SI Vault
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.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
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

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

"I'll sum up poker playing in a hurry. When a good player gets lucky he wins the whole table. And when a poor Player gets lucky he wins just a small corner of the table. I sum it up for you just like that."

Ranking in the hierarchy of gamblers are Jews, Greeks Chinese and Texans, in no certain order. There is an adage that a casino is assured of success if it attracts a flourishing Jewish trade. Greeks are said to be cunning, Chinese clever and persistent. The mystique about poker players from Texas is that the best ones are very high rollers and nerveless.

"I'd always heard about these big poker players from Texas," says Jack Richardson, a New York writer. "I kept thinking, well, I'm a good player and I want to try myself against them. I came into a pretty good stake. So one night I sat in a game with these big players from Texas, and before I'd seen the last card of my first hand I had already risked a significant portion of my stake. They'd put me into a position where I had to win a hand right away or my stake would be gone. I was in the wrong league. Later I asked one of these fellows to teach me about poker. He was the perfect guy, was called Doc, had a curly cowlick, the whole thing. He sat me down in his kitchen at the table. Doc left the room. An hour went by. I was thinking, what the hell, getting very restless. Then he came back and said, 'You just had your first lesson. Patience.' "

Some of the biggest poker games ever held were in small hotels in Texas during the Depression. Gamblers and street hustlers were going into the oil business, and they were betting leases and rigs as well as cash. "If you played a week you could win a million dollars, win it in a night if it shaped up right," Johnny Moss recalls. "There were games, like at the old Metropolitan Hotel in Fort Worth, that nobody would believe the sums involved if I told you today. You got to be a good gambler, anyhow, to get rich in the oil business. Some of them players came out worth S40 million, what with poker and dice and oil leases and whatnot. Money didn't mean nothing to them, but gambling did. Some of them big oldtime oilmen still play in big poker games, but only for the pleasure of stepping on a professional gambler if they can. I like to see them come around."

High rollers are thrilled by numbers. "When you've rolled for a thousand who wants to roll for a dime anymore?" says Jack Binion. The late Little Man Popwell, famous as a compulsive high roller, was trying to borrow $10,000 in Pittsburgh a few years ago. A friend told him, "I happen to know you got $290,000 with you. What you need with $10,000?" Little Man replied, "I got a good thing on a football game, and I want to bet $300,000."

Johnny Moss had been playing in high games for years when Benny Binion called him and said, "They got a fellow out here that thinks he can play stud poker." Moss packed and headed for Las Vegas for his confrontation with Nick the Greek—a classic session. "I wasn't the best stud player in the world no way, but I could play good stud, you know, and I figured I'd better do it," Moss says. "We got at it, and there was hundreds of people sweating the game; people everywhere, and the table was full of checks."

Early in the game Moss had two nines up. The biggest card Nick the Greek had showing was an eight. On the fifth card the Greek caught a jack. Moss bet $20,000. The Greek raised $20,000.

"I think I got a jack in the hole," the Greek said.

"I told him, 'Greek, if you got a jack in the hole you are liable to win yourself a damn big pot,' " says Moss. "I shoved out another $20,000, and the Greek turned over a jack.

"The biggest bet me and Nick made on the sail of a card was after we'd took to playing lowball, deuce to the seven. Two-three-four-five-seven is the best hand in that game, and you play it like draw poker. Nick bet $60,000, and I bet him $60,000 more. He drawed one card. I stayed pat with an eight-six.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7