The Grand Old Man

Poker history is well documented and many of the stories were passed down by word of mouth until somebody put them into writing. Many of the people that have started to play poker in the last ten years have never been exposed to the history of poker. Johnny Moss was the Grand Old Man of poker and many thought of him as the best all-around poker player that ever lived. I would probably give the honor to Stu Ungar but the list of contenders is very short and Johnny is at the top of that list.

Gabe Kaplan, Bobby Baldwin, Stu Ungar, Unknown, Amarillo Slim, Johnny Moss in 1980.

Johnny Moss was the mentor of poker legend Doyle Brunson. Johnny was a Texas road gambler who was born in 1907 and was quite a bit older than all of the poker old-timers who date back to the inaugural World Series of Poker in 1970. Over sixty years old when that inaugural gathering took place he was clearly the best of the eight players and they voted him the overall champion. Many people feel this first main event championship does not carry the same weight as all the others because it was not conducted in the freeze-out fashion that was adopted the following year and has been the model for poker tournaments ever since. I would say that is does and it should be looked upon with high regard.

Despite the World Series of Poker not beginning until after he was 60 years old Johnny Moss cashed 18 times at the World Series. Johnny won eight events in a time where there were far fewer events offered. The biggest cash at the WSOP was the 1974 main event which Johnny won in a winner takes all tournament at age 65. Yes the early events were winner take all. The sixteen players each put up $10,000 and Johnny took down the $160,000. The sixteen players in the field in the 1974 main event included just one amateur Roger Reid a Kansas City carnival owner who was the first player eliminated.

The list of players that have come from various sources of differing reliability includes: Roger Reid, Johnny Moss, Jimmy Casella, Puggy Pearson, Crandall Addington, Sailor Roberts, Amarillo Slim, Larry Perkins, Sid Wyman, Jesse Alto, Doyle Brunson, Bobby Hoff, Bill Boyd, Bob Hooks, and Jack Strauss. I am finding no recorded history of who the final player was in 1974. Was Roger Van Ausdall there again in 1974? Having played the two previous years he may have been there but I am finding no documentation.

Johnny, Puggy, Slim, Sailor Roberts, Doyle

Johnny passed away in December 1995 and unfortunately our poker paths barely crossed one another. I was young and I knew he was a legend. I knew he was but a shadow of his former self and I probably did not pay the man the respect he deserved. I remember the issue of Card Player with him on the cover after he had passed.

Johnny played in every World Series from 1970 until 1995 when he finally passed away at age 88. Johnny won his last bracelet in 1988 as an 80-year old young man. He had three final table appearances in 1990 and had his final cash in 1992. He was by no means washed up as a poker player at age 80 even though his eyesight was pretty bad.

In 1979 when the Poker Hall of Fame was started Johnny Moss was one of the charter members. As I research the history and sift through what little is written about the history of poker I am finding myself more impressed with the Old Man. He deserves to sit in the hall and probably deserves to be at the head of the table. We talk regularly about the longevity of Doyle Brunson and yet I think we need to remember the man who came before him and mentored him.

There is quite a little build up and effort under way to discredit one of pokers great old stories. The story was told by Johnny Moss and it relates to the greatest poker game ever played. The five month long marathon between Johnny Moss and Nick the Greek. The game was set up in front of the window of the casino as a publicity stunt to draw customers. Johnny and Nick played for hours every day at the highest limits ever played. The game supposedly took place in 1949 and was downtown at Binion’s. The game was set up by Benny Binion himself at the behest of Nick the Greek. Nick was looking to play big and Benny called Johnny to play him. After five months Nick was down nearly four million and he stood up and uttered the most famous poker line ever, “Well Mr. Moss I am going to have to let you go”. There are no good documented records from the time and Binion’s did not even exist in 1949, but I say who cares? We have lived this long with the story why go and try to discredit these men after their deaths. Just let it be.

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