The 2009 World Series of Poker main event games are underway at the Rio poker room. While other events have been going on since May 26, the main event – No-Limit Texas Hold’em – started July 3 and will winnow down more than 6,000 entrants to a final table of nine by July 15. Those players will return Nov. 7-10 to play for a jackpot of $8.5 million.
Today’s Flashback Friday picture features the kings of poker circa 1973. From the left, we have Johnny Moss, Chill Wills, Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Jack Binion, and Walter Clyde “Puggy” Pearson all standing in front of Binion’s Horseshoe.
Johnny Moss won the 1970, 1971 and 1974 World Series of Poker main events. For the 1970 WSOP championship, he was actually elected by his fellow players as the winner. Moss played in every WSOP from 1970 through 1995, the year he died. In addition to his three championships, he also won six other WSOP bracelets for victories in a number of games.
Moss’ WSOP championships are amazing, but perhaps his greatest achievement was a “heads up” poker marathon against Nicholas Andreas “Nick the Greek” Dandolos at Binion’s Horshoe in 1951. The marathon lasted five months, from January to May. The game was set up by Benny Binion as way to attract tourist attention to his casino.
This 5-month poker match-up is credited as the inspiration behind the World Series of Poker. It also spawned what has become one of the most famous poker quotes. Down $2 million at the end of five months, Nick the Greek bowed out with the words, “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.”
Moss is by no means the only famous person in our photo. Chill Wills was a Hollywood actor who appeared in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “The Yearling,” “Rio Grande,” “The Alamo” (which earned him a best supporting actor nomination), “The Over-the-Hill Gang” and more. He also was a noted poker player and participated in the first World Series of Poker tournament.
Amarillo Slim has participated in a number of WSOP tournaments. He won the championship in 1972 and three other bracelets for No-Limit Hold‘em and Omaha. A film about Slim starring Nicolas Cage is under development.
Puggy Pearson won the 1973 WSOP championship defeating Johnny Moss. He has three more WSOP bracelets for Seven Card Stud and No Limit Hold’em. Pearson is credited with coming up with the idea of the freezeout tournament. Previously in poker a player could cash out their chips and leave at any time. In a freezeout tournament, play continues until one player has all the chips. WSOP mythos says that Pearson told his idea to Nick the Greek who shared it with Benny Binion. The freezeout format is what is used in the WSOP tournament.
Our final poker king is Jack Binion. Jack’s father, Benny Binion, may be a more colorful character in Vegas history having started Binion’s Horseshoe and set many of the policies that made it a favorite of gamblers. But Jack Binion is a legend in his own right. Jack Binion took over running the Horseshoe in 1963. He ran the hotel and hosted the first World Series of Poker. It was Jack Binion who helped shepherd the tournament through its early days. He continued to help promote Binion’s and the WSOP even after it was sold to Harrah’s Entertainment in 2004.
In 2005, Jack Binion was named to the Poker Hall of Fame joining Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim and Puggy Pearson. As of 2009, there are 39 members of the Poker Hall of Fame.