Poker Legends: Amarillo Slim
“You see, friend, when I made a wager, the bet has already been won. And if I’m gonna win, I sure as hell want to break somebody doing it.”
Photo Credit: Player Corner
Thomas Austin Preston Jr, better known by his nickname Amarillo Slim, is the very image of the cowboy gambler, from his ten-gallon hat to his handmade ostrich boots to the over-sized belt buckle. He came up from humble roots in Amarillo, Texas, but here’s a man who truly made his own fortune in every sense of the word. As he put it “I wasn’t just looking to fly by the seat of my britches. I don’t believe in luck. I believe you make your own luck.”
Alongside long-time friend Doyle Brunson, Slim literally brought Texas Hold ‘Em to Las Vegas—but only after he’d finished hustling all the Texans he could out of their hard-earned cash. For him, Brunson, and their companion Sailor Roberts, winning was the easy part. Getting out alive was harder, and these rounders were robbed and arrested several times. “If you think it’s easy to look down one of those double barreled shotguns,” said Slim, “you’re wrong.”
This hall of famer certainly had some tales to tell. These are some of the best.
He’ll Beat You At Your Own Game
Amarillo Slim was a world-class hustler. One of his most famous exploits was a huge bet he made with tennis champion Bobby Riggs for a game of ping-pong. Slim convinced Riggs to let him choose the paddles, and when the day came, Slim showed up with a pair of frying pans. Slim had been practicing, and Riggs didn’t stand a chance.
He challenged a racehorse jockey to a 100-meter dash, Slim on foot against the horse, but with one small stipulation: they would go 50 meters out and then back. Slim had almost reached the finish line by the time the horse finished turning around.
From golf against Evil Knievel to dominoes against Willie Nelson, Amarillo Slim’s gambling exploits are so famous that there’s even a country song about them called Do You Dare Make A Bet with Amarillo Slim. The song concludes that not even the devil himself would place a wager with Slim.
“I delighted in human misery,” smiled Slim. “It was a tonic for my old skinny body.”
A Gift for Gab
Slim gave off the air of a country bumpkin, and he had all the charisma of a charming good ol’ boy. Not only could he talk people out of winning, but he’d make them so happy to lose their money to him that they’d come back for more. “You can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin him once,” he explained. “Very seldom do the lambs slaughter the butcher—and I’m the butcher.”
He won the 3rd ever World Series of Poker in 1972, and the runner-up, Puggy Pearson, even said that “I would have won if Slim didn’t talk me out of it.” After his big win, Slim went on every talk show to brag about it. He appeared on magazine covers, made a Hollywood appearance, and quickly became the face of the game.
And we didn’t even talk about how he was kidnapped in Columbia by drug lord Pablo Escobar. Not only did he come out alive, but he even made friends with the man—and, as rumor has it, received a set of emerald buttons from the kingpin.
If you’re looking for more mind-blowing tales of a legendary gambler, check out Slim's autobiography, Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People.