Monday, April 04, 2011

Amarillo Slim


Poker legend Amarillo Slim flew in on Saturday evening to take part in the World Series Of Poker Circuit Event at Harrah's St. Louis. Dennis Phillips and I had a chance to talk with him for our Final Table show a couple of summers ago -- he had so many stories that we broke it up into separate shows over 4 weeks which you can listen to here -- so I went over to say hello. He was here to play the Omaha 8 and HORSE tournaments on Sunday and Monday, but I talked him into coming into the poker room to play in a cash game that night for a couple of hours. When I told the young floor person that Slim was here, he said he didn't know who that was, so I enlightened him.

In 1972, Slim won the second WSOP Main Event ever held, one of seven titles he's claimed -- although he only has 5 bracelets because there weren't any such prizes for the first two. He was inducted into the Poker Hall Of Fame in 1992. He and Doyle Brunson and Sailor Roberts were a legendary crew of poker players who traveled around Texas and Oklahoma for over two decades, before there were any legal poker rooms in America. They'd play in bars, back rooms, and anywhere anyone had cards and money. He recounted some of those stories, and others from his adventures as a pool hustler, sports bookie, and prop bettor in his book "Amarillo Slim In A World Of Fat People." He told me that there's a deal to make a movie of his life with Nicolas Cage, directed by Milos Forman, but it's moving forward very slowly.

Part of the reason may be a story from just a few years ago that made him a pariah in the poker business. I won't go into the details, which involved a heinous claim that stemmed from an ugly custody dispute, but I will say that the principals later recanted their claims against him (read Nolan Dalla's piece about it here). Brunson, his lifelong friend, said he's put a quarter up for every nickel anyone wanted to bet, for any amount, that Slim was telling the truth. Others who know him have privately told me the same thing. It's a shame that a man who was the first poker pro to become a household name (thanks to a dozen appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson") and who was there at the creation of the World Series Of Poker is no longer treated with respect and admiration by those who've followed in his footsteps, although he did get a nice round of applause from those who recognized him (he's hard to miss with that snake hat!).

I was happy to have Slim sit down next to me in a pot-limit Omaha game, with my friend Andy Newman on the other side, and gratified that he remembered the time we spent together a couple of summers ago. At 83 years old, his movements are slower, and he had trouble seeing the cards on the board, but he happily engaged in conversation, shared stories, signed autographs, told jokes, and answered Andy's questions.

One of those was about Amarillo, where Slim still lives. Slim looked over and said, "It's the same as it's always been. Even the population never changes. Every time a woman gets pregnant, a man leaves town."

After a couple of hours, Slim and I got involved in a hand where I turned a straight and put him all in. He called with a pair of aces and I had him drawing dead. He smiled, shook our hands, and headed up to his hotel room. The next day, he was right back in the midst of the action, where he's always been.