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Poker Legend Amarilo Slim Preston dies 01/05/2012
Richard Whitehouse
Born Thomas Austin Preston Jr., the colourful and often quotable Amarillo Slim won the World Series of Poker in 1972 and began promoting the game on TV and in books. He brought the game 'out of the back alleys,'

Amarilo Slim
In 1970 Slim’s best friend, the one-time Dallas bootlegger Benny Binion, invited him to take part in the first World Poker Championships. The venue was the Horseshoe, Binion’s casino in Las Vegas renowned for accepting any bet, no matter how big. Playing what is now the main variant of poker known as Texas Hold ’Em, Slim did not win that year; but he returned in 1971, and triumphed in 1972, walking off with the $60,000 pool.

That was his first and only success as World Champion but he did go on to win three more events at subsequent World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Despite other professionals out shinning his poker successes it was his outsized personality that made him the perfect person for the time to represent poker. It was really Slim that became the face of poker for middle America . Indeed in the wake of his 1972 World Series of Poker win, he began promoting poker — and himself — on "The Tonight Show" and other TV shows in the USA.

Slim was more than just a poker player though, there really wasn't anything Amarillo Slim wouldn't bet on. Elections and sports games, for sure, but crazy stuff too, from whether a cat could pick up a Coke bottle to which sugar cube a fly would land on. He challenged the motorcycle ace Evel Knievel to a game of golf, using only carpenter's hammers, beat a Taiwanese table tennis world champion using Coke bottles as paddles, and took the singer Willie Nelson for $300,000 in a game of dominoes.

Other tales abound, including beating Minnesota Fats in a game of pocket billiards using a broom stick. Or beating tennis hustler Bobby Riggs in a game of pingpong using an iron skillet. Or betting he could hit a golf ball more than a mile.

"I found this frozen lake," he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1992, "and the ball hits the ice and starts slidin' ... and one and a half, two miles away it was still goin'.".

Losing was always a possibility in gambling, Slim acknowledged, but he didn't consider losing a bad thing in itself.

"Anyone that never loses doesn't do much playing," he told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1994. "If there wasn't any losing, it wouldn't be any fun. You'd be bored to death."

He was also highly quotable, his most famous and forever retold around the poker world: "Look around the table. If you don't see a sucker, get up, because you're the sucker."

Thomas Austin Preston Jr was born on December 31 1928 in Johnson, Arkansas. His parents divorced when he was 16 and he moved to Amarillo, Texas, to live with his father. At 17 he joined the US Army, served overseas and on his return met Doyle Brunson and Brian “Sailor” Roberts, with whom he became fast friends.

The three soon formed a partnership, travelling across the south-western United States as the original Texas “road gamblers”, playing poker and seeking out other wagers. “We got to the point where we were gambling on just about every game there was — golf, tennis, basketball, pool, sports betting,” Slim recalled. “As long as we thought we had some sort of edge, we’d bet. And we made money.”

Although the trio eventually broke up, having been robbed of their winnings in Las Vegas, they remained friends and continued to burnish their reputations during the early years of the World Series of Poker.

He produced several poker books, including Amarillo Slim’s Play Poker To Win (2005). In his autobiography, Amarillo Slim In A World Full Of Fat People (2003), he claimed to have played poker with two presidents, Johnson and Nixon.

As well as his television appearances, Slim also played himself in Robert Altman’s gambling film California Split (1974).

In 2003 Slim was indicted in Texas on charges of indecency with a child, his granddaughter Hannah. Although he always protested his innocence, he pleaded “no contest” to reduced charges in order, he said, to protect his family. He was fined $4,000 and given two years’ probation with counselling.

His reputation never recovered. Slim was robbed at gunpoint twice, insulted with names like “Amarillo Slime”, and was to all intents and purposes abandoned by the American poker business. Plans to film his life were reportedly dropped.

Slim was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992 and, along with Doyle Brunson, was one of the few surviving players to have played in the inaugural WSOP in 1970.

Amarillo Slim was divorced. His three children survive him.

Amarillo Slim Preston, born December 31 1928, died April 29 2012 of colon cancer, he was 83.
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