When the World Series of Poker began in 1970, it was a pretty modest affair — seven veterans of the game competing for just the honor, no prize money. Today, more than 6,000 players pay the $10,000 entrance fee for the No-Limit Texas Hold 'em Tournament. ESPN televises the final table, and last year the winner took home more than $8 million in prize money.
Novelist Colson Whitehead was a decent amateur card player when Grantland made him an offer: They'd pay his $10,000 entrance fee if he'd spend a few weeks training, then enter the World Series of Poker and write about it for them. The result is Whitehead's new book, The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death, a sharp observational tale of the game, those who play it and how his experience in the big show changed him.
Whitehead is a past recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. His other books include Sag Harbor and Zone One. Click the audio link above to listen to Whitehead's interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross.