Poker players take part in the 2004 World Series of Poker Tournament in Las Vegas.

Poker players take part in the 2004 World Series of Poker Tournament in Las Vegas.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

(00:36:28)

Click Here to Play Audio
Download

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.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Support for WHRO comes from
Support for WHRO comes from