In 1987, there was legalized poker in Nevada and in one county of California. Author Jesse May was seventeen years old and already hooked. By 1996, poker could be legally played in casinos in over twenty states of the union and five countries in Europe. Legalization changed the face of poker, and as the game came of age, so did May, who by 1989 had dropped out of the University of Chicago after one year due to irreconcilable differences between Tuesday- and Thursday-morning classes and Monday- and Wednesday-night poker games.
Based on his experiences in the strange world of poker, May's debut novel Shut Up and Deal is the story of a nontraditional '90s slacker, a dropout with an incurable obsession and incredible stamina, who makes a career in a profession where the only goals are to stay in action and to not go broke. In Shut Up and Deal, a professional poker player takes readers along on his adventures over several years in and out of casinos and card rooms in locales such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Amsterdam.
Told in a catching, likeable voice, this story offers up one rip-roaring poker-table drama after another, with narrator Mickey ultimately finding himself in a spot that jeopardizes his entire bankroll and calls into question his morals, such as they are. In rhythmic, high-octane prose that is as addictive as the game it describes, Shut Up and Deal zooms in on the swirling, feverish microcosm of the contemporary poker world from its very first line and never cuts away.
May's speedy, coming-of-age debut unfolds in the insular, all-male world of high-stakes professional poker, where staying in the action is everything and money is just a way of keeping score. Narrator Mickey, who joins the pro circuit at the age of 21, is surrounded by a large cast of eccentrics with stereotypical nicknames like Vinnie the Greek, Fresca Kid and Uptown Raoul. They're all constantly searching for the next "big game," moving like nomads across America as if it were no more than a barren desert speckled with casino oases like the Mirage in Las Vegas, Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and Foxwoods in Connecticut. In a world where you are who you pretend to be, image, bluff and reputation are as important as talent and luck: Mickey opts for sunglasses and garish Salvation Army clothes, makes a place for himself on the circuit during the early 1990s and then feels it slipping away. As he reels off one tale after another about hitting it big or going broke, Mickey's voice rings true, his obsession, insecurity and self-delusion barely hidden beneath a thin mask of bravado. Yet the price for accuracy is a lot of jargon: rudimentary knowledge of poker is not enough to understand the repetitive, blow-by-blow accounts of games like 10-20 Hold 'em, Pot Limit Omaha and Seven Stud Hilo. "There is no reality away from the poker table," Mickey says. He may be right, but that exclusionary attitude will keep most readers standing "on the rail," watching the play without anteing a stake of their own. (May)