their events and the historical icon that the pool hustler has become.

Annigoni is an interesting character. One doesn’t expect a pool hustler to be a martial artist, devotee of Eastern religion, and vegetarian. Given this intriguing premise, I expected more from the character than I saw in the book. It’s hard to say if this is because Annigoni doesn’t manifest his personality externally, or if McCumber just doesn’t report it when he does, although I strongly suspect the former. Nonetheless, their characters provide at least some variation to the stereotype of the pool hustler.

This book resembles a pool version of Anthony Holden’s excellent book, Big Deal, a professional writer’s story of his foray into playing pro poker for a year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite measure up to these lofty standards. While interesting, it doesn’t have the same intensity or depth that we find in Big Deal. In part, one should give some credit to McCumber for this. Instead of making the characters or scenes more colorful, he sticks to an intellectually honest portrayal of the people and characters involved. Nonetheless, while the book is entertaining, it’s not going to become a classic. It’s enjoyable, but don’t expect a masterpiece. I marginally recommend it.

Capsule:

A decent, but not terribly remarkable true story of a professional writer as a stakehorse to a pool player as they travel across the country hustling games. While enjoyable, Playing Off the Rail isn’t a great book by any means. If the subject interests you, you probably won’t feel cheated, but you might want to find out if a paperback version will become available.

Andres Martinez decided to write a book about being a high-roller in Las Vegas. So, he took his book advance and went to Sin City himself to play big and let the chips fall where they may. He gambled in some of the finest casinos, enjoyed big comps, and experienced the incredible swings, financial and mood, that only those who have wagered at this level can truly understand. In 24/7, he shares them with us.

Martinez arrives in town and makes his rounds at various ป๊อกเด้ง ไฮโล casinos with a $50,000 bankroll and the desire to live it up. As one might expect, he experiences both the highs and lows associated with the enormous fluctuations the long term gambler will experience. He divides his experiences into two long and two short excursions where he tours such Las Vegas properties ranging from the Golden Gate to the Bellagio.

During these trips we come to understand how the casinos handle their most valued customers. We see differences in philosophies put into practice, and the lengths to which these places will go to woo their clientele with results that oscillate between flattering and sickening. This can be fun for those who are willing to live vicariously through the author.

Martinez completely understands that he’s bucking a casino advantage, and even though deep down he knows this is a constant thing, he still falls victim to some level of superstition, pattern spotting, and hunch betting. While he doesn’t go so far as to really hurt himself by throwing caution to the wind, one shouldn’t think that they will become a long term winner by following his example.

The book is well written, and it does expose an interesting side of the gambling world, but being interested in someone playing baccarat at $100 a hand for weeks on end can only last so long. A lot of the characters, news, and flavor of his events are fascinating enough to keep interest at least moderately high throughout the book, so I do recommend reading 24/7, although I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list. Besides, it’s about as close to being a true high-roller as most of us will ever get.

Capsule:

A reasonably good, though not spectacular, book about the ups and downs of a casino high-roller, 24/7 is interesting enough and well enough written that it’s worth the readers time. Occasionally, the tedium of listing to Mr. Martinez’s bankroll fluctuate gets a little slow, but the local colors and flavors are enough to get us through it. Even though Martinez understands the edge he’s playing against, he occasionally can’t bring himself to believe his own advice. Someone who wants to be a winning gambler would be well advised to find another person to emulate.