THE RECENTLY published 52 Ways to Cheat at Poker promises to engage the conniving Thursday-night card player the way a book called, say, A Practical Guide to Shipbuilding might benefit a desert-island castaway. The title sure cuts to the chase. And while a butt-covering subtitle suggests that the book is intended to help "defend yourself against" a cardsharp's worst intentions, the author, Allan Zola Kronzek, knows better. Kronzek is a professional magician and illusionist, and as he writes in the introduction, 52 Ways descends from a centuries-old legacy of folks trying to figure out "how to sit down at the table with card players and steal their money without appearing to do anything out of the ordinary."
Over the course of this plainspoken, often entertaining volume, the reader will learn how to subtly deal from the bottom (or middle) of a deck; various ways to false-cut the cards; methods for colluding with your partners and a range of far more sophisticated maneuvers with rather enticing payoffs. As one chapter on a form of deck-stacking begins, "This is a quick and effective system for kick-starting any draw or stud poker hand with three of a kind." Sort of gives you a leg up, eh?
Kronzek, with his daughter Elizabeth, is also the author of the best-selling The Sorcerer's Companion: A Guide to the Magical World of Harry Potter. The prose in 52 Ways is clear and rarely dull, even when Kronzek explores technical nuances as all good how-to books must. Anecdotes about such things as cheaters narrowly escaping detection (and, presumably, a whupping) enliven the pages, as do a sprinkling of germane quotes and jokes ("Man: Say, isn't that a game of chance? W.C. Fields: Not the way I play it"). Of course reading these 192 pages won't make a cheat out of just anyone. You need supple hands, an excellent memory, a willingness to practice devotedly and, as Kronzek puts it, a "total absence of conscience or scruples."
If you've got those qualities in spades—or even if you're just a low-ante poker player with a mischievous streak—this little book, at $13 from Penguin publishing, could actually change your life.
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