The poker world lost one of the legends of the game a few weeks ago, Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston Jr. For at least 25 years, Slim was poker’s premiere ambassador. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992 and died at the age of 83.
1972′ WSOP Champion
Amarillo Slim won the 1972 World Championship and parlayed his gift of gab (which was better than Muhammed Ali and Minnesota Fats combined) and that WSOP title into a media three-ring circus. Nobody promoted poker better than Slim. He appeared on the Tonight Show eleven times and to my knowledge, no other poker player has ever been on the Tonight Show.
Talk the talk and sure walked the walk
I know a lot of players thought Slim talked a better game than he played, but make no mistake, he was a closer. He didn’t play a lot of tournaments, but the first four times he made a final table at the WSOP, he won the bracelet. The fifth time, he finished second to a young guy who was taking down his first of eight WSOP bracelets – none other than Phil Ivey.
Stories about Slim are legendary – the road games in Texas with Doyle Brunson and Sailor Roberts, his world-class pool skills, playing ping-pong against tennis champion Bobby Riggs and others using Coke bottles and skillets, his rafting trip down the River of No Return (in winter), his trademark cowboy boots, rattlesnake Stetson, gold buttons on his shirts, his talent at shooting free throws, playing golf, etc., etc., etc.. One thing I always loved about Slim – if he talked about something, he’d bet on it.
My first cash
My first cash in a poker tournament was at Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker in 1981 in Lake Tahoe. I’ll never forget it. I was so happy to cash because in Slim’s tournaments, only three places got paid. That’s right – 3 places – 60%, 30%, and 10%. He did that for years until he finally realized that he needed to pay more places to keep players happy. Slim believed that people played tournaments to “turn a toothpick into a lumberyard” and wondered why players would want a lot of payouts.
My favorite Amarillo Slim story happened in 1985 when many of the top players took a two-week vacation, cruising from NY to England on the QEII, staying in London for a week, and then flying back on the Concord. It was an amazing vacation. Eric Drache (TD at the WSOP at that time) put it all together and most of the biggest names in poker went on that trip (Doyle, Chip Reese, Puggy Pearson, Amarillo Slim, Bob Stupak, & actor Telly Savalas among others).
Anyone for tennis?
One day while in London, about 15 of us went to Wimbledon to watch the semi-finals. They had a medium size bus for us and I was sitting in the front row. Slim was standing in the front of the bus conducting his usual BS session. He finally said, “Who are we waiting on?” And someone said, “Mickey Appleman”. (Mickey’s hair always looks like a combo of Harpo Marx and Don King.) Slim quickly said, “Oh, he must be blow-drying his hair.”
Well, Mickey finally gets on the bus and all of a sudden the bus driver starts making a U-turn in the middle of the street. Traffic started screeching to a halt on both sides, and Slim’s knuckles turned white holding onto the pole. It really was frightening. Finally, after nobody hit us and we started down the road, Slim gathered his breath, turned to the bus driver and said, “Pardner, if you ever get tired of driving a bus, just let me know. I’d love to stake you playing poker ’cause you sure as hell aren’t afraid to move in on ’em.” It was classic.