After getting a call that Amarillo Slim was in a hospice hospital, I got the number and called him. His voice was so weak I could barely hear him but his sense of humor was alive and well. We talked for a few minutes and we both acknowledged he wasn’t long for this world as we recalled some of the bright spots of our early years on our poker journey. Slim said as far as he could recall, we had never had a cross word between us and I agreed with him. We said our goodbyes and Slim said “take care, I’ll see you.” In a pathetic attempt at humor, I said “not too soon I hope.” Slim was laughing so hard he almost fell out of his bed as we hung up. But I have to admit I had tears in my eyes.
Slim was born 83 years ago in Arkansas but moved to Texas before he was a year old. He grew into his teenage years as a curly haired young man who quickly became one of Texas best pool players. Life was too slow in the small town he lived in so he joined the Navy where he first started playing poker. Slim won a small fortune playing on his ship in the Pacific. He was very close to the first underwater test of the atomic bomb. He came back to live in Amarillo Texas and picked up his lifelong nickname Amarillo Slim. His favorite saying was “Amarillo has the same population every year. Every time a woman gets pregnant, some man leaves town.” It took only a few months for the young gambler to lose his entire bankroll playing poker against the top Texas pros and betting on every horse race he could find.
Slim decided to enlist in the army and rebuild his bankroll. He was placed in the personal services section where his job was to give pool exhibitions. He went to Germany where he spent most of his time running a black market business. He made tens of thousands of dollars selling Mickey Mouse watches to Russian troops along with his other merchandise. He put together another big bankroll before he was discharged from the army. After coming back to Amarillo, Slim started travelling around making proposition bets and playing poker. I first met Slim at a poker game in a small town right out of Houston. After talking to Slim and Bryan “Sailor” Roberts we decided to become equal partners in the gambling world, sharing our wins and losses. We did this because of the dangers of being robbed and arrested. Slim knew more about the ways of the cheaters and helped us avoid being cheated.
We remained partners for seven years, travelling all over the southern states taking on any and all comers. We gambled mostly at poker but we had pool games that Slim would match up, mostly with me playing. I wasn’t a world class pool player but with Slim coaching, we usually won. We also matched up a lot of golf games which was usually me and Slims oldest son “Bunky” Preston. We played lots of very high stakes golf games and made a lot of money but always came back to Poker.
Our partnership was lethal in the poker world. I’ve always considered Sailor Roberts to be equal to me and his calm temperament solidified us. Besides being the best players in our era, we spent countless hours dealing out different hands to determine the odds of winning. Today, anyone with a computer can get the information but we had to do it with pen and paper. That is when we became so dominant in the poker world because we had the knowledge and none of the other players had taken the time to do what we did.
People always ask me if Slim was a great player and was he as good as Sailor and me. My answer is no, not quite but he was way above the average player. Slims major contribution to our partnership was arranging games and promoting people to play with us. He had a gift of gab that I’ve never see equaled. He was absolutely fearless and could not be embarrassed about anything. Unfortunately, he was tall and skinny and couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag and Sailor was too easy going, so I always had to do the fighting when things got out of hand. My eyebrows are full of scar tissue because of them but we had lots of outrageous adventures and plenty of fun. We were robbed at gunpoint four times, arrested many times, had several dangerous situations. Why did we continue doing it for 7 years? Simple, we loved poker.
Slim made unbelievable prop bets. He beat Minnesota Fats in pool using broom sticks for cue sticks. He beat Champion Bobby Riggs playing ping pong with the stipulation he could pick the paddles. After Riggs agreed, Slim chose iron skillets for paddles. Slim has been practicing for months and he won easily. He bet he could outrun a racehorse for a 100 yard race. He made the race 50 yards, then turn around and run 50 yards back. Again, he won easily. I never saw him lose a prop bet when we bet serious money. The fact that he won 4 WSOP bracelets and is a member of five Hall of Fames attest to his ability. Poker owes him a lot. He brought respectability to poker after his 1972 win of the WSOP Championship, going on all the TV shows and telling them his stories.
I always liked his quote, “I never go looking for a sucker to beat. I look for a Champion and make a sucker out of him.”â€¦ RIP Amarillo Slim
May the flop be with you!