WSOP Main Event Runners-Up Playing Cards: The Treys

[LL] “The next group covers 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979 (Addington having repeated in 1978)”, Leroy the Lion said. “Here are the Treys:”1

Bob Hooks

3

Bob Hooks

3
Bob Hooks – 1975
Born: 1929/08/18 (Edgewood, TX)
WSOP Main Event: never cashed
WSOP Bracelets: 0
WSOP Cashes: 0
WPT Titles: 0
Live Earnings: $0
Quote: “[Johnny Moss] took a liking to me. I’d take him every week to Waco. He would swap me 10 percent. As time drew on, he wanted to swap quarters. I was getting to where I was a little bit better of a player I guess. Soon, people were calling me Johnny Moss’s boy.” — Bob Hooks (November 28, 2013 PokerNews interview by Chad Holloway).
  • Texas road gambler who learned from Johnny Moss.
  • Runner-up to his roommate Sailor Roberts in 1975 WSOP Main Event, but rumor says they had made a deal before the end of the tournament.

Jesse Alto

3

Jesse Alto

3
Jesse Alto – 1976
Born: 1927/01/01 (Mexico)
WSOP Main Event: 3rd (1984)
WSOP Bracelets: 0
WSOP Cashes: 8
WPT Titles: N/A
Live Earnings: $459,995
Quote: “When he was playing his best, Jesse was one of the greatest Hold ‘Em players in the world, but he wasn’t always on top of his game. Age had done nothing to mellow his hair-trigger temper.” — Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback (All In, p. 123, regarding the 1984 WSOP Main Event final table).
  • Runner-up to Doyle Brunson in the winner-take-all 1976 WSOP Main Event.
  • Also final tabled the WSOP Main Event in 1978 (5th for $21,000), 1985 (6th for $42,000), 1986 (4th for $62,700), and 1988 (9th for $21,000).

Gary Berland

3

Gary Berland

3
Gary Berland – 1977
Born: 1950/05/09 (Gardena, CA)
WSOP Main Event: 3rd (1986)
WSOP Bracelets: 5
WSOP Cashes: 11
WPT Titles: N/A
Live Earnings: $390,801
Quote: “I used to be skinny.” — Gary Berland (sarcastically explaining why he was nicknamed “Bones”, even though he was still just 140 pounds; All In, p. 57).
  • Also finished 2nd in the WSOP Main Event in 1977 when Doyle Brunson took the only prize.
  • Died of a rare blood disorder when he was only 37.

Bobby Hoff

3

Bobby Hoff

3
Bobby Hoff – 1979
Born: 1939/12/14 (Victoria, TX)
WSOP Main Event: 2nd (1979)
WSOP Bracelets: 0
WSOP Cashes: 11
WPT Titles: 0
Live Earnings: $534,639
Quote: “If I were going to make a perfect game for myself, I’d play pot-limit before the flop and no-limit after the flop. What hurts no-limit hold ’em…, is the big reraise before the flop. You get a shutout. And often the first reraise, from the big blind, is a shutout raise. You just can’t make that play in pot-limit.” — Bobby Hoff (interview in Harrington on Cash Games, Volume II, 2008).
  • Finished 12th in the 1998 WSOP Main Event ($40,000), 13th in 1990 ($12,500), and 25th in 1993 ($12,000).
  • After reading Ed Thorpe’s “Beat the Dealer”, played on a blackjack team until they were banned everywhere in Vegas.

Footnotes:

  1. This deck doesn’t really physically exist; the versions here are lovingly crafted from JPEGs, CSS, and HTML.

    Cards may not display properly unless you view this post by itself.

    Stats current as of May 1, 2019.

    Caricatures and cards are Copyright © 2019 Robert Jen and were created with help from the now-defunct iOS app Caricature Me and the MacOS app Photoshop Elements.

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WSOP Main Event Runners-Up Playing Cards: The Deuces

[LL] “The WSOP Main Event Runners-Up playing card deck will be complete with 52 cards in 2026 (except in the unlikely event that somebody repeats as a second place finisher), but here are the first 45 cards of the WSOP Main Event Runners-Up playing card deck”, Leroy the Lion stated.

Here are the Deuces:”1

Jack Straus2

2

Jack Straus

2
Jack Straus – 1971
Born: 1930/06/16 (Travis, TX)
WSOP Main Event: 1st (1982)
WSOP Bracelets: 2
WSOP Cashes: 3
WPT Titles: N/A
Live Earnings: $830,269
Poker
Hall of Fame
1988
Quote: “I think Texans just got a lot more guts has a lot to do with it, most other folks just don’t take the heat when you start playin’ real poker. In Texas you grow up playin’ poker, it’s a Texas game.” — Jack Straus (1973 Texas Monthly interview).
  • Nicknamed “Treetop” for his great height (6’7″) and bushy hair.
  • Became the source of the phrase, “a chip and a chair”, when he came back from a single, napkin-hidden chip to win the 1982 WSOP Main Event.

Puggy Pearson

2

Puggy Pearson

2
Puggy Pearson – 1972
Born: 1929/01/29 (Adairville, KY)
WSOP Main Event: 1st (1973)
WSOP Bracelets: 4
WSOP Cashes: 12
WPT Titles: 0
Live Earnings: $443,480
Poker
Hall of Fame
1987
Quote: “The real things to know is that folks will stand to lose more than they will to win. That’s the most important percentage there is. I mean, if they lose, they’re willin’ to lose everything. If they win, they’re usually satisfied to win enough to pay for dinner and a show. The best gamblers know that.” — Puggy Pearson.
  • Convinced Benny Binion to make the 1971 Main Event a freezeout poker tournament after only cash games were played in 1970.
  • Became the first player to win three events in one WSOP in 1973.

Johnny Moss

2

Johnny Moss

2
Johnny Moss – 1973
Born: 1907/05/14 (Marshall, TX)
WSOP Main Event: 1st (1970, 1971, 1974)
WSOP Bracelets: 9
WSOP Cashes: 27
WPT Titles: N/A
Live Earnings: $1,254,859
Poker
Hall of Fame
1979
Quote: “You have to learn what kind of hand this guy shows down, what that one’s moves, watch the veins in his neck, watch his eyes, the way he sweats.” — Johnny Moss (1975).
  • Tied with Phil Ivey for the most WSOP bracelets in a decade (7 in the 1970s).
  • Won a record 7 WSOP bracelets in the 1970s, the most in a decade.

Crandell Addington

2

Crandell Addington

2
Crandell Addington – 1974 & 1978
Born: 1938/06/23 (Graham, TX)
WSOP Main Event: 2nd (1978)
WSOP Bracelets: 0
WSOP Cashes: 3
WPT Titles: 0
Live Earnings: $162,350
Poker
Hall of Fame
2005
Quote: “One of the most colorful and greatest players in poker history.” — Doyle Brunson (“Super System 2”, 2005).
  • Also finished second in the WSOP Main Event in 1974 and 1976 when the event was winner-take-all.
  • Finished in the final ten of the WSOP Main Event seven times (although only one of those was a cash).

Footnotes:

  1. This deck doesn’t really physically exist; the versions here are lovingly crafted from JPEGs, CSS, and HTML.

    Cards may not display properly unless you view this post by itself.

    Stats current as of May 1, 2019

    Caricatures and cards are Copyright © 2019 Robert Jen and were created with help from the iOS app Caricature Me and the MacOS app Photoshop Elements.

  2. While Puggy Pearson is generally also credited with a second place finish in 1971, no evidence backs this up. In Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People, page 158, Preston goes on record that it was Jack Straus who was the runner-up, while he himself finished third. It’s very possible that Pearson’s second place finish in 1972 is the source of the confusion; it’s unlikely that nobody would mention a three-year run of second-second-first when he won the title in 1973.

Related Links:

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2019 WSOP Schedule


[SS] “It’s a great year for round numbers”, Stan the Stat teased.

[LL] “What do you mean?” Leroy the Lion played along.

[SS] “Well, it’s the 50th World Series of Poker1 with 89 bracelet events,2 including two new tournaments with a $400 buyin, five at $500,3 six at $600, and three at $800. Most of those are online events as nine of those were added after the initial schedule was released.”

[LL] “Is that the most low-buyin events ever?”

[SS] “Indeed. Obliterated last year’s record of eight sub-$1,000 events by nine.”

[LL] “Did any events get removed?”

[SS] “Just the Big One for One Drop, which is held every even year.

And the waste of time it took for everyone to ante, at least in Texas Hold ‘Em events, where big blind antes are now standard.”4

[LL] “What else is new?”

[SS] “More chips. The Main Event will start with 60,000 chips instead of 50,000. Almost all the other buyin-levels are also starting with more chips.5

There’s a new $10,000 short deck Hold ‘Em event (where flushes are worth more than full houses), a $50,000 NLHE High Roller for 50th ‘anniversary’, and a $500 Salute to Warriors tournament (where $40 from each entry goes to the USO and other veteran organizations), and a $1,500 Bracelet Winners Only No-Limit Hold ‘Em.

Here’s how the schedule compares to last year by game type, limit type, and buyin:

WSOP Event Comparison: 2018 vs. 2019

By Game Type:

Game Type 2018 2019 Change
Hold ‘Em 43 55 +12
Lowball 6 6 0
Omaha 14 13 -1
Stud 4 4 0
Mixed Games 11 11 0

By Limit Type:

Limit Type 2018 2019 Change
Limit 15 14 -1
Pot-Limit 14 13 -1
No-Limit 41 53 +12
Mixed-Limit 8 9 +1

By Buyin:

Buyin 2018 2019 Change
$365 3 0 -3
$400 0 2 +2
$500 0 5 +5
$565 4 0 -4
$600 0 6 +6
$800 0 3 +3
$888 1 1 0
$1,000 11 13 +2
$1,111 1 1 0
$1,500 24 24 0
$2,500 4 4 0
$2,620 1 1 0
$3,000 6 6 0
$3,200 1 1 0
$5,000 3 3 0
$10,000 15 16 +1
$25,000 1 1 0
$50,000 2 2 0
$100,000 1 1 0
$1,000,000 1 0 -1

This year’s WSOP kicks off with the $500 (down from $565) Casino Employees event on May 29 and ends with a $5,000 No-Limit Hold ‘Em tournament from July 15 to 16. The Main Event is expected to run from July 3 to 15.”

Footnotes:

  1. Coming soon: an incredible app celebrating 50 years of the World Series of Poker.
  2. An increase of 11 events from last year. It was a nice round 80 events until they added nine more online events. { Updated April 30, 2019 }
  3. One of the new $500 events is the celebratory $500 No-Limit Hold ‘Em “Big 50” with a $5 million guaranteed payout.
  4. As Stan the Stat predicted last year.
  5. The only exception is the $2,620 Marathon, which already had a generous 26,200 starting stack. CardPlayer listed all the starting chip changes.

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“Moneymaker” Review

[LL] “Of course, all of you know Chris Moneymaker’s story”, Leroy the Lion began. “Many players got into poker specifically because of his 2003 WSOP Main Event run.”

[RR] “Indeed, our home tournament started right after it was first aired on ESPN”, Roderick the Rock confirmed.

[LL] “It’s a story almost too good to be true, and it would make a decent movie. But for now, we’ll have to content ourselves with Daniel Paisner’s book, Moneymaker, which came out in 2005.

Moneymaker was a degenerate sports gambler who had amassed $50,000 in debt. He didn’t really have any disposable income. Although he played cards most of life and played some poker, he only learned Texas Hold ‘Em after he had started working full-time and gotten married after college. The guy who taught him, the friend of a cousin of a friend of his, regularly cleaned up at their poker games for a while, but Moneymaker wasn’t discouraged.

His family and friends all played a big part in his story, but Moneymaker made his mark at the card table (both virtual and real), where the most exciting parts take place. More details and some corrections1 have come out since the book, but the gist of the unlikely chain of events remains unchanged:

  • His PokerStars account was so low, he had dropped down to playing $0.25 cash games. When he started playing tournaments online, he could only afford $5 buyins.
  • The buyin for the first satellite cost most of his bankroll.2
  • He didn’t even realize it was a satellite or he wouldn’t have played it.3
  • When he won the first satellite, it only got him into a higher-entry satellite.4 The second satellite’s top three prizes were entries into the WSOP Main Event, but Moneymaker coveted the $8,000 fourth prize, which he needed to pay off at least some of his bills.
  • When he reached the final table with the chip lead, he was about to intentionally start lose chips to fall in fourth place when his friend Bruce Peery offered to buy 50% of his stake for $5,000 if he won the seat.
  • Peery then reneged on his offer, but Moneymaker was bailed out by his father Mike (20%), a friend named David Gamble5 (20%), and two other friends (5% between them).
  • On the other hand, Peery’s apology for failing to come up with the cash was a pair of Oakley Straight Jacket sunglasses that he recommended wearing to hide his telltale eyes. Peery also gave Moneymaker invaluable advice to stop looking away when bluffing.
  • Moneymaker had never played in a live tournament before he set foot in Las Vegas shortly before the Main Event.
  • Moneymaker might not have won the event if Sammy Farha had accepted his pre-heads-up bathroom break offer to split the prizes.6
  • Moneymaker got away with the “bluff of the century” against Farha. If Farha had correctly called, he would have had a commanding 7.4 million to 1 million chip lead.
  • And of course, along the way, Moneymaker had to survive numerous all-ins and get the right cards at the right time,7 such as the river Ace that knocked out the formidable Phil Ivey on the final table bubble.

Paisner has written fourteen New York Times best-sellers, so, while Moneymaker is not one of them, it is a well-written account of one of the most amazing chapters in poker history that led to a boom that saw the WSOP Main Event jump from 839 to 8,773 players in three years.

Title Moneymaker
Author Chris Moneymaker with Daniel Paisner
Year 2005
Skill Level any
Pros Very detailed first-person account of Chris Moneymaker’s run to the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event title, including his thoughts during numerous important hands.
Cons More than you ever wanted to know about his sports gambling losses.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. For starters, the cover of the books says “How an amateur poker player turned $40 into $2.5 million at the World Series of Poker”. Even when the book was published, the correct buyin amount was thought to be $39. Moneymaker himself somehow misremembered though, and PokerStars later discovered and admitted that the buyin was actually $86 in 2014.
  2. Moneymaker shared this fact in When We Were Kings, posted by Grantland a decade later. Since he thought the buyin was $39, he claimed he had $60 in the account, but the basic idea still holds.
  3. Also from the Grantland article. Moneymaker claims that the PokerStars user interface wasn’t very clear about the fact.
  4. The book incorrectly gives the buyin of the second satellite as $600 instead of $650 ($615+$35).
  5. Key people in the story are named Moneymaker, Gamble, and Goldman (PokerStars marketing guy Dan Goldman). It would be corny if it were fiction.
  6. Also from the Grantland article. Farha countered that they should play winner-take-all, and no deal was struck.
  7. On page 154, Moneymaker admits that he got lucky but insists the way ESPN edited the footage made him look luckier than he was.
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“Total Poker” Review

[LL] “I would have expected a book called Total Poker to be longer than 255 pages”, Leroy the Lion complained. “But then Card Player published The Total Poker Manual, which was almost exactly the same length, two hundred and fifty-six pages.”

[RR] “Oh, I don’t know”, Roderick the Rock countered. “If you think about it the right way, poker is pretty simple. ‘Play tight. Be aggressive.'”

[LL] “Just like the ‘Total Diet’ book only needs to say, ‘Eat less. Exercise more.'”

[RR] “Totally right. If you expend more calories than you eat, you’ll lose weight.”

[LL] “And yet dieting and poker are both billion-dollar industries with hundreds of books and countless articles published every year. The Total Poker book actually came out in 1977 while The Total Poker Manual was nearly four decades later in 2016. Despite the similar names, they’re very different books. The latter is primarily a pithy strategy guide with some bigger picture advice,1 while the former tries to live up to its name by covering strategy, history, and even pop culture.

In 1973, David Spanier flew from England to Las Vegas to play and report on the World Series of Poker, years before his fellow journalists Al Alvarez and Anthony Holden did the same. Total Poker didn’t come out for four years, however. The preface partly explains the delay when he states, ‘one of the things I discovered in writing a book about poker is how deep a subject poker is: one can’t really ever get to the boundaries of it; like exploring space, there’s always farther to go.’2 The scope of the subject also created a book that bounces around diverse topics with little rhyme or reason: strategy sections abut history chapters abut pop culture musings. This review may also seem disorganized as a result.

The first chapter is on bluffing, because ‘bluff is the essence of poker.’3 ‘It is the game itself.’4 In this chapter and elsewhere, Spanier presents examples from his own play, usually in Five-Card Draw, Five-Card Stud, Seven-Card Stud, and related low-only and hi-lo games. His strategy advice is generally sound if not very deep,5 but he tries to shore up the lack of rigor with various tables of odds from the different games.

Some chapters cover different eras in the history of poker, with topics including New Orleans, steamboats, early references in books, Wild Bill Hickok, and Poker Alice, a late 19th century, Wild West poker playing legend. U.S. Presidents who played poker get their own chapter, albeit with a long side track exploring John F. Kennedy’s poker-like dealings with Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

As Spanier was in Vegas for the 1973 WSOP, the champion Puggy Pearson gets his own chapter, which includes some hand stories from the Main Event. This is the section with the most Texas Hold ‘Em, but a later chapter describes the game: ‘The key to tactics at hold ’em is to treat the first two cards like stud, but the flop like draw; at that stage you have a five-card hand to work with; strategically, play the game as a variation of seven card stud. A somewhat complicated admixture, but that’s the fascination of hold ’em.’6

One chapter discusses the best poker movies of all time, which, like the J.F.K. digression, features a movie with no poker, The Hustler. The actual poker movies he likes are The Cincinnati Kid (1965), A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966), The Sting (1973), and California Split (1974).

Overall Total Poker is a rare book from an earlier era that doesn’t live up to its grand title but still provides an interesting portal into a world where poker was very different than it is today.”

[RR] “‘Promises everything. Delivers some.'”

Title Total Poker
Author David Spanier
Year 1977
Skill Level any
Pros Lots of poker stories, including some hands from the 1973 WSOP Main Event. Some strategy and odds tables.
Cons Too much about Draw Poker, Five-Card Stud, and Spanier’s home games.
Rating 2.5

Footnotes:

  1. I may do a full review of The Total Poker Manual in the future, but the micro-review is ‘Decent breadth. No depth.’ It’s a colorful beginner’s guide with 266 very short sections ranging from a quarter of a page to two pages.
  2. Page 9.
  3. Page 13.
  4. Page 18.
  5. Although Spanier appears to be a competent home game player, his various trips to the World Series of Poker do not seem to have included any tournament cashes, and he does not have an entry in the Hendon Mob Database.
  6. Page 231.
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“Championship Table” Review

[LL] “Championship Table is a great companion book to All In“, Leroy the Lion claimed.

[RR] “How so?” Roderick the Rock encouraged.

[LL] “It complements the older book’s biggest weaknesses with excellent organization. Every World Series of Poker Main Event gets its own chapter with the same basic structure. The final players are listed in seat order, usually with their chip stacks at the start of the final table. A separate chart lists the order of finish with prize money. The final hand is described in text with the hole and board cards displayed graphically. Brief highlights of the entire WSOP are usually given.

While Championship Table doesn’t include nearly as many stories as All In, thirteen of its chapters include an interview or a conversation with the winner or the runner-up or, in one case, a Ladies World Champion.

These dialogues with Smith, even though they date from 1996 to 2001, are the best part of the book. The nine interviews are:

  • Thomas ‘Amarillo Slim’ Preston: ‘The Old Days at the World Series’
  • Walter Clyde ‘Puggy’ Pearson: ‘On the Road Again’
  • Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson: ‘The Warrior Returns to the Arena’
  • Bobby Hoff: ‘A Sunny Day after a Long Night’
  • Byron ‘Cowboy’ Wolford: ‘Rodeoing ‘n Playing Poker’
  • T.J. Cloutier: ‘When T.J. Talks, They All Listen’
  • Russ Hamilton: ‘He’s Worth His Weight in Silver’
  • Barbara Enright:1 ‘The First Lady at the Last Table’
  • Noel Furlong: ‘The Champ Pays Tribute to a Pioneer’
  • Chris Ferguson: ‘A Champ Who Waltzes in Three Worlds’

while the four conversations are with Dewey Tomko, Erik Seidel, Hans ‘Tuna’ Lund, and John Strzemp. Features on two of the first champions to pass away, Johnny Moss and Stu Ungar, also appear.

The book presents numerous photos throughout, with at least one of every champion. Although these pictures are black and white, they include over a dozen excellent group shots dating back to 1974. The ‘Gallery of Champions’ with every Main Event winner in chronological order is the final page of the book, but a better, color version without text adorns the front cover.

Like All In, Championship Table could use a sequel or an update, as it only covers through 2008, but of the two, it’s the book you’ll turn to first if you want to look something up about the first three decades of the WSOP.”

Title Championship Table
Author Dana Smith,2 Tom McEvoy, & Ralph Wheeler
Year 2009
Skill Level any
Pros Organized presentation of the final players with starting chip stacks and results, the final hand, and a summary for every WSOP Main Event from 1970 to 2008. Excellent interviews.
Cons Some years are unnecessarily brief, spanning a mere two pages. Numerous final hand errors.3
Rating 3.5

Footnotes:

  1. Enright won the WSOP Ladies Championship in both 1986 and 1994.
  2. Dana Smith is one of the few female poker authors, but often hides that fact by publishing under the name Shane Smith.
  3. Over half (16 out of 30) of the final hands have at least one incorrect or missing card.
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“All In: The (Almost) Entirely True History of the World Series of Poker” Review

[LL] “Bits and pieces of the history of the World Series of Poker had previously appeared in books, usually one year at a time,1 but All In: The (Almost) Entirely True History of the World Series of Poker was the first comprehensive volume to cover them all”, Leroy the Lion expounded.

[RR] “Up until what year?” Roderick the Rock asked.

[LL] “2004, as the book came out the following year. It would be great if the authors put out an update or a sequel, but for what it covers, it’s great.

After a brief history of how the WSOP came to be, the 35 festivals are chronologically presented in seventeen chapters. For most years, the number of preliminary events and the size of the Main Event field are stated to indicate how the WSOP continued to grow almost non-stop, but the book is more about stories than numbers. Details of some preliminary events are occasionally given, then the Main Event is described, usually including each day of action with more hand recaps and stories starting from the final table.

Almost every player who made a deep run in the Main Event gets some ink; most get a short biography and a general evaluation of their playing style. Many are quoted talking about their play or their opponents.

As a sideline, the history of Binion’s Horseshoe and the Binion family is updated throughout the book, from Benny Binion’s exile from Texas to the family squabbles that ensued after his death.2

Overall, it’s an engrossing and well-written narrative of the first 35 WSOPs that almost feels too short despite running almost 300 pages.”

[RR] “It’s definitely too short. By about 15 years.”

Title All In: The (Almost) Entirely True History of the World Series of Poker
Author Jonathan Grotenstein & Storms Reback
Year 2005
Skill Level any
Pros Detailed runthroughs of every World Series of Poker Main Event, including many hands from the final tables.
Cons Focused on the stories, so it’s hard to jump to a particular year or find out who finished in what place. A few minor errors.3 Only covers up to 2004.
Rating 4.5

Footnotes:

  1. For example, Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People talks about the 1972 WSOP, Total Poker covers 1973, Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Secrets 1978, The Biggest Game in Town 1981, and Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers 1984.
  2. Many of the sections are better covered in other books (e.g., Binion’s family is thoroughly examined in James McManus’s Positively Fifth Street), but All In does a great job of including the essence of the most interesting stories.
  3. Most of the mistakes can be found in almost every similar book of the era: misspellings of Dandalos for Dandolos and Brian for Bryan (Roberts), presenting the Dandolos-Moss match as fact instead of myth, and repeating that Chris Moneymaker started his World Series of Poker run in a $40 satellite (it was actually $86, not $39).

    One odd double-error, however, is the claim that Amarillo Slim Preston inspired Kenny Rogers to write “The Gambler”. Rogers only sang the song; it was written by Don Schlitz. This mistake probably comes from Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People (page 207), but there are no footnotes to confirm that (this weakness of the book sharply contrasts with James McManus’s well-cited Cowboys Full — The Story of Poker).

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“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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“One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey ‘The Kid’ Ungar” Review

[LL] “What’s the best hand in poker?” Leroy the Lion asked, seemingly rhetorically.

[RR] “A royal flush”, Roderick the Rock answered automatically. “Wait…, unless there are wild cards, then five-of-a-kind.”

[LL] “Sure, but four-of-a-kind is good enough to win most of the time.”

[RR] “In Hold ‘Em, three-of-a-kind is good enough to win most of the time.”

[LL] “Whereas two-of-a-kind is already only about an average hand on the flop. But you know who probably won a very high percentage of hands with even less than that?”

[RR] “Doyle Brunson before he published Super System?”

[LL] “Close. I’m thinking of Stu Ungar, who was truly One of a Kind.”

[RR} “I see what you did there.”

[LL] “His biography, sadly not the intended autobiography, is titled in full One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey ‘The Kid’ Ungar. He was tremendous at detecting weakness in his opponents and relentless in attacking it when he spotted it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t bluff his way to good health with his bad hygiene,1 terrible eating habits, and unrestrained drug abuse.

Like Check-Raising the Devil,
Ungar’s book serves as a cautionary tale about the evils of drugs.2 He flew much higher than Mike Matusow, winning the Main Events of three World Series of Poker and three Super Bowls of Poker, and crashed much harder, landing in the hospital a couple of times before eventually succumbing at age 45.

Nolan Dalla interviewed Stu Ungar many times in 1998 when the former prodigy was beginning to feel his mortality. Quotes from the native New Yorker appear throughout the book, providing excellent insight into what he was thinking on numerous occasions where a saner person would have chosen a different path.

Ungar was already able to handle his father’s gambling bookmaking records at age 8. He made his first mark in the world by defeating many of the best gin players in New York City at age 16. When he was banned from gin tournaments in Las Vegas (because his amazing skill scared too many players from entering) and from blackjack (because his memory let him go far beyond card-counting to tracking of all of cards), he turned to poker.

Bankrolled and, equally importantly, protected by the Genovese crime family, Stuey took on all comers in gin and could have lived comfortably from the income if he didn’t like to bet on horses and sports, two gambling arenas in which he had absolutely no edge and thus couldn’t overcome the vig. He never stopped wagering significant portions of his bankroll because that was how he got his thrills.

If Ungar was precocious as a child, in many ways he remained a man-child mentally as he grew older. He never had a bank account, only obtained a driver’s license through bribery, dodged the draft similarly,3 finally obtained a Social Security number because the Horseshoe wouldn’t pay his tournament winnings without one, didn’t know how to cook or even boil water, didn’t take care of his teeth, couldn’t wash his own hair, rarely showered, and only changed his clothes occasionally (like when his wife told him to).

But he reached the top of the world in gin and poker with unmatched talent. And after wasting away over a decade to drugs, he rebounded in 1997 to become ‘The Comeback Kid’ before the final downfall of his poetic and riveting Shakespearean tragedy.”

Title One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey “The Kid” Ungar
Author Nolan Dalla & Peter Alson
Year 2005
Skill Level any
Pros An incredible story of an amazing, tender-hearted card genius who beat the best players in the world at gin and poker.
Cons An incredible story of an arrogant, uncouth, gambling degenerate who lost to the vig and drugs. Very little poker.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. He refused to go to the dentist until his teeth got too painful. Eventually, all his back teeth were capped or replaced.
  2. His daughter, Stefanie Ungar, provides the final words of the acknowledgments and the entire book, “I only hope that everyone who reads this book will not only learn about my dad’s life and all of his accomplishments, but also learn from his mistakes as well.”
  3. This was unnecessary, as Ungar would have failed the physical (for starters, he never weighed over 100 pounds).
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“Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats” Review

[LL] “The New Yorker magazine paid Al Alvarez to return to the World Series of Poker Main Event in 1994,1” Leroy the Lion related, “and his account of the tournament is one of the two sections of the coffee table book, Poker: Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats, published in 2001.

[RR] “Another long reporting delay like Fading Hearts on the River?” Roderick the Rock supposed.

[LL] “Yes, but it didn’t strike me as odd this time. Maybe because it’s an older book and the focus isn’t on how Alvarez plays poker.

But he’s also forgiven a little because he needed some of the time to write the other half of the book, which is basically a pictorial history of poker.

Alvarez begins by explaining how to play the game and how he learned to play the game primarily from Herbert O. Yardley’s 1957 book, The Education of a Poker Player.

While Las Vegas was the focus of his previous poker book, the rest of the country and other parts of the world get into the act here. Alvarez reproduces playing cards, postcards, paintings, posters, pages of books, and a panoply of other poker-related paraphernalia. Amongst the treasures are the illustrated Shakespeare on Poker, which attempts to link quotes from the Bard to the game.2

He then covers the history of poker, including the German game brag, the introduction of the 52-card deck (which added straights and flushes to the game in 1837), the first description of poker in a book (1844), jackpots, stud, Hold ‘Em (which he dates back to the 19th century), and Omaha.

Among the many memorable quotes in the book are Amarillo Slim Preston’s attitude toward playing the master of Five-Card Stud (‘I’d rather catch frost on my winter peaches than play stud with Bill Boyd.’)3 and Puggy Pearson’s assessment of what a great poker player needs (‘A gambler’s ace is his ability to think clearly under stress. That’s very important, because, you see, fear is the basis of all mankind.’).”

[RR] “He had over a dozen years to prepare after The Biggest Game in Town, right?”

[LL] “He claims he prepared for about fifteen months, far longer than Colson Whitehead, at least.

Alvarez’s own poker story recounts how he satellites into and plays two preliminary events ($1,500 Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em and $2,500 No-Limit Hold ‘Em) before entering the Main Event on his publisher’s dime. The warm ups do not help; he says he played bad, worse, and worst, mostly by being too tight-weak. But the show goes on without him, and the crowning of the champion ends up being quite a weighty topic.”

[RR] “Oh, was that the one that Russ Hamilton won and got his massive weight in silver as a bonus?”

[LL] “Indeed. The book unfortunately neglects to include the wonderful caricature that accompanied the original New Yorker article. Hamilton appears significantly bigger than his last two opponents, Hugh Vincent and John Spadavecchia, combined. Alvarez reported that the Horseshoe had prepared 300 pounds of silver ingots but were still 30 pounds short (for a bonus prize worth $28,512).”

Title Poker: Bets, Bluffs, and Bad Beats
Author Al Alvarez
Year 2001
Skill Level any
Pros Photographic history of poker plus details of the 1994 World Series of Poker.
Cons Fairly short book, especially given how much space is taken by photos.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. Alvarez’s article, “No Limit” is The Sporting Scene section of the August 8, 1994 issue of The New Yorker.
  2. The attempted humor is rather dry, but you can laugh at the author instead of with him when he shows the Draw Poker hand 5♣4♣3♣2♣Q♦ with the caption, “Woman, get thee to a nunnery” (Hamlet Act III, Scene I).
  3. The Five-Card Stud event at the World Series of Poker was discontinued after Boyd had won it each of the four times it was contested.
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