Johnny Moss
2005 Jason Kirk  

Johnny Moss - Source

Before the advent of the World Poker Tour and its revolutionary hole-cams, the only tournament in the world that really mattered was the "Big One": the World Series of Poker $10,000 No-Limit Hold'em Main Event. Plenty of now-familiar names have won the event over the years - Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Phil Hellmuth, and Dan Harrington have all been enshrined in the Gallery of Champions. Some of them even managed to win the Main Event more than once, guaranteeing themselves a place in poker history. Still, there are few players who cast as long a shadow over the most important tournament on earth as the legendary Johnny Moss.

Known as the "Grand Old Man," Moss was a fixture at Binion's Horseshoe in the early 1970s as the World Series of Poker began its run. In 1970, the first year of the vent, the title of World Champion was awarded to Moss by the vote of his peers. This isn't at all surprising in light of the fact that another of Moss' nicknames was "The Pro's Pro." When the format of the Series changed in 1971, Moss wasn't to be denied - he won the $10,000 freezeout and became the first-ever two-time WSOP champion. In 1972 and 1973 he finished 2nd at the Main Event to Amarillo Slim Preston and Walter "Puggy" Pearson, respectively, but in 1974 he set the bar for all-time greatness when he captured his third WSOP championship. Only one person since - the manic Stu Ungar - has managed to win three Main Events, and nobody has made it to heads-up play in four consecutive years. It boggles the mind to imagine how long his list of accomplishments might have been had something like the WSOP existed when Moss was in his prime.

Before he became associated with the WSOP, Moss was already known as one of the great card players in the world. He began playing at the age of ten in his hometown of Odessa, Texas, when he picked up the game from a group of local cheats. They showed him the ins and outs of conning players at the table - dealing from the bottom of the deck, marking cards, and the like. Moss used his education in a most impressive way, learning to spot cheats at the tables rather than cheating himself. As a teenager he turned his knowledge into a job at a local saloon watching the games to make sure they were clean. This position afforded him the opportunity to watch poker players all day for two years straight, and it could be argued that this was part of what eventually made him one of the greatest players of all-time.

Moss took his act on the road after learning the game, traveling wherever there was a good game to be had. The times when Moss traveled around winning more money than any other poker player in the world were a far cry from today's licensed land-based casinos and online card rooms. He always traveled armed, and on plenty of occasions had the need to use his weapon. Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist Michael Konik once asked Moss if he had ever killed a man. Moss' reply was, "I don't know if he died." Try to imagine such words coming from a Chris Moneymaker or Robert Varkonyi and you might be in danger of laughing yourself to death; imagine them coming from Moss and you don't doubt them for a second.

Probably the most famous story involving Moss is the tale of his heads-up match against Nick "The Greek" Dandalos. Dandalos was a famous high-stakes gambler who rolled into Las Vegas in 1949 after breaking all the best players on the East Coast. Nobody else in town but Benny Binion would book any of the Greek's high-rolling action, so when he wanted a $250,000 game of no-limit poker Binion unsurprisingly obliged him. Binion called up his old friend Moss and asked him to come play - Moss reportedly left the game he was playing at the time and made his way to the table at the Horseshoe as soon as he arrived in Las Vegas. Binion placed the game at the entrance to the Horseshoe, hoping it would bring his casino lots of business. For five months the two dueled away, before the Greek finally bowed out of the match with his now famous words: "Mr. Moss, I must let you go." Moss reportedly took home over $4 million for his efforts, a sum so monumental for the day that it dwarfs even today's richest tournament prizes.

The Grand Old Man passed away in 1997, the same year that Stu Ungar tied his record of three Main Event victories. Though he'll never sit at a poker table again, there isn't a player alive who doesn't owe a debt of gratitude to this trailblazing Texas gambler.

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