Nolan Dalla

Book Review:  “Final Table” is a Winning Read



Final Table

Author — Dan Schorr

Sparkpress, 2021


Author Dan Schorr understands the tangled framework of people and places he’s writing about.  

Final Table, his debut novel, is a captivating read and a suspenseful journey with a powerful payoff.

From the very first word of chapter one, we’re not quite sure what to make of Kyler Dawson, the book’s emotionally-wrecked protagonist.  The professional poker player’s life is a total mess, mostly due to his own flaws and failings.  He’s not even on the right side of the story’s various moral and ethical conflicts.  Yet oddly enough, we find ourselves in his corner, rooting him on.

Maggie Raster couldn’t be more different from Kyle than night and day.  Yet, the Washington, D.C.-based political/media consultant, with her own fragility and deep vulnerabilities, somehow becomes Kyle’s road map and a beacon of stability, though she’s teetering on a rocky foundation.  Unfazed by her own desperation, she’s his lighthouse in a colorless sea of fog.  However, the embers of conscience do take their toll.

Merging these two very different people, polar opposites really, initially with no understanding whatsoever of each other or what they do for a living in the disparate worlds of high-stakes gambling and international politics is artfully stitched together by writer Schorr, who commands obvious real-world expertise in both arenas.  Schorr, a former New York prosecutor and adjunct professor at Fordham University, seems to be writing about what he knows best.  On every page, we’re treated not only to the credible true-to-life narrative but perceptive insights into what causes people to do what they do and act the way they act.  Schorr, who has spent much of his professional career uncovering sex crimes and has appeared numerous times on national media outlets including CNN, Fox, Good Morning America, and the Law & Crime Network, is also a committed part-time poker player.  He even used various experiences at the tables, including playing in World Series of Poker events, in his story.

Though Final Table appears to be a poker book, it’s more of a people story.  Without ever naming any real poker players or identifying public figures, or even using the names of actual countries where the action takes place, Schorr’s clever descriptions and attention to detail lead to some speculation as to his inspirations.  For instance, we learn about a broke poker champion who blew his entire winnings — $8.8 million.  We’re faced with the moral quandary of pure self-interest versus nobler virtues.  We’re forced to ponder our own decisions as to what we’d do and how we’d behave given the same circumstances of these fictional characters.  Mostly, there are no black and white answers — only murky grey predicaments.

The book’s very best moments dig into these conflicts and mixed emotions, both external and internal.  Kyle, the now broke former World Series of Poker champion, is given the chance to compete in a $20 million freeroll tournament.  The prize money isn’t just a financial boon, it’s personal salvation.  The problem is, the poker tournament is to take place in a fictional country named “the Kingdom,” presumably a cross between North Korea and Saudi Arabia, only with a much worse human rights record (imagine that).  Schorr, who spent real time teaching in China and has navigated similar diplomatic waters, knows this territory well.  And so, the stage is set for a most riveting “Final Table.”  But as with all wars, this battle is always won before the first shot is fired, or in poker parlance, the first card gets dealt.  The journey to this final shuffle of fates makes the story.  The payoff isn’t the final table, it’s the journey getting there.

Other characters are and subplots are equally compelling.  Without giving away any of the suspenseful details, what we observe through these imperfect characters is the essence of our own souls and the discovery of what makes us all tick.

Final Table is frequently an intense read with graphic language without ever seeming gratuitous.  It’s wonderfully crafted into short chapters, zig-zagging through the lives of quasi-fictional people and players we know will inevitably end up impacting each other, which makes for a freewheeling and fast-moving thriller that never feels rushed nor lacking details.

Now available at Amazon and at, most readers of this intriguing novel will feel the buy-in was well worth it.

It’s as good as a guaranteed in-the-money finish.


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