“Johnny Moss: Poker’s Finest Champion of Champions” Review

[LL] “Stuey Ungar’s autobiography ended up as a biography, and so did Johnny Moss’s”, Leroy the Lion mentioned.

[RR] “He died while it was being written, too?” Roderick the Rock wondered.

[LL] “No, I guess they didn’t want to pretend that he wrote it with his second grade education. And this was back in 1981, so maybe ghostwriting wasn’t as popular.”

[RR] “Didn’t Philip Roth write a novel called ‘The Ghost Writer’ around then?”

{… checks Wikipedia …}

“Yes, in 1979.”

[LL] “Well, whatever the case, Don Jenkins gets full credit as the author of Johnny Moss: Poker’s Finest Champion of Champions, while Moss probably supplied most of the material.

Although Moss may have spent a large portion of his life playing poker, he recounts very few hands that don’t involve cheating. A couple of the more interesting hands are from the legendary Johnny Moss-Nick ‘The Greek’ Dandolos marathon, of which Moss’s recollection, then over three decades old, is fairly unreliable. The year is said to be 1949 while the location is the Horseshoe, which didn’t open until 1951, so at least one of those ‘facts’ is wrong. Relative to the casino, ‘Benny set up the game so that it could be easily seen by the tourists.’1 This was later misconstrued by other writers to mean ‘in front of the casino’. ‘He was sure that they would flock to the rail to watch a game where the stakes would be so high that they could see, in any one hand, more money than they would probably see throughout their entire lifetimes.'”1

[RR] “Actually, it would make sense to put them deep inside the casino, so anyone who wanted to watch would have to walk by the slot machines and gaming tables.”

[LL] “One of the hands from the supposed five-month marathon is the famous one where Dandolos sucked out to win a pot of over a half million dollars in Five-Card Stud and the other is a lesser-known one where ‘The Greek’ was even luckier to take a big Lowball pot of over a quarter million dollars on a successful two-card draw.”

[LL] “After opening with that story, the rest of the book progresses chronologically, starting with Moss’s birth in Marshall, Texas on May 14, 1907. His family was so poor, he dropped out of school at age eight to make money reselling newspapers. He later had various non-gambling jobs: truck driver a couple of times, security from striking workers, and two years in the Navy, but mostly, he made his money either by gambling (first dominoes then poker) or helping in or running gambling rooms.

Once he learned how to play all the popular games, he became such a successful gambler that his bankroll once reached $10 million. But like many top poker players, he had tremendous leaks: craps, horses, and sports betting. He couldn’t beat any of those and once even owed over half a million dollars from dice alone. He also gambled a lot on the golf course, where he could shoot in the high 70s, but the book doesn’t indicate how he fared overall.

Overall, this is a great biography of Johnny Moss’s first 73 years, but even though he was a tremendous poker player2 there is very little about him actually playing poker. It’s unfortunate that the pinnacle of his poker career, the World Series of Poker (and the Texas Gambler’s Conventions3 that preceded it), somehow only merited a brief six-page chapter near the end of the book.

The book has a half dozen historic black and white photos of Moss4 sprinkled throughout and ends with a chapter of excellent color photos and very brief biographies of Ungar, Bobby Baldwin, Hal Fowler, Pug Pearson, Chip Reese, Crandell Addington, Sailor Roberts, Amarillo Slim Preston, Doyle Brunson, and an assortment of other poker players of the era.”

Title Johnny Moss: Poker’s Finest Champion of Champions
Author Don Jenkins
Year 1981
Skill Level Any
Pros Great stories about Moss’s life, including road gambling and handling cheating.
Cons Very little actual poker and especially disappointingly little about his three WSOP championships.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. Page 5.
  2. The cover of the book calls Moss “the greatest poker player of our time”.
  3. Chapter 24 claims that Moss was voted “King of Cards” for his poker prowess and given a silver cup in both 1968 and 1969, but other sources (e.g., Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2, page 79 say that the first year only offered blackjack, craps, and roulette.
  4. The photos cover a wide age range from Moss as a child to his discharge from the Navy at 38.
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