HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Poker used to be stuck in smoky back rooms and in paintings with dogs. But now it's moved into the foreground with a rise in popularity and commercial TV success.
Author and poker player James McManus is joining us from Chicago to talk about the game's surge and its run on to mainstream television. You also wrote a book about your experiences with a very famous poker tour. Tell us a little bit about that.
JAMES MCMANUS, AUTHOR, "POSITIVELY FIFTH STREET": First, good morning, Heidi. I want to say that for poker players, 8:00 in the morning on Sunday is the middle of the night.
COLLINS: They're still playing, aren't they?
MCMANUS: Yes, also, the tournaments tend to begin at the crack of noon. This is a funny time to be talking about poker.
COLLINS: It is, that's for sure, but it's all abuzz. Everybody is talking about it because of these different television programs. First and foremost, "Celebrity Poker." We're going to have a lot of people that we recognize playing this. I think it's become even more interesting in that now we can see the hands so we know when people are kind of screwing up, if they're betting wrong, or any of those things.
MCMANUS: Right. As recently as six months ago when it was broadcast on TV, it was like watching bears hibernate and smoke. The players, poker professionals, are good at not giving away information. Now with these hold card cameras, it's a thousand times more exciting. You have much more information than the two players have who are contesting the pot. So it's not only entertaining, it's extremely instructional to watch these broadcasts.
COLLINS: Talk to us if you could, go back just a little bit to the poker tournament you played in. Tell us about that paycheck you got.
MCMANUS: I — it was a very — it turned out to be a great assignment from "Harpers Magazine." They sent me out to cover the progress of women at the World Series in May of 2000. I interviewed three or four of the top women players, and then I, kind of on a whim, I decided to enter the tournament myself. I had some good luck in a satellite, or preliminary event, and I won a seat. And then, long story short, I played some really big pots against two of the women that I was covering, and I finished fifth. COLLINS: That's incredible. This was at Vinian's(ph), right?
MCMANUS: This was at the Horseshoe, right.
COLLINS: This is something that a lot of people, if they know anything about poker, know is a very big deal. In fact, I think I have a quote here from you that says, "My wife was extremely nervous, but wild horses couldn't have kept me away."
MCMANUS: No, most people who play poker seriously want to play in the World Series big one. I think even more interesting than what happened to me in 2000 is what happened this year with Chris Moneymaker. He played a $40 satellite on Poker Stars, won a $10,000 seat and parlayed it into 2.5 million at this year's World Series.
So, what happened with me and Moneymaker and a few other people, it shows that anybody can win these events. If you have reasonably good poker skills and you catch cards for three or four days, you can play and take the money from the top pros. They're going to get the money in the long run, but from time to time, regular folks can get in there and get lucky.
COLLINS: But what is it about watching it on TV? I'm assuming there are lots of people who don't play poker who are watching and loving it.
MCMANUS: I think most people who watch play a little poker. And before it was very, very hard to tell how the best players attacked pots in no limit. Now we can see they're in there raising and re- raising with absolutely nothing. More and more people are understanding now that it's aggression that wins — that takes the money in a big tournament. You need to be lucky and aggressive. It's a little bit — it's not so much about catching the best hands all the time. It's about defending your blinds and taking chances and forcing other players to make decisions they don't want to make.
COLLINS: All right. We appreciate you being with us, James McManus. "Celebrity Poker" coming up on Bravo. Going to be interesting to watch that one, as well. Thanks so much, James.
MCMANUS: You're welcome.