To most folks he looked like just another old Texas cowboy in a pair of snakeskin boots and a Stetson, but he called himself the “World’s Greatest Gambler.” If you were walking with him down the street and you decided to cross, he would bet how many steps it would take you to get to the other side. He would bet on anything. He lived in a world where bluffing was acceptable, exaggerating was expected, and dealing from the bottom of the deck could cost you your life. He had been called a hustler, a charmer, a con man, a folk hero, and a Texas treasure. He could talk a hungry squirrel out of his acorns and always ordered his coffee in a dirty cup. He had won and lost more money than Chrysler, spent more time on TV than Al Capone; he’s been quoted more times than Abe Lincoln, and has told more stories than Andy Rooney.
Were all his stories true--who cares? He never forgot he was a promoter, a salesman, and a jokester. His tales were designed to entertain you; that was all that mattered. He had been an illegal bookmaker, a pool hustler, and a card shark. He single-handedly brought poker out of the back streets to the flat green tables of Las Vegas. He became nothing short of the face of poker. “I was just trying to make a buck,” he once said.
A tall, lanky character; he was not much to look at. Some said he was so skinny he had to run around in the shower to get wet. He once stated he hated to take a bath in the tub for fear of going down the drain. He had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead on several occasions. He wrote several books and e-books on poker, including No Limit Texas Hold’em and proposition bets. In May of 2003, he published his autobiography entitled, Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People. One look at you and he could read your entire hand. Amarillo Slim was all in from the day he was born.
Thomas Austin “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Jr., was born in Jackson, Arkansas, on December 31, 1938. As a teenager, Preston moved with his family from Jackson to Amarillo, Texas. There he met “Minnesota Fats,” and shooting pool became Slim’s first love. Slim learned from Fats the importance of conversation to get inside your opponent’s head. “Poker is a game of people. It’s not the hand I hold, it’s the people that I play with,” said Slim. He later met Doyle Brunson and “Sailor” Roberts. These three toured the country poker circuit in search of private games; they became known as “Rounders.” He claimed to have won $587,000 playing poker. He realized that he could get rich without having a job. As Archie Bunker would say, “Those were the days.”
His most famous quotation went like this: “If you can’t spot the sucker within the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.” Slim won a total of five World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, including the main event in 1972. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992. Between poker tournaments, Slim kept himself in the spotlight with outrageous proposition bets. He won $300,000 from Willie Nelson playing Dominoes in Las Vegas; Slim beat tennis legend Bobby Riggs in Ping-Pong using a frying pan; he beat Minnesota Fats in a game of one-pocket pool with a broom stick; and he beat Evel Knievel in a round of golf using a hammer to hit his ball instead of a club. He played poker with Richard Nixon, Mickey Rooney, Lyndon Johnson, and drug lord Pablo Escobar, took the New York Jets, Joe Namath, and the points in Super Bowl III against the Baltimore Colts, and smiled all the way to the bank. He won $31,000 from Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder by rafting down “The River of No Return” (Salmon River in Idaho) in winter, and placed a substantial bet that George W. Bush would be elected President of the United States in the year 2000. He even once wagered a cat could pick up a Coke bottle and won. He shot free-throws with a football and rode a camel through the Casino El Mamouria in Marrakech, Morocco. Like I told you, he would bet on anything.
He appeared on the Tonight Show eleven times. He also starred on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, A.M. Los Angeles, Georgia Today, What’s My Line, To Tell the Truth, The Tomorrow Show and I’ve Got a Secret. His secret was that he once lost $190,000 playing poker in a single night.
Slim was arrested in 2003, and charged with indecency with a 12-year-old girl who turned out to be his granddaughter. He pled guilty to a misdemeanor, paid the fine, and moved on. Slim said he pled guilty to save his family from the embarrassment of a trial. He later claimed he was innocent and had signed affidavits to prove it. Was he bluffing? Who knows? His plea also cost him a movie deal. Actor Nicholas Cage had met with Slim about a movie to be made about Amarillo Slim’s life with Cage playing his part. With the bad press associated with the charge, the movie deal dissolved.
Slim has been inducted into five different Halls of Fame, according to the Guinness Book of Records. They are: Poker, Gambling, Seniors, Legends of Texas and Legends of Nevada. Slim once said, “I never go looking for a sucker. I look for a Champion and make a sucker out of him.”
The word “tell,” used in poker, describes the signs a poker player uses when evaluating his hand. Any change in a player’s behavior may give a clue to how that player assesses his hand, especially if that tell is unconscious and reliable. An example of a player’s tells, could be his leaning forward or backward after looking at his cards. Fidgeting, doing chip tricks, breathing patterns, tone of voice, facial expressions or sweating, could also be signatures of how a player views his cards. There are also non-physical tells in poker. Speed of play, betting patterns, and the quantity of chips played could be dead give-a-ways. Being overly friendly, talkative or not making direct eye contact can be signs of bluffing. The underlying rule too many tells is: Weak means strong, strong means weak. Players holding weak hands try to attempt to convince others they have a strong hand; whereas players holding a strong hand try to disguise their hand as being weak. Remember, an unskilled player may misread a weak hand as a strong hand and thus make the wrong decision. Slim was a master at reading his opponents tells and therefore knew what cards they were holding in their hands. I found a list of Slim’s “Ten Keys to Success.” They are as follows:
Play the player, not your cards.
Choose the right opponents.
Never play with money you can’t afford to lose.
Don’t play many hands, but when you do be prepared to move all in.
The minute you sit down, you’re working.
Look for tells of your opponent before you look at your own hand.
Diversify your play so others can’t pick up your tells.
Play slowly in a fast game and fast in a slow game.
Be able to quit when losing and continue when winning.
Conduct yourself so you’re always invited back.
Amarillo Slim drew to an “inside straight” and came up empty on Sunday, April 29, 2012. Colon cancer always has “four of a kind.” He was 83 years old and has lost his last bet against death. I will leave you with a quotation the same way Amarillo Slim would have. “When a man with money meets a man with experience, the man with experience leaves with the money and the man with the money leaves with experience,” (Anonymous). Personally, I think Slim got away with both.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or [email protected]