Mark's Poker Tables were praised by Jim McManus in the New York Times, Dec. 10 '05

"Gifts for the Card Sharks
on Your List"

By James McManus
New York Times
Published: December 10, 2005

With Festivus looming again, harried shoppers may be scratching their dry, flaky scalps about what to pick up for the choosiest pokerati on their list. Here are some suggestions.

Plastic poker decks will sharply upgrade the feel of almost any home game. Once your loved ones shuffle and play with them, they will never go back to stiff, easily crinkled paper decks. Plastic cards aren't cheap -- about $30 for a two-deck setup -- but the more often one plays, the more worth the price they become. Among the most flexible and long-lasting are Kem decks fashioned from cellulose acetate.

Plastic, on the other hand, is what you want to avoid when buying chips. The best ones are fired from clay, and the heavier the better. Casino-quality 13-gram chips cost about a dollar apiece. You can order them with your significant other's nickname or other endearing logo printed in the center. Unless your home game never has more than five players, you will need about 400, in at least three colors.

Flimsy plastic chips are difficult to stack and bet with; worse, it's well nigh impossible to riffle two stacks of them together one-handed, the ultimate act of dexterous poker cool. To help achieve this and other deft fingering feats, why not try ''The Official Poker Chip Tricks'' DVD?

Then too, a primer on how to play actual poker can make an excellent present. Most of these will pay for themselves many times over, assuming your spouse has reasonable study habits and discipline and doesn't have hideous luck or spend too much time doing chip tricks.

The sine qua nons for the serious tournament player are Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie's two-volume ''Harrington on Hold 'em'' and David Sklansky's ''Theory of Poker.'' Anyone who enters a no-limit event without having read these three books is considerably reducing the chances of making money, let alone finishing first.

Other invaluable handbooks include ''Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold 'em'' by T. J. Cloutier and Tom McEvoy; ''Super System 2'' by Doyle Brunson and other experts; ''Phil Gordon's Little Green Book''; Barry Shulman's ''52 Tips for Texas Hold'em Poker''; ''The Book of Bluffs'' by Matt Lessinger; ''Aces and Kings'' by Michael Kaplan and Brad Reagan; ''Kill Phil'' by Blair Rodman and Lee Nelson; and the first two titles from the World Poker Tour, ''Shuffle Up and Deal'' by Mike Sexton, and ''Making the Final Table'' by Erick Lindgren. For beginners, I recommend Mr. Sexton's book as well as ''No-Limit Texas Hold 'em'' by Brad Daugherty and Mr. McEvoy.

Amazing but true poker narratives include A. Alvarez's classic ''The Biggest Game in Town''; Anthony Holden's ''Big Deal''; ''Poker Face'' by Katy Lederer; ''Telling Lies and Getting Paid'' by Michael Konik; ''One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey 'the Kid' Ungar'' by Nolan Dalla and Peter Alson; ''I'm All In'' by Lyle Berman; ''The Making of a Poker Player'' by Matt Matros; ''The Education of a Poker Player'' by Herbert O. Yardley; ''The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King'' by Michael Craig; ''All In,'' an irreverent history of the World Series of Poker by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback; and the demurely titled ''Annie Duke: How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker.''

Those interested in the game's moral hygiene, along with gorgeous (if captionless) photographs and sophisticated advice on tournaments and ultra-high-stakes side action, will enjoy Barry Greenstein's ''Ace on the River,'' which illuminates issues of ethics in poker.

Compelling poker novels include ''Bucking the Tiger'' by Bruce Olds, ''Shut Up and Deal'' by Jesse May and ''King of a Small World'' by Rick Bennet. The game is also featured in some larger-world literature: ''The Professor's Yarn'' by Mark Twain, ''From Here to Eternity'' by James Jones, ''The Music of Chance'' by Paul Auster, ''American Buffalo'' by David Mamet, and Tennessee Williams's ''A Streetcar Named Desire,'' whose original title was ''The Poker Night.''


For alongside the Festivus pole, a table might be just the ticket. The table, after all, is the fundamental plane of poker architecture, providing dimensions and skin for its contentious clockwise camaraderie. Some of the poshest are Mark Lackley's custom-made cherry tables with ebony inlays, which run from $8,500 to $15,000. Eminently serviceable models, however, are widely available for roughly $300. An even less expensive option is a folding table top, which keeps cards from sliding uncontrollably and dampens the clatter of chips across wood or Formica.

Envelopes fit into stockings, of course, but what to slide into the envelope? Those feeling flush might suss out a week when their life partner won't have to work, identify a World Series of Poker Circuit or a World Poker Tour event taking place on those days -- ideally in a city they would both like to visit -- then buy two airline tickets, make a hotel reservation and perhaps stuff enough cash in the envelope to enter the tournament. To offset this expense, perhaps only one of the seats has to be in first class. Perhaps not.

Photo: Shuffling up and dealing as if you mean it requires plastic cards and clay chips. (Photo by

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