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John Hardie Moss Jr.
b. May 14 1907
d. 16th December 1995

Johnny MossJohnny Moss became World Series of Poker Champion in 1970, the first ever and the only one to win by election rather tournament play.

Marshall, Texas, was a small prairie town in the noth eastern part of the state, just a few miles from the Louisiana border. John Hardie Moss (father) was a deputy sheriff in the town until a month after Johnny was born. The sheriff was not re-elected and J H Moss Snr. lost his job. So they packed up into a covered wagon and journeyed westward. Lena Moss (mother) died on the journey from a burst appendix which could not be treated until reaching Fort Worth.

Moss Snr. got a job in Dallas as a telegraph linesman but after four years an accident put him out of work and he took the insurance money into a grocery store on South Every Street. Johnny made money selling newspapers and spent his time at the domino parlour on Ackard Street. There he met the older Benny Binion for the first time. They became both friends and competitors as message runners for Western Union even though Johnny could not read or write. At the age of 12 Johnny could read morse code by the ticker sound alone and play dominoes at a high level.

At 16 Johnny got a job at The Otter's Club (draw poker club) as a cheat catcher. From Mr. Wade, the owner, Johnny leant poker and began playing and working in the club. He learnt further games, Stud and Lowball, but it wasn't until he ventured to the Elk's Club that he learnt Texas Hold'em. He proceeded to bring the Hold'em game and many of the players back to the Otter's which flourished and provided Johnny with the heady salary of $20 a week which made him his families chief money earner.

At 18 Johnny met Virgie Ann Mouser, a counter worker at a drugstore, and after a six month courtship they married on May 1, 1926. It was Virgie who made Johnny choose between working odd jobs and gambling, Johnny chose the later. But the early years were difficult, Johnny eventually having to find work with Texaco as a roughnecker which brought him into oil rich poker games where finally he managed to amass a decent sized bankroll.

Johnny took Virgie on holiday to see relatives in Olney but when he discovered a new domino parlour they all stayed, his new daughter included, soon starting a joint venture with the parlour owner running card and craps games. Johnny paid the police chief $150 per week to leave them alone, 4 times his salary. A few months into the operation, in early 1930, Texas Rangers raided and put Johnny in jail. With the police asking for more money to release Johnny he got out with a lawyer and picked up sticks once more, this time to Graham, the county seat and closer to the main oil industry.

In Graham he set up another gambling parlour next to a bank, dealing with the bank manager who ran a nice line in after hours loans. Johnny's bankroll quickly passed the 6 figure mark. He then began playing sports for money, taking lessons from pros to reach a high level in short space of time. He travelled playing golf, bowling and every big card game over the coming years with increasing success. By the time the Texas Centennial celebrations arrived in 1936, poker had beomce big business with very large games with $50,000 sit-downs being common in Dallas, the chief oil town.

Johnny played in many a big game that was hijacked in these cash rich years. The professionals always went for the money whereas the dopeheads and needle men went in for violence as pleasure. He developed many ways to hide money and evade losing his bankroll but never chose to carry a gun. It was safer that way.

In 1939 Johnny moved back to Dallas to look after his father who died in 1942 after several strokes, he was 74. Johnny took a 50% stake in the Arrigon Club and ran it for 7 months before getting called up for the was in 1943 at the age of 36. He started in the Navy, was then transferred to the marines and ended up in the Seabees, a construction arm of the military. He was discharged honourably in Decmeber 1945.

On arrival back in Dallas Johnny found a relatively new game had taken hold of all the big games, Texas Hold'em. Johnny got involved above his abilities at first and went $80,000 in the red but Benny Binion fronted him $100,000 and he got back in the black with endless travelling to far flung games in Texas. When his bankroll reached a million Johnny took up residence in the Flamingo, Las Vegas, and played every night in the Fur Room. However, each morning he took the 11 a.m. flight to Gardena to play his beloved Lowball in California. Each evening he took the 6 o'clock flight back to Vegas for $800 limit game at the Flamingo.

From his time at the Flamingo Johnny met Howard Hughes who often sat behind him to watch. When Johnny needed to get to games in towns without regular scheduled flights, Hughes lent him his private plane with the proviso that Johnny looked after the crew. It was around this time that Johnny was supposed to have played Nick the Greek in the famous heads-up epic, but historians now doubt the credability of the story as Benny Binion did not own a casino in 1949, or for the next 3 years.

In the early '50s the big games became scarce and Johnny waisted a lot of time playing craps in Vegas. He became seriously hooked on the game no one could beat and went $500,000 in the red with credit lines in every Vegas casino. Finally he quit the addiction and made a deal to repay $100,000 a year for the next five years. He returned to Dallas and the road games to rebuild his fortunes. In 1955 whilst travelling to a game with other poker players, the car they were in came of the road in the foothills. The driver was killed and Johnny was out of action for 6 months with a fractured skull.

Eventually getting back on the road Johnny's fortunes were mixed as the games were getting tougher with the likes of Doyle Brunson, Sailor Roberts and Amarillo Slim Preston, the later two occasionally partnering Johnny in big games. When he got enough money Johnny and Virgie bought land in Odessa Texas in 1958 and built their own house, finishing it off with a bank loan when Johnny ran out of money once again.

In 1961 the Interstate Gambling Law was passed by the federal government making it illegal to travel across state lines to play poker anywhere other than licensed card rooms. This made it difficult for Johnny to play on the road and when he did he met hijackers with guns and federal agents trying to find out how much money Johnny had in his bankroll. For years Johnny was at odds with the IRS, his winnings being liable for tax but his losses being difficult to account for. With all the problems he faced it was not difficult for his wife Virgie to convince him to retire. They had income from apartments built in Odessa and investments she had made over decades that were paying good dividends. Johnny retired in 1963.

In 1968 the best poker players of this decade met in Reno, Las Vegas to participate in a poker tournament of the Texas Gamblers Convention, a new event to get more action in a safe enviroment. Johnny received a call and he jumped at the chance to meet old friends and come out of retirement. It was no tournament in the sense of Freezouts, but it was about Cash Games of all various variants and at the end voting took place to produce a "best player" award. Johnny Moss won the title. In 1969 Crandall Addington was announced the winner.

Benny Binion and his son Jack recognized the great potential of this event and secured the rights of the event. They then changed the name from Texas Gamblers Convention to World Series of Poker and in 1970, the first World Series of Poker (WSOP) took place with only 38 participants. As it was in the year before, several variants were played in the cash game format and a winner was announced after 1 ½ weeks of playtime. Once again it was Johnny Moss who became the first WSOP World Champion by voting alone.

In 1971 there were big changes as the WSOP started in freeze-out mode with five tournaments being played, and the final climax was the Main Event. Because of the high buy-in of $5000 only six players participated in the main event. Jonny Moss won the prize money of $30.000 and became World Champion again.

In 1974 Johnny won again, once more a winner take all 16 player freeze-out, Johnny taking home $160,000. In all Johnny played at every WSOP from 1970 through the 1995 World Series, and during his career he won nine WSOP bracelets, placing him fourth overall, behind Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson (10 each) and Phil Hellmuth (11). During his career he won $824,922 in WSOP tournament play

Moss was sometimes called the "Grand Old Man" because of his longevity and superior play. He was one of the charter inductees to the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979. The Texas Hold'em starting hand Ace-Ten is named "the Johnny Moss" in his honor.
Johnny Moss World Series of Poker bracelets
Year Tournament Prize (US$)
1970 World Series of Poker Championship -
1971 $5,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship $30,000
1971 Limit Ace to 5 Draw $10,000
1974 $10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship $160,000
1975 $1,000 Seven Card Stud $44,000
1976 $500 Seven Card Stud $13,000
1979 $5,000 Seven Card Stud $48,000
1981 $1,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo $33,500
1988 $1,500 Ace to Five Draw $116,400
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