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Amarillo Slim

By Paul McGuire

There aren’t too many characters around like Amarillo Slim. You can easily pick him out of a crowd. He’s the tall, skinny guy wearing the cowboy hat, ostrich boots, and emerald buttons on his Western style shirt. Amarillo Slim is one of the most famous gamblers in the world and he helped bring high stakes poker from the seedy, smoke-filled, dangerous backrooms of Texas to respectability at the glitzy and glamorous casinos of Las Vegas.

Amarillo Slim
Amarillo Slim - Source: Las Vegas & Poker

Amarillo Slim was born as Thomas Austin Preston, Jr. in Johnson, Arkansas. At the age of 16, he first became famous as the youngest World Billiards Champion. He worked for the USO and flew all over the world entertaining American soldiers abroad. After several years on the road, he settled in Texas. He eventually met Doyle Brunson and the two started a book making operation. They also played in high stakes poker games all over Texas, risking their lives and their bankrolls nightly.

During his wild and flavorful life, Amarillo Slim has sat at the same poker table with U.S. Presidents (Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon) and has even stood eye to eye with the diabolical Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar. In the mid-1990s, Escobar’s drug gang kidnapped Amarillo Slim as he played cards in a casino in Cartegena, Colombia. They stripped him naked, bound him, and flew him to Medellin where he was eventually released and narrowly escaped death.

Amarillo Slim’s greatest moment came in 1972 when he won the World Series of Poker. Twenty years later, he would be elected into the Poker Hall of Fame. He has four World Series of Poker bracelets and came in second place at the 2001 World No Limit Heads Up Championship.

Amarillo Slim is not just an excellent poker player, he’s a notorious proposition gambler too. He once bet $1 million that he could hit a golf ball one mile and won. He beat the infamous Minnesota Fats in a game of pool using only a broom stick. When Bobby Riggs challenged him to a game of ping pong, he got to choose the paddles and picked iron skillets. He promptly beat Riggs. One of my favorite stories is of the time he beat Evel Knievel at a round of golf using a hammer. Amarillo has also fleeced $2 million off of Larry Flynt playing Seven-card Stud and has taken Willie Nelson for $300,000 playing dominoes.

Amarillo Slim is a true celebrity. He has appeared on the Tonight Show more than eleven times. He is also one of the most quoted gamblers of all time and has a one-liner for everything. My favorite Amarillo Slim quote is, "Nobody is always a winner, and anybody who says he is, is either a liar or doesn't play poker."

He recently had a biography published called Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People, which chronicles his life. He shares hundreds of his gambling stories from the road. He is married and has three children. Naturally, Amarillo Slim lives in Amarillo, Texas.

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