“Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People” Review

[LL] “Amarillo Slim Preston’s life story parallels Byron Wolford’s in many ways”, Leroy the Lion began. “They were born in the South less than two years apart around the Great Depression. Both made an unconventional living before poker, Preston playing pool, and Wolford roping calves. Both formerly worked illegally as bookies. Both were charismatic hustlers who loved prop bets and became road gamblers. Both dressed like cowboys when they played poker. Both excelled at No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em, their favorite game. And their tournament results were comparable. Slim won four WSOP bracelets and had eleven cashes to Cowboy’s one and nine, while Wolford won almost twice as much money.”

[SS] “Were they friends?” Stan the Stat wondered.

[LL] “Yes, although Preston never moved to Las Vegas like Wolford did. Wolford evoked tears reading his poem about Preston at Slim’s Poker Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 1992.”

[LL] “The biggest thing that set them apart, and it was a pretty big thing, was that Preston won the WSOP Main Event, while Wolford’s best result was second place. Amarillo Slim converted his victory into a tremendous amount of publicity for both himself and poker, appearing on television regularly and becoming the most recognizable poker player in the world for decades. Preston was like Wolford, only bigger, badder, and crazier. And so it is with their two books; Amarillo Slim’s autobiography has more interesting stories from his more exciting life.

Born as Thomas Preston in Arkansas, by high school he went by his middle name Austin or his nickname ‘Curly’. But when he sprouted straight up to 6’3″, he became ‘Slim’. At 16 years old, he met legendary pool hustler Minnesota Fats1 and decided that he would henceforth go by the moniker ‘Amarillo Slim’. At 20, he stole his friend’s girlfriend and got married only a few months later. For most of the 1950’s his wife Helen, their son Thomas Austin Preston III, and he traveled the country where he would hustle pool, often with the family there to help him look like an amateur. When their daughter Rebecca was born in 1959, though, Preston decided that poker was a relatively more stable way to make a living. He left his family behind and became partners with Doyle Brunson, sharing transportation, lodging, and a bankroll. They were also bookies for a while but exited the business when the 1961 Federal Wire Act2 made it too risky even for them.”

[SS] “The threat of a long jail sentence can do that.”

[LL] “They were also doing well enough playing poker to want to focus on it. It’s too bad the book doesn’t show much of their actually playing. This is a story book that happens to be about a poker player, not a poker strategy book that happens to have some stories.”

[RR] “Couldn’t it have been both?”

[LL] “There is some implicit poker advice throughout the book, such as in the detailed recounting of the 1972 WSOP Main Event. At least Preston does dedicate one short section to lay out:

Amarillo Slim’s Top Ten Keys to Poker Success

  1. Play the players…
  2. Choose the right opponents…
  3. Never play with money you can’t afford to lose.
  4. Be tight and aggressive…
  5. Always be observing…
  6. Watch the other players for “tells”…
  7. Diversify your play…
  8. Choose your speed based on the direction of the game…
  9. Be able to quit a loser…
  10. Conduct yourself honorably…”

[SS] “That’s better advice than I’ve read in some entire poker books.”

[LL] “Nevertheless, you want to read this for the stories, which are plentiful. Amarillo Slim crossed paths with many famous gamblers and several non-poker celebrities, including singers Kenny Rogers3 and Willie Nelson (beat him in dominoes); Presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson; actors George Segal, Elliott Gould, and Bob Hope; television host Johnny Carson; and daredevil Evel Knievel (whom he beat in a golf match employing a hammer for a club).”4

Title Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People
Author Amarillo Slim Preston and Greg Dinkin
Year 2003 (paperback 2005)
Skill Level Any
Pros Very entertaining tales from a Texas road gambler.
Cons Not much actual poker.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. Rudolf Walter Wanderone Jr. called himself “New York Fats” until The Hustler, based on the Walter Tevis novel of the same name, came out in 1961. Wanderone initially sued Tevis for his Minnesota Fats character but eventually realized that he’d benefit much more by actually becoming “Minnesota Fats”.
  2. The 1961 Federal Wire Act made it illegal to transmit across state lines any information that could be used to place bets.
  3. Although Amarillo Slim claims to have helped Kenny Rogers write his famous song, “The Gambler”, the story appears apocryphal. Don Schlitz wrote the song in 1976, and Rogers had already made the major change from “You gotta know when to hold up, know when to fold up” to “… hold ’em,… fold ’em” before Preston got involved. The next line, which Preston claims to have inspired — “Know when to walk away, know when to run” — was already in the song.
  4. Preston also famously defeated top tennis pro and renowned hustler Bobby Riggs in table tennis by stipulating that frying pans would serve as paddles. Once that ruse became known, Amarillo Slim beat a later opponent, a professional table tennis player, by switching to coke bottles. Therein lies the key to a successful prop bet: Preston would practice ahead of time to ensure he had the advantage.
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