America’s Game: On James McManus’ new book, Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker

From living rooms to casinos to the White House—poker pulses in the veins of the American character. Or so says James McManus in his new book, written while he gambled online

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James McManus and poker dogs
 

When he opens the front door to his home on the North Shore—a downright unassuming residence, located on a typically suburban lane, standing across the street from an elementary school and a child-friendly park—it’s hard to believe that the man standing there—father, husband, teacher, writer—is a poker addict. Specifically, a junkie to Texas Hold ’Em. But unlike most of the similarly afflicted, James McManus no longer frequents 24-hour casinos or dimly lit Division Street backrooms. These days, almost all his card playing happens in his office, on the computer, about a dozen paces from his family’s rec room, with his wife, Jennifer Arra, working in the kitchen and the sports gear of two of his daughters directly in view.

Over the course of the last decade, McManus, like the game of poker itself, has become somewhat domesticated, at home with all the familiar features of normal suburban life. The most dramatic outward signs of his transformation are the trappings of the unexpected success of 2003’s Positively Fifth Street, a memoir in which McManus chronicles his big win at the 2000 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, where he finished in fifth place, bringing home $247,760. After years as an acclaimed but scuffling novelist, McManus found himself with a New York Times bestseller and the reputation as a literary expert on poker. The success of the book also meant the chance to pursue his addiction as a career opportunity.

“Playing poker has now become a substantial part of our income, because online sites sponsor certain people, and you get paid to play on those sites: They give you an hourly rate and a rakeback, which is a small portion of the pot, and I get sponsored in tournaments, and if I’m on TV, I get a nice bonus,” he says. Although the legality of earning money from playing online poker is what McManus refers to as “a gray legal area,” with the federal government prosecuting various companies involved in the transfer of money for online games, he pays taxes on his winnings. “It’s no secret,” he says, referring to his new career.

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Photograph: Saverio Truglia

Producer: Stephanie Foyer  Assistant: Richard Lech  Animal casting: Annika Howe  Hair and Makeup: Nika Vaughan  Special thanks to Courtney Rust  (animal talent, from left) Lola/Jeff Jenkins, Petie/Molly Topper, Vala/Jim Morgan

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