Stan’s Lists – Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker


[RR] “Are you guys going to a Super Bowl Party on Sunday?” Roderick the Rock polled.

[SS] “Yep”, Stan the Stat acknowledged.

[FF] “Sure”, Figaro the Fish responded. “I always do.”

[LL] “Kind of”, Leroy the Lion wavered. “I always go to a Super Bowl Commercial Party. We watch the game, but the stars of the night are the commercials, which we vote on to determine a favorite.”

[RR] “You know what I hate the most about Super Bowl Sunday?” Roderick asked rhetorically.

[RR] “When the game’s over, I know there won’t be another meaningful NFL game for seven months!”

[SS] “Maybe so, but did you guys know that there was once another Super Bowl just a few weeks after the Super Bowl?”

[RR] “What, the Bud Bowl?”

[FF] “The Lingerie Bowl?”

[LL] “The Puppy Bowl?”

[SS] “No, those all took place during the Super Bowl, and none of them are called a Super Bowl anyway.”

[FF] “The Canadian Football League’s Super Bowl?”

[SS] “It’s called the Grey Cup, and it’s in November.”

[LL] “Arena Football League?”

[SS] “ArenaBowl in August.”

[FF] “NFL Europe?”

[SS] “World Bowl in June.”

[LL] “XFL?”

[SS] “Million Dollar Game in April…1

No, I’m talking about the Super Bowl of Poker!”

{ Multiple groans. }

[SS] “Hey, I never said anything it had anything to do with football. Anyway in 1979, Amarillo Slim Preston thought the poker world was big enough to support a second large festival besides the World Series of Poker, so he created the Super Bowl of Poker. Just a few weeks after the Steelers beat the Cowboys 35-31 in Super Bowl XIII, the Hilton in Las Vegas hosted the inaugural event. Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker lasted until 1991 in Nevada, then reappeared once in Los Angeles in 1996.

So this year is not only the fiftieth Super Bowl but also the 20th anniversary of the last Super Bowl of Poker (the 25th if you don’t count L.A.).”

[FF] “What happened to it?”

[SS] “Preston’s idea was probably sound, but it lacked continuity, jumping around to seven different casinos2 in four cities in just a dozen years. The last consecutive event, in 1991, was at the Flamingo in Laughlin, Nevada, a full 125 miles from Las Vegas, and only a dozen players entered its Main Event.

The other problem was that the event didn’t attracted many non-pros, so attendance never grew much. The Main Event had 30 players in 1979 but only reached 55 at its highest, while the World Series of Poker was growing every year even before online poker took off.3

Here’s the complete list of Main Event winners and runners-up:4

Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker Main Event

Year Winner Prize Entrants5 Cashed Runner-Up
1979 George Huber $150,000 30 7 Robert Bone
1980 Gabe Kaplan $190,000 25 2 Perry Green
1981 Junior Whited $130,000 26 3 Perry Green
1982 Ed Stevens $195,000 51 4 Tony Salinas
1983 Hans Lund $275,000 55 7 Jack Straus
1984 Stu Ungar $275,000 55 6 Ralph Morton
1985 Mickey Appleman $205,000 41 7 Dewey Tomko
1986 Billy Walter $175,000 36 9 Richard Klamian
1987 Jack Keller $220,000 44 7 Chip Reese
1988 Stu Ungar $210,000 42 7 Jack Keller
1989 Stu Ungar $205,000 41 7 Len Miller
1990 T.J. Cloutier $240,000 48 7 Jack Keller
1991 Jack Keller $52,250 12 3 Berry Johnston
1996 Johnny Chan $27,600 11 3 Russ Hamilton

Notes:

  • First place always included a special prize. In 1979 Huber got custom-made, $3,000 cowboy boots. In 1980, Kaplan got a 3-foot loving cup, which became a regular prize. In 1983, Lund got a Super Bowl of Poker ring worth about $20,000. Other bonus prizes included a 1935 Auburn Boattail Speedster, a Jeep, and a Coleman trailer.6
  • Stu Ungar was the only player to win the Main Event three times, and the only player to win back-to-back.
  • Jack Keller was the only other player to win twice.
  • Jack Keller had the most Main Event cashes (two 1sts, two 2nds, and a 5th), one more than Ungar (three 1sts and a 3rd), Green (two 2nds, a 4th, and a 5th), and Chip Reese (a 2nd, a 4th, a 6th, and a 9th).
  • The 1996 event was actually a “Tournament of Champions” (the three players who cashed were all WSOP Main Event winners, but that’s probably a coincidence). Somewhat fittingly, Amarillo Slim himself was the last player paid, placing third, albeit for just $4,600.7

Footnotes:

  1. The XFL played only one season, 2001.
  2. The venues were: 1979 Hilton Las Vegas, 1980-81 Sahara Reno, 1982-84 Sahara Lake Tahoe, 1985 High Sierra Lake Tahoe, 1986 Caesars Lake Tahoe, 1987-90 Caesars Las Vegas, 1991 Flamingo Laughlin, and 1996 Bicycle Los Angeles.
  3. The WSOP Main Event had 54 players in 1979, 215 in 1991, and 295 in 1996.
  4. Despite significant research on this, I was only able to find five of the final hands:
    • 1983: Lund’s 95 vs. Straus’s T9 offsuit got it all in on the turn on a 25987 board.
    • 1984: Ungar’s QQ vs. Morton’s 99 on a Q♦K♣2♣ flop with blanks on the turn and river.
    • 1985: Appleman’s 8♣8♠ held up against Tomko’s A2.
    • 1986: Walter’s 9♠8♣ called a pre-flop all-in from Klamian’s K♦5♦, flopped a straight with 6♦T♦7♣, and faded the flush outs.
    • 1987: Keller’s 5♠2♠ checked behind after Reese’s Q♦J♥ limped and flopped a major draw with Q♠3♦4♠. Keller check-raised and called Reese’s shove. The 2♦ turn didn’t help enough but the river 6♣ gave Keller the winning straight.

    And I could only identify four of the bubble boys: Tony Salinas (1979, 8th), Roger Van Ausdall (1981, 4th), Al Ethier (1982, 5th), and Gabe Kaplan (1985, 8th). Kaplan had the misfortune of bubbling three events that year.

  5. The number of players isn’t completely certain for 1980 and 1982.
  6. Source: From the Poker Vaults: Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker, Part I. Story continued in Part II.
  7. The Main Event buyin was $10,000. In 1996, the Tournament of Champions buyin was $5,000 or less (probably a freeroll), as the prize pool was only $46,000 for 11 players.

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