The late Thomas Austin Preston, Jr., popularly known as ‘Amarillo Slim’, who died in 2012 at the age of 83, was arguably the most famous poker player of the twentieth century. Born in Johnson, Arkansas on New Year’s Eve, 1928, Preston moved to Amarillo, Texas to live with his father, Thomas Preston, Snr., at the age of 16, following the divorce of his parents.
The following year, Preston enlisted in the Navy, but spent much of his time as a bluejacket hustling in pool halls on the West Coast, which is where his nickname originated. Indeed, such was his aptitude as a ‘road warrior’ that, when he left the Navy three years later, he had over $100,000 to his name. However, by his own admission, he had lost it all within a year.
Later in his career, from 1964 onwards, Preston travelled the Southwestern United States, playing ‘underground’ poker alongside Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson and Brian ‘Sailor’ Roberts. However, in 1972, Preston beat Walter ‘Puggy’ Pearson to win the Main Event of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) at Binion’s Horseshoe in Downtown Las Vegas and, together with $80,000 in prize money, the unofficial title of ‘World Champion’.
Preston subsequently became an international celebrity and made regular appearances on television programmes, including ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’. Indeed, he is credited with starting poker, especially his favourite variant, Texas Hold’em, on the road to respectability. All told, Preston won five 22-carat WSOP gold bracelets and in excess of $500,000 in tournament earnings during his career. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, created by Benny Binion in 1979, in 1992.