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,'
In 1970 Slims 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,
Binions 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
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.
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."
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
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, wed bet. And we made
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
He produced several poker books, including Amarillo Slims
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 Altmans gambling film California Split
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
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
Amarillo Slim Preston, born December 31 1928, died April 29 2012 of
colon cancer, he was 83.