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Amarillo Slim: One of the World’s Greatest Gamblers

Amarillo Slim has lived a long and prosperous life. Starting out as just an amateur hustler who traveled around the country looking for action, Amarillo has certainly come a long way.

He’s now known to be one of the most successful poker players of the twentieth century, having won four World Series of Poker bracelets and having been inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

Amarillo Slim has earned the respect of many, but there are a few people who still hold onto what the media tries to tell them. To learn more about who Amarillo Slim really is and to be familiarized with some of the misconceptions about him brought upon by the media, please feel free to continue reading this elaborate biography.

“If there’s anything I’ll argue about, I’ll either bet on it or shut up. And since it’s not becoming for a cowboy to be arguing, I’ve made a few wagers in my day. But in my humble opinion, I’m no hustler. You see, neighbor, I never go looking for a sucker. I look for a champion and make a sucker out of him.”~ Amarillo Slim

Before Fame & Fortune

Although he was born Thomas Austin Preston, Jr. on December 31st, 1928, more people know him by his nickname today: Amarillo Slim. He was born in Johnson, Arkansas, but his family moved to Turkey, Texas for better job opportunities when he was still a baby.

His parents’ divorce caused him to move once more. He ended up living with his father in Amarillo, Texas; this is the town he would consider home for the rest of his life, hence his nickname.

Before he became a world-renowned poker player, Amarillo Slim traveled the world with Sailor Roberts and Doyle Brunson. Together the three men would look for any gambling opportunity they could get their hands on, often finding themselves at the poker table.

It was also during this time that many of the legendary stories involving Amarillo Slim took place. Some of these stories include the time he won $300,000 by beating Willie Nelson at dominoes or the time he won $2 million from Larry Flynt through playing poker.

At one point, Amarillo was kidnapped by a man named Pablo Escobar, who was one of the biggest drug dealers in the world.

Amarillo was in Columbia for the grand opening of the Casino de Caribe when he was thrown into a helicopter and tied up with wires.

Pablo suspected he was working for the government, but once it was confirmed that Amarillo was clean, he gave him a grand tour of the country.

During the helicopter ride, Pablo mentioned that he loved Amarillo’s gold-plated buttons. As a thank you for not killing him and to make sure they were still on good terms, Amarillo sent Pablo his own set of gold plated buttons.

A few months later, Amarillo received a phone call from one of Pablo’s men informing him that Pablo had sent him something: pure emerald buttons. Who else besides Amarillo Slim can say they’ve be-friended a violent drug lord?

Major Career Accomplishments

One of his greatest accomplishments was winning the World Series of Poker Championship in 1972, where he was able to walk away with over $60,000.

Over the years, Amarillo managed to win three more WSOP bracelets in the following events: 1974 $1,000 No Limit Hold’em, 1985 $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha, and 1990 $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha. His combined winnings from those three events amounted to over $225,000.

People from all over the world started to recognize Amarillo for his poker skills, and they were intrigued to learn more about him. One thing people learned early on is that he was close friends with the founder of the World Series of Poker, Benny Binion.

At some point during his time in Texas, Amarillo met Benny Binion, who he immediately grew very close to. They would get into mischief together, but they always knew they could trust one another. When Benny passed away in 1989, he willed his horse to Amarillo in honor of their friendship.

Amarillo was invited to be the guest speaker on several popular talk shows including:

  • A.M. Los Angeles
  • Good Morning America
  • Panorama
  • The Tonight Show
  • 60 Minutes

He also made a guest appearance on the show, I’ve Got a Secret. His secret being that he once lost $190,000 over night when he had a bad run of cards. Although losing that much money isn’t exactly something to be proud of, it’s still exciting that he was asked to be on the show.

Amarillo hosted an event called the Annual Poker Classic, where poker players from all over the world were invited to come together, enjoy each other’s company, and compete against each other. This event later became known as Amarillo Slim’s Superbowl of Poker.

Even though it was Gabe Kaplan that won the first year, it’s Stu Ungar that will be remembered for being the ultimate winner of this event. He won this tournament a total of three times before it was discontinued in 1990.

In 1992, Amarillo Slim was officially inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. There are currently forty-eight members in the Poker Hall of Fame, but at the time Amarillo Slim was inducted, there were only twenty-one.

Making this list of exceptional poker players is not only one of the rarest awards granted, but it’s also one of the most highly sought after.

Impressively, his name can also be found on Legends of Nevada, the Seniors Hall of Fame, and the Horseshoe’s Hall of Fame.

In 2005, Amarillo Slim and Greg Dinkin released Amarillo’s autobiography that they had collaborated on together. This book was full of stories that had never made its way into the public until now.

In this book he claims to have beaten legendary players at their own games without even using the proper equipment. He supposedly beat Bobby Rigs at table tennis by using a skillet, Minnesota Fats at pool by using a broom, and Evel Knievel at golf by using a hammer. These legendary stories are fun to read about, but there’s little to no proof of them actually happening.

By reading this book, readers get insight into who Amarillo Slim really is and what gamblers really do; one of his goals in writing this book is to tear down the negative stereotypes often associated with gamblers. This book is also infused with plenty of gambling advice, as it reveals some of Amarillo’s secrets to success.

Negative Media Attention

Fame is often followed by a slew of people who want to do whatever they can to tear you down. Unfortunately, Amarillo has had some horrible encounters with the media who have misconstrued situations to make him look bad.

For starters, there was once a rumor going around that Amarillo said he would slit his throat if a woman ever won the WSOP main event. This entire situation was taken completely out of context.

He jokingly said to one woman that he would slit his throat if she won; it wasn’t meant to be a taken as a sexist remark, as he wasn’t talking about women in general.

In March, 2003, Amarillo was accused of molesting his twelve-year-old granddaughter, which he believes the media blew way out of proportion. His son, daughter-in-law, and his ex-wife all initially believed the lies the media told and the family was split for quite some time.

However, it quickly became obvious that it was all a big misunderstanding. He may have jokingly said some questionable things, but he never inappropriately laid his hands on her. The felony charges against him were eventually dropped and Amarillo claimed to only plead “no contest” to misdemeanor assault charges to protect his family.

To his last days, Amarillo Slim still claims he never did anything wrong. In an interview with Poker Listings, Amarillo defended his case on the matter claiming,

“I’ve never touched her wrongly in my life.”

Since the incident has been cleared up, his family relationships have been restored and no one holds anything against him. He, however, did have to pay some hefty fines for the misdemeanor.

Latter Years

As Amarillo Slim got older, he spent less time playing poker and more time with his family. He owned a ranch in Amarillo, and enjoyed spending most days tending to his cattle and managing his farm. He also appreciated golfing and quail hunting during his free time.

He made it his priority to attend all of the major sporting events including the Super Bowl, the World Series of Poker, and National Finals Rodeo.

He would spend several weeks out of the year traveling to Europe and other parts of the world, as he always craved adventure.

Sometimes he took his family, sometimes he traveled with a friend, and sometimes he even preferred to be alone.

Amarillo Slim passed away on April 29th, 2012 in the town that meant so much to him (Amarillo, Texas).

He had been suffering from colon cancer for several years, and at eighty three years old, he lost his life to that disease. His family mourned over their loss, but they were at ease knowing he lived a happy and fulfilled life.

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