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|1.||From Arkansas to Texas--the Making of Amarillo Slim||11|
|2.||Serving My Country (and Myself)||27|
|3.||If You Want Some Publicity, Set Yourself on Fire||47|
|4.||Have I Got a Proposition for You: Titanic, Runyon, Moss, and More||63|
|5.||Doyle, Sailor, and Slim: Three Peas in a Pod Who Liked to Book and Bet (but Not Among Themselves)||87|
|6.||It Takes a Tough Sonofabitch to Whip Me: Poker and Life as a Texas Road Gambler||111|
|7.||A Binion, a Greek, and How Las Vegas Became the Poker Capital of the World||131|
|8.||Another Greek, a Thackrey, and the World Series of Poker||149|
|9.||Celebrity Has Its Perks||173|
|10.||The River of No Return||187|
|11.||Spit and Pull It--Leading Men and the Super Bowl of Poker||201|
|12.||Very Seldom Do the Lambs Slaughter the Butcher--Getting Fat Overseas||221|
|13.||A Rattlesnake, an Alligator, Pablo Escobar, and Another Trip to Idaho When I Almost Didn't Return||233|
|14.||The Last Hand||257|
On December 31, 1928, I was born Thomas Austin Preston Jr. in Johnson, Arkansas, a town of about two hundred between Fayetteville and Springdale in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Johnson's one distinction is a limekiln, which turns out a product that's put in a urinal to kill the smell.
It didn't take long for my folks to see the error of their ways, and when I was just nine months old, we moved to Turkey, Texas. They must have had a thing for small towns, because Turkey, a little farming and ranching community about 130 miles southeast of Amarillo, had fewer than a thousand people when we showed up. My folks were ordinary, churchgoing, hardworking people.
We moved around Texas quite a bit while I was young, and when I was in sixth grade at a junior high school in Mineral Wells, Texas, I set junior-high track records in the fifty- and hundred-yard dash and as the anchor for the four-by-one-hundred relay. I was tall and skinny, and I could run like the wind -- a skill that would come in handy when I was old enough to bet.
I never did have any siblings, so I had to learn the fine art of competition on my own. My folks divorced when I was about eleven, and I spent part of the time with one and the rest of the time with the other. The situation wasn't the greatest, but it taught me a lot about being independent, becoming my own person, and learning how to look out for myself.
When my folks split, Mama went back to Arkansas and Daddy moved to Amarillo to run some restaurants and later a car lot. And it's a good thing he did, because Amarillo Slim sounds a heckuva lot better than Turkey Tom or Arkansas Austin. Having spent just about all my seventy-four years in the Lone Star State, I'm a bona fide, dyed-in-the-wool Texan -- and I sure as hell like it that way.
Sometimes people wonder if I come from a long line of professional gamblers -- frontiersmen from the Old West who would just as soon shoot a man dead for looking at him the wrong way. But I was down in Auckland, New Zealand, not too long ago, researching my family name, and I found out that the Prestons were silversmiths from England. I was hoping they were stagecoach robbers or something, but, like my daddy, they were straight shooters. My old man didn't gamble -- no, not T. A. Preston Sr. -- and my mama, Pearl Caldwell, didn't either. Heck, she was squarer than an apple box, which suited her well when she became an elementary-school teacher.
I guess you could say I had a knack for arithmetic as a kid -- as most professional gamblers do. If you're going to make your living putting the odds in your favor, you damn well better know how to calculate them. The late, great Stuey Ungar, one of the best damn card players I ever saw, was a mathematical genius. Chip Reese, who at age forty was the youngest player ever inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, got a degree in economics from Dartmouth. And not long after he dropped out of Cal Tech, Huck Seed won the World Series of Poker in 1996. Part of the hustle may be pretending not to be smart, but behind every gambler is a razor-sharp mind.
I did the third and fourth grades in one year, but it wasn't until I was in junior high school that anyone suggested I had some kind of gift besides running footraces. By that time my mama was living in Johnson, Arkansas, again -- in the same house where both she and I were born. Figuring I was some kind of math whiz, my mama wanted to give me every advantage to get ahead in this world, so she arranged for me to attend Peabody Academy starting in the ninth grade. Peabody was a preparatory school on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where students from the university would ply their trade on gifted kids as they learned how to be educators.
It turned out that Mama was right about Peabody helping to advance my career. The school offered the one tool that would be the most influential element in my education: a snooker table in the student-services building. I never could tell her that I spent most of my spare time (and some of my class time) playing snooker, a game similar to pool except that it's played on a bigger table with smaller pockets and smaller balls. I always said that I learned more about life from poolrooms and casinos than I ever did in the classroom. To this day I have never in my life had occasion to diagram a sentence, but I sure as hell had plenty of occasions to hustle pool. I suppose, however, that I learned a little something about politics while I was at Peabody, because I was elected president of the sophomore class.
W. C. Fields said, "Too great a proficiency at pool bespeaks a misspent youth," but that timeless nugget didn't apply to me. I wasn't all that mischievous growing up, and I didn't start playing snooker or pool until I arrived at Peabody. Once I started, though, I couldn't stop, and it seems like I've been making up for lost time ever since.
Even though I was tall, I never weighed more than 155 pounds in high school and was too skinny to play football. When I was a kid, I had to get out of the bathtub before they pulled the plug. But I played a decent game of basketball, and I still win money shooting free throws to this day ...Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People
Posted January 26, 2014
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