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15/10/2007 No. 46
he Guardian G2 Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Monday Oct 15, 2007

I've been enjoying Des Wilson's new book Ghosts at the Table: The Amazing Story of Poker, published last week. This remarkable fellow has had a life of amazing achievement: he launched the charity Shelter, ran Friends of the Earth and wrote a column for the Observer, before working for the England and Wales Cricket Board and becoming president of the Liberal party. This is a man with an ambitious, eclectic and brilliant mind. So it is a sign of poker's uniquely mesmeric power that, since discovering the game a few years ago, Des has been interested in almost nothing else. Welcome to the Hotel California, Mr Wilson!

Ghosts is Wilson's second work on poker, and deals with the romantic history of the game: the Wild West, the riverboat gamblers, the gun-filled saloons. When I started playing in 1990, these ghosts still hovered close to the table. They were a thing of the past, sure, but we were certainly buying into that old romance. Modern poker is so dominated by the internet, television and the Scandinavian army, it feels like a completely parallel game; I wonder if the 18-year-old "professional players" of today have ever even heard those ancient legends. Or are they just thinking about maths and cameras?

Certainly, the time is ripe for a nostalgic history. Only one chapter in, I am delighted to find myself in the snowy streets of Deadwood, South Dakota, where Wild Bill Hickok died. Wilson is seeking to discover the kicker in the notorious "dead man's hand" of aces and eights with a wonderful obsessiveness, given its irrelevance. It reminds me of last year's tabloid story about the footballer who lost £100,000 on a single poker hand. While the nation was asking, "Who was the footballer?", poker players asked only, "What was the hand?"

Your can read more byAnthony Holden at his website
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