Cowboys Full, by James McManus

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The Independent Culture

How an obscure parlour amusement favoured by 18th-century French and Prussian aristocrats evolved into America's national pastime is the subject at hand here. Poker's popularity has spawned any number of how-to manuals, but 'Cowboys Full' (poker parlance for a full house with three kings) is an attempt, triumphantly realised, at a definitive history.

The narrative fizzes along through 500-plus pages, packed with arresting anecdotes detailing cheating techniques of Mississippi riverboat sharps, the perils of sitting down with Doc Holliday of OK Corral fame and the exploits of Texas banker Andy Beal, who took on the pros for stakes of up to $40m.

US presidents have been keen players: Barack Obama is apparently distinctly useful, while Richard Nixon funded his first election campaign with his wartime winnings, though to suggest that bluffing helped face down the Soviet Union during the Cold War is stretching things. But don't bet on anyone bettering this classic account.

Published in paperback by Souvenir Press, £14.99