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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where are they now - Johnny Moss

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

There are enough stories about the poker legend Johnny Moss to fill a book. In fact, there are already two about him. One of the most famous stories comes from 1970, the year of the first ever WSOP championship. The current “freeze-out” format, that you see now in poker tournaments, wasn’t invented until the following year. Instead, the eight players who participated in the event, over a course of two days, were asked to vote for which person they thought was the best player. Legend goes that the voting ended in an eight way tie. Every player had voted for himself. The players were then asked to vote for the second best player, and that’s when Johnny Moss was declared the first WSOP champion. The award for this event wasn’t money but a silver cup. The following year Moss erased all doubts about who was best when he once again became champion, again beating the same group that had competed in the first event, only this time he was awarded 30,000 dollars.

Like many poker greats of this time, Moss has a fascinating back story. Born in 1907, in Marshall, Texas, he was raised in Dallas. In his youth, he befriended a gang of cheats. Moss’s story could have turned out a lot different, but instead of using this new information to his advantage, he used it for good. He was hired by a local saloon owner to play a role similar to a modern day pit boss; make sure nobody was cheating. It was while watching over these games that Moss began to study the strategies used by players, and began to shape the mind of one of the greatest poker players of all time.

His early adult years were spent traveling around Texas looking for a game anywhere he could find it. As expected, because these games weren’t policed, or legal, the players participating in these games were often the subject of local robbers. During one of these run-ins with a group of bandits, Moss took it upon himself to use his own brand of policing. When asked years later if he ever killed a man, his answer was “I don’t know if he died.” The life of a rounder.

In the mid-1940’s, these once former road gamblers heard of a great place named “Las Vegas,” where they could do all their gambling legally, and without the constant threat of violence. Moss quickly found a home, and in just a few short years he was widely regarded around the city as the best poker player.

In perhaps the greatest story about Moss, he was challenged by one of the world’s most prolific gamblers in history, Nick “The Greek” Dandalos. Dandalos strolled in to town asking to play the best poker player they had to offer. Quickly, Benny Binion, who promoted the WSOP events Moss would later win, saw a financial opportunity arise. He set up a table for Moss and The Greek at the front of his casino so that passersby could look in, and hopefully come in and spend some of their money.

The game lasted for five months, with each player hardly ever taking a break. For a couple of months the play was even, with Dandalos even taking a lead, but as the months progressed Moss started taking command. At the end of the marathon event, after Moss had taken a commanding lead totaling nearly four million dollars, The Greek uttered the most famous quote in poker history “Mr. Moss, I think I have to let you go.”

It must be remembered that by the time Moss won his first WSOP championship he was already in his mid 60’s, winning nine tournament bracelets altogether. Because of that, and the fact he probably played his best poker from this point on, he was dubbed the “Grand Old Man.” It must also be noted that Moss wasn’t only grand at poker, but in golf and bowling as well. A large part of his income during his life came from bets with anybody who would challenge him to a game of golf or bowling.

Even more legends open up when you bring in this aspect to his life, including a golf game against a businessman that almost became deadly. Moss and the undisclosed man set a bet for 250,000 dollars, on which Moss’s side of the bet was covered by the event organizers. Moss found himself down a few strokes heading into the final couple of holes, when the organizers started to panic because they had no intention of giving this man 250,000 dollars. Instead, the rumor is that the organizers were planning to kill the businessman. However, Moss finished the round strong, winning the event by a stroke or two. The businessman approached Moss saying, “You’re the luckiest man alive.” Moss replied simply, “No, you are.”

Moss wasn’t without his vices, which included dropping most of his poker winnings playing dice games and betting on sports. But, unlike a lot of people, Moss still had people looking out for him. In Binion’s casino he was treated like royalty until the day he died, being given a room free of charge right up until his death at 88 years old. Moss ended his life playing 10/20 dollar limit games, but will be most remembered for his quick wit, and of course being one of the best players to ever belly up to a poker table. If he accomplished that much in the WSOP in his 60’s it is only anybody’s guess how many bracelets he would have won had he had a whole lifetime to pursue them.

*Read Billy Monroe's Blog*

Major tournament wins and prize amount

1970 World Series of Poker Championship, awarded Silver Cup
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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