Famous Gamblers, Poker History
and Texas Stories
by Johnny Hughes
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"Famous Gambers, Poker History, and Texas Stories"
This book is written for everyone to read: men and women of all ages, all over the world. Being too lazy to work, and too nervous to steal, I became a West Texas road gambler and have sixty years of personal gambling history. I've been robbed by shotguns, pistols, and a lawyer with a ball-point pen. I shot over the head of a robber, and walked three different people out of my gambling joint with my barking iron.
I was the original manager of the Joe Ely Band. One night while I was dancing at the legendary Cotton Club, I pulled my pistol out of my boot and fired a couple of rounds into the ceiling. Being West Texas, no one called the law. I'm old enough now to share the secrets. These critically-acclaimed, humorous, revealing memories are added to decades of research in this collection of stories and articles previously published in magazines, mostly in Europe.
Benny Binion got me a job for Bill Boyd playing poker on house money at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas when I was 21. I caught Titanic Thompson's son and a few more cheating, back in Texas. Both Johnny Moss and bridge-great, Oswald Jacoby have staked me to play bridge. We lost. I was arrested by the local police and the legendary Texas Rangers with some of the early gambling legends, and future World Series of Poker champions. I played poker half a century ago with Jack "Treetop" Straus, Bill Smith, Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim, and Sailor Roberts, all world champs. Many of the outrageous characters in this book were people I knew very well.
This book tells a well-researched, history of America through the fascinating, larger-than-life, biographies of colorful gamblers, some famous, some not so famous: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Poker Alice, Lottie Deno, Nick the Greek, Johnny Moss, Benny Binion, Titanic Thompson, Arnold Rothstein, Minnesota Fats, Amarillo Slim, and so much more. The book has biography, cultural history, short stories, memoir, wisdom, philosophy, and psychology. This book is written to inform, but more importantly, to entertain! As Benny Binion said, "I'll tell you the truth, but I won't tell you everything."
Many of these articles and stories have appeared in Bluff Magazine, Bluff Europe Magazine, Player Ireland, TexasMonthly.com, Pokerati.com, TwoPlusTwo Poker Forum, and The Texas Observer. One of these stories won Honorable Mention in the 2012 Texas Observer short story contest. A second volume of these collected writings will be available on all Amazons in a few months.
WEST TEXAS AND THE MOVIES: A great many movies were made about the famous folks I write about, many of whom are pictured in this book. They MET here in West Texas. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Big Nose Kate Elder. Fifty-five movies made about them. They also met lady gambler, Lottie Deno, the model for Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke, the TV series. Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson also had long-running TV series made about them. Poker Alice, played by Elizabeth Taylor, met Bat Masterson, movies and TV series. They also met Pat Garrett, who killed Billy the Kid, spawning many movies. Bat and Col. Ranald Mackenzie both met Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, many U.S. Cavalry movies. America's most famous gambler, Titantic Thompson, was the model for Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. He met Amarillo Slim, who was in an Altman movie. The epic match and meeting between Titanic Thompson and Johnny Moss took place at Meadowbrook Golf Course in Lubbock. Woody Guthrie's movie is one of the finest ever made. Bob Wills was in the movies, as was Elvis Presley, who met Buddy Holly in Lubbock. There's a movie about him. THE FLATLANDERS are headed for Carnegie Hall. Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock. They got back together to write a tune for a Robert Redford movie. Jimmie's been in a movie. They are not through yet. As an actor and author, I am available for radio interviews and for speaking movie parts.
"This book should be required reading for all young players who have no knowledge of the history of poker. This is the true story of some of the men who laid the foundation for the phenomenon that poker has become worldwide. What a trip down memory lane for an old retired poker player. They say that history is written by the survivors. Thanks to Johnny Hughes for preserving the history of the beginnings of the phenomenon that poker has become."
- Crandell Addington, Poker Hall of Fame. Record holder, most final table appearances at the main event of the World Series of Poker.
"I remember most of the guys you talk about. You have a great writing style, very credible, and entertaining. Those were dangerous times. Sailor Roberts and I were living in San Angelo when Red Harris (who should have been a comedian) came to town to fade a dice game. We shot our way out of the Longhorn Motel when the hijackers tried to get us. Red was a little crazy, not at all like Curly who was always cool. Curly was the consummate gambler, probably the only one I ever knew. He had no leaks that me or anyone else knew of. Almost everyone has bad habits of some sort (including me) but as you said, Curly was always after the cash! Almost all of the guys are gone. A great book!."
- Doyle Brunson, Poker Hall of Fame. Winner of 11 World Series of Poker events, author of The Godfather of Poker.
"He's known 'em all, and played with most of them. He's seen everything, and done most of it. He's as good a writer as he is a player. When it comes to poker tales of Texas and Vegas, old and new, Johnny Hughes is your man."
- Anthony Holden, London, author of Big Deal and thirty-four other books, President of the International Federation of Poker.
"I consider Johnny Hughes to be the William Manchester of poker historians. With Hughes, no task is too burdensome, and no detail is trivial. He flat out gets the story. His writings are a testament to an era of Americana that is as rich as the Old West. Scrolling the pages of a Hughes narrative is like lighting a lantern into the darkest recess of poker's subculture. He brings the legends of the past and present to life and often provides the very best portrait of these unique real-life characters of anyone on record."
- Nolan Dalla, Las Vegas, Media Director. World Series of Poker. Card Player writer. Dalla co-authored the best-selling biography, One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey "the Kid" Ungar.
"Johnny Hughes is a historian of poker, and his tales are those from a wilder West, from the days before poker became a staple of Las Vegas' glittering casinos and was then homogenized into television programming for America's viewing public. His tales are as hard-scrabble as the West Texas Panhandle, filled with the romance of the game, the travels, and the ethics of Texas road gamblers a breed that was once prolific but is now fast receding. If you are a poker player, then this is your history. It was raw, even a bit dangerous, and a player needed to have his wits about him all the time. The early players, those Texas road gamblers, never realized they were the fathers of today's game, and they wouldn't have cared. They were poker players. But their story folds neatly into yours, a seamless journey from dusty West Texas to today's card rooms and casinos. Hughes tells these tales without adornment, in a simple, direct style. And that is just the way they should be told. There is no need to embellish; the characters and situations speak for themselves. And they are speaking directly to you. Pick up his book and read it."
- Lou Krieger, best selling author , radio host.
"Johnny Hughes was embedded with hustlers, pimps, crooked sheriffs, and outlaws decades before most modern professional poker players were even born. Hughes is a captivating raconteur and avid historian of Texas gambling folklore. He seeks out characters cast off to the farthest fringes of society, then brings them to life with a unique flair and panache.
Johnny Hughes paints word pictures with witty, lush brush strokes reminiscent of Tom Wolfe, but with the bold brevity of Ernest Hemingway. He is nonpareil when it comes to capturing the old-school, rough and tumble days of Texas road gamblers."
- Paul "Dr. Pauly" McGuire, Bluff Magazine, Tao of Poker, author of Jack Tripper Stole My Dog.
"Reading through the deep history from Johnny Hughes is only paralleled by listening to him tell those stories in real time. His knowledge of poker and its key players both before and after anyone knew who they were is like putting yourself in the same room as it all unfolded. My favorite time in history that Johnny expertly portrays is when the mob ruled Las Vegas and Sinatra fooled around in it. We are ever excited to have Johnny visit us on air and count the days until he returns. If you want to know the real stories behind poker before it was on TV and the Internet, the works of Johnny Hughes are required course materials!."
- Ryan Sayer, Chief Operations Officer at OnTilt Radio LLC and Host of The Ryan Sayer Show
"Johnny Hughes is not only a poker-history buff, as am I, but he lived much of it! I always glean something new from his stories and anecdotes. Keep 'em coming, Johnny!"
- Blair Rodman, WSOP bracelet winner and co-author of Kill Phil.
"One of my all-time favorite poker writers. Johnny Hughes poker stories are a national treasure. As one of the few remaining genuine, old-school poker writers, Johnny's hilarious stories and colorful characters are timeless classics and deserve to be placed on the same shelf with all the classics of the genre. This is the stuff of history. Of where our beloved game came from. And it rightfully deserves to be shared."
- Iggy a.k.a. Ignatius J. Reilly, the Blogfather of Poker. GuinnessandPoker.com, Cincinnati, Ohio
"A roller coaster ride of how road gamblers from Texas made their cash, played their game, along with the characters you would most likely meet along the way. This book is told with authenticity and the knowledge that only a true road gambler could possess. If you love poker, then you have just stumbled upon a book that you will love. If you don't play poker, you will surely have an enormous appetite for the great game after a few page turns. A highly enjoyable read."
- Anthony Kelly, Editor, Player Europe Magazine, Dublin, Ireland.
"Johnny Hughes is a gifted writer from the Lone Star State. A Ph.D. A poker raconteur. Author of novels, short stories, essays and poems. The man is an enigma. Cryptic, dark. Irrefutably unique. Elliptical euphemism and metaphor are his tools. Gambling folklore and parables abound. All told with a twinkle in the eye and one finger on the trigger."
- Tetusu, Bet-the-Pot.com, London, England.
"In a new-school industry full of new-school faces, an old-school voice reminds us of where we came from. I'm a Johnny Hughes fan; he has survived the wars of the felt and shared that experience with the world. Now, he gives us another gift; the benefits of his experience combined with a unique story-telling style that allows us to live that life through his narrative Hughes has a truly unique style there is no real substitute for actually having been there. Johnny has been there. Johnny's been everywhere. Johnny bore witness to a lot of the Texas road goings on that the rest of us only hear about Hughes' style is hard (like the man had to be. These men remember a time when poker wasn't so much glitz and glamour, when the cameras and lights were substituted for by cigars and guns. It feels a lot safer the way we do it now, but you have to admit there is a romance to what once was."
- Gary Wise, Toronto, Poker Historian. Bluff Magazine, ESPN.com.
|Reviews of this Book||ix|
|I. Famous Gamblers in American History||xvii|
|When the Most Famous Gambler in the World was a Shill: Nick the Greek versus Johnny Moss||1|
|Titanic Thompson: The Gambler and Con Man, His Fantastic Proposition Bets and Amazing Eyes||12|
|Curly Cavitt: My Major Gambling Teacher||24|
|Arnold Rothstein: America's Richest Gambler Murdered Over a Poker Game||45|
|Remembering Johnny Moss: ThThe Grand Old Man of Poker||49|
|Benny Binion: Texas Boss Gambler||55|
|Las Vegas, Show Business, and the Mob||59|
|Amarillo Slim Remembered. A Great Hustler. An Even Greater Showman||64|
|Minnesota Fats: The World's Greatest Pool Hustler||67|
|Oswald Jacoby: The Smartest Card Player of All Time||74|
|The Mysterious Death of Austin Squatty||79|
|E.W. Chapman a.k.a. Ol' 186||82|
|II. Famous Gamblers of the Old West||91|
|Wyatt Earp: A Leader Among Gambling Men||93|
|Doc Holliday: A Gunfight Waiting to Happen||105|
|William "Bat" Masterson: The Most Loyal Friend in the Old West||113|
|Benjamin "Ben" Thompson: The Old West's Deadliest Gunfighter Was An Englishman||122|
|III. My Best Short Fiction||129|
|The Man Who Knew Jack Ruby||131|
|Those Grifting O'Malleys||134|
|The Hero of COINTELPRO||139|
|The O'Malley Family Tonic||144|
|Was Joe Hill Guilty?||153|
|Lubbock's Own: Larry "the Laugher" Larson||161|
|A Gambling License for the Horseshoe||165|
|I Screwed Your Sister in High School: A Lubbock Fable||170|
|Jack Burk is in Heaven!||176|
|lV. Memoirs and Secrets||179|
|Learning to be a Professional Gambler: The Hard Road||181|
|Poker in a Texas Whore House||187|
|Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Joe Ely, and the Cotton Club||191|
|I've Been Lucky, Very Lucky: Memory Highlights||197|
|Poker Then and Poker Now: Praise for the Rio and Caesar's: Paradise Found||202|
|The Passing of Texas Culture||207|
|Remembering Jesse "Guitar" Taylor||209|
|Acknowledgements and Many Thanks To:||215|
|Sources, References, Highly Recommended Books||217|
|About the Author||219|