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IT AIN'T JUST ALL HEAVEN, GAMBLING. THERE'S A LOT YOU GOT TO CONTEND WITH--John Hardie Moss, world's best poker player
Edwin Shrake
January 25, 1971
In a voice that sounds like a recorded announcement Eighty Dollar Natey says, "Pleased to make your acquaintance." His handshake is quick and slight, his flesh cold. His eyes, sunk in black pockets in a face otherwise white as alabaster, move around the casino on a sunny morning in Glitter Gulch in downtown Las Vegas. He is searching for clients among players who have been up all night at the green tables. What Eighty Dollar Natey does is lend small sums of money to people who go broke. He demands a very high rate of interest, but they pay it.
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January 25, 1971

It Ain't Just All Heaven, Gambling. There's A Lot You Got To Contend With--john Hardie Moss, World's Best Poker Player

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Moss also manages the poker room at Benny Binion's Horseshoe Club in Glitter Gulch. He and Binion are old friends who were hustlers as kids on the streets of East Dallas, and occasionally there is a no-limit poker game at the Horseshoe. The Horseshoe also has a $2,500 limit at craps, highest in the country. This is of purely speculative interest to Moss, who does not shoot craps. Anymore.

The story is told by old gamblers that Moss was summoned to Las Vegas in 1951 by Benny Binion to play in a spectacular poker game against Nick Dandolos, who was known as Nick the Greek. Moss broke the Greek, they say, and stayed in Las Vegas for three years. In that time, according to the legend, Moss won $5 million at cards and $1.5 million playing golf. But in 1954 he left Las Vegas $500,000 in debt. He had lost it all shooting craps. Moss paid back the money in five years at $100,000 per year by going on the road as a poker player. He did not return to Las Vegas until 1968 when his friend Sid Wyman, casino boss and part owner of the Dunes, asked him to return.

Like most citizens, whether they gamble or not, Moss is wary of the Internal Revenue Service. All he will admit about his first three years in Las Vegas is that whatever he won was taken away by the dice. "You might get hot and win at dice or baccarat or blackjack for a couple of days, but there ain't a man alive can stay with them games against the house for a long period of time and not wind up broke," he says. "You don't see me shooting no dice, and I used to be a good shooter."

Moss watches the players at the pinball machines, but his mind is elsewhere. "I'll tell you about Las Vegas," he says. "Everybody out here is trying to get his hand into your pocket. They smell money. If you got it, they're somewhere right this minute scheming how to get it away from you. Always figuring, figuring, figuring how to hustle you. A sucker don't ever catch on. A smart man don't ever sleep. He's got to keep ducking the traps."

Jean Magowan, publicity director for the Dunes, is asked to describe Johnny Moss. "Oh, Mr. Moss is a darling," she says. "He's such a sweet man. So quiet and nice and grandfatherly. You'd trust him with anything. He looks like a cherub. Yes, he looks exactly like the kind of man you'd like to sit down and play cards with."

Sid Wyman is behind his desk in his office off the casino floor at the Dunes. Wyman, an enormous man with a slap-bass voice, is noted as a top cardplayer in his own right, one who "plays all the games," as the gamblers say, and you don't become part owner of the Dunes by losing.

"One thing about poker players," Wyman says, "they all think they're the world champion. It's as simple as that. But Johnny Moss happens to be the champion player. If you put 10 games together, like a decathlon, he'd be the best at eight and probably second in the other two. He's a real hard man to play with. He never divulges anything. A lot of poker players, you look hard and long enough, you'll find a little weakness, a chink in the armor that you might be able to penetrate. But Johnny—never, nothing.

"He's got know-how. Being able to feel the pulse of the other players is tremendously instrumental in determining whether you win or lose. Many people, if you put enough steam on them, you take the money down—because they might be a little lacking in heart, lacking bankroll, lacking in many things that you sit in judgment on at that table. A lot of players show bravery leap m where the angels fear to tread. Johnny shows courage—that's when you think it over and then tread Any man that comes in here and puts his money down on the poker table in large doses feels he's a champion Player It's as simple as that. But I'd have to say that 98% of them go home empty. Not Johnny.

"One great quality he's got is a very small regard for money. If money is really important to you, you'll never be a good high player. To Johnny, money is just paper to gamble with. That's one reason he's a great no-limit player. He's got heart and he knows psychology. He can move his checks in such a fashion that he gets his opponents in so deep that it becomes just as dangerous for them to stop as to go ahead. He makes them call him, and he busts 'em. It's as simple as that.

"Johnny is great at selling a hand. Some guy, you can win $100,000 from him if you win it $2,000 at a time. The same guy, if you win $20,000 from him on one hand he'll quit and never play with you again. I was playing stud one night with a fellow named Slim. He had eight-10-jack-queen-up. I had a pair of sixes. It was a small game, and I said to myself if he bets $2,500 I'm gonna pass, because he's trying to sell the hand, but if he bets more I'm gonna call. He bet $2,900. I just called it, put it right in, made him a miser. My sixes took it. If he'd tried to sell me a little cheaper, he'd of got it. You must know your man!

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