Believe it or not, there are excellent novels out there with poker as the main theme. Many of these books have even been adapted into films.
Below is a list of 12 of the best poker novels for you to read and enjoy at home or on vacation, but more importantly, to complement your own online poker game.
Benefits of Reading Fictional Poker Books
When you’re not playing at an online casino, studying poker, or mixing it up at a brick-and-mortar live poker venue playing Texas Hold’em games, reading a good poker novel is a great way to spend your downtime.
Even if you don’t know how to play poker, you could still feel like a poker strategy master even before you’re halfway through reading a poker novel. These books provide an engaging and enjoyable way to enhance your understanding of the game and improve your poker skills.
By following the characters, their journeys and decisions, you can learn from their successes and mistakes. This can indirectly improve your own gameplay.
The Best Poker Books To Read
In the world of cinema, classic poker films such as “Casino Royale,” “The Cincinnati Kid” and “Molly’s Game” are adaptations of famous novels of the same name, while “Rounders” became a book adaptation of the movie.
Other than that, there aren’t too many famous poker titles that immediately spring to mind. Below is a list of 12 other poker novels that nonetheless come as great recommendations for poker players, along with their basic premise as well as a review of each.
1. “The Only Way To Play It” — Peter Alson
This novel tells the story of Nate Fischer, a former painter who begins to play clandestine cash games in the clubs of New York City. He must try to balance the game with raising a young daughter while dealing with his father, with whom he doesn’t have a great relationship.
Review: “This book is truly made for people who live and breathe the game.” — Amanda Botfeld.
2. “CARDS” — Jonathan Maxwell
A must-read for cash game players. It shows the harsh reality of those who spend all day in casinos playing live tables, fighting against variance. The protagonist also takes trips to Las Vegas and to France, where he plays at the Aviation Club.
Review: “Cards is one of the most engrossing poker novels you’ll read” — Ben Saxton
3. “Shut Up and Deal” — Jesse May
Published in 1998, this is a classic, realistic, and highly-recommended poker novel. The main character tries to make a living from playing cards by grinding through long sessions in the casinos of Atlantic City, California, and Las Vegas. This book brings alive that last phase in poker before the internet came along and caused a revolution with online poker tournaments and the move to play poker online.
Review: “Gritty and so realistically written that I could smell the cigarette smoke and desperation that are ubiquitous in any poker room.” — Goodreads
4. “King of a Small World” — Rick Bennett
This entertaining book tells the story of Joey, one of Maryland’s best live players in Washington. His life changes when he’s asked to be the boss of a casino while a rival commits suicide, and his ex-girlfriend gets pregnant.
Review: “That rare thing, a truly authentic novel about poker and the poker world.” — A. Alvarez
5. “Drawing Dead” — Rick Fuller
In this funny poker novel, a famous poker player dies before playing a final table at the WSOP in Las Vegas. The detective will have to get into the Rio Hotel & Casino to investigate possible suspects and solve the case.
Review: “Good characters, good writing and a good twisty murder mystery; what’s not to like?” – Goodreads
6. “The Big Blind” — Lavie Tidhar
A quick and entertaining read about a nun with poker skills who sneaks out at night to play cash games. When the convent is in danger of closing, she enters a major European tournament to try and save it.
Review: “Tidhar changes genres with every outing, but his astounding talents guarantee something new and compelling no matter the story he tells.” — Library Journal
7. “The Dark Side Of the Felt” — Tyler Nals
Accompany the protagonist as he plays cash games and illegal tournaments in very dangerous places. This novel is the first part of a trilogy that was made into a movie.
Review: “The book is written for poker lovers by a man who understands what the game is all about, and the world that revolves around it — something that can be much darker and deeper than everyday life, with a blurred line between gambling and addiction.” — Online Poker Books
8. “Final Table” — Dan Schorr
This one was published in 2021 and combines different contemporary topics such as social networks, sexual abuse, labor relations, and a high-stakes poker tournament in a disreputable country.
Review: “The plot was fast moving and interesting from the jump, featuring characters that are all flawed.” — Goodreads
9. “4 Bullets” — Tylar Nals and Steven Thompson
This biographical novel tells the incredible story of Costa Rican gambler Steven Thompson, who won $500K in live tournaments but, due to his addictions, lost everything.
Review: “This insane story is based on true events and isn’t for the faint of heart. It involves loan sharks, baseball bats, guns, alcohol, cocaine, gambling and the scariest thing of all: human nature.” — Amazon
10. “The One Knight Stand” — Marek Garcia
Chuck feels that he is living two different lives: by day, he is a diligent student, and by night he becomes a great poker player. He will find it difficult to live both lives and will have to choose between poker and studying.
Review: “A compelling and reflective story of addiction.” — Amazon
11. “Oscar and Lucinda” — Peter Carey
This period piece is set in the 19th century and won the 1988 Booker Prize. It tells the story of a couple who come together on a voyage from England to Australia and are united by a shared fascination with the poker table. There are no Bond-style multi-million dollar pots here, just a young couple playing penny bets for the love of the game.
Review: “A novel of extraordinary richness.” — Angela Carter
12. Dead Man’s Hand: Crime Fiction At the Poker Table
Finally, a compendium of tales that all feature the world’s most popular card game. Edited by Otto Penzler, it includes contributions from Walter Mosley, Laura Lippman, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver, and several others. If you enjoy poker and crime fiction, you’ll be delighted by every one of these tales and the way they weave the two together.
Review: “Dead Man’s Hand is a suspenseful anthology that’s a big winner for any fan of crime fiction.” — Amazon