Added on May 9, 2014, in Gambling Legends by Gambling Gurus
Johnny Moss – The King of Poker
In the world of Gambling Legends, Johnny Moss, who was a life-long American gambler is worthy of the accolade “Champion of Champions”, especially in the game of poker where he is adored as a trailblazer of a kind.
Born in Marshal, Texas in 1907, his passion for gambling started as a young boy around Dallas, Texas where he was hired by a local saloon to work as a ‘fair play watcher’ for some games as he grew up in the neighborhood.
As a professional gambler and thoroughbred poker player, Johnny Moss is credited with the first win at the opening edition of the Texas Gamblers Convention (T G C) where his peers awarded him the title by unanimous vote in 1968.
When Benny Binion changed the T G C to the World Series of Poker in 1970, Johnny became the first to win the title from voting as before. His name is golden in the world of gambling and symbolic in the Poker Hall of Fame!
The Early Years
By the time his father was put out of work by an accident, Johnny Moss could not yet read or write but he made money selling newspapers. He met Benny Binion at the Ackard Street’s Domino Parlour where he spent his time. Both became friends and competitors running messages for Western Union. At age 12 Johnny’s life as a gambler had started budding; he could play high-level dominoes and decoded Morse Code just by its sound.
At 16, Mr. Wade who owned a draw poker club, The Otter’s Club, hired Johnny Moss as a game watcher to prevent cheating. On seeing that Johnny had an eye for the ‘Game of Poker’, Wade taught him the game. Now Johnny could play, as he did his job. Johnny Later learned Texas Hold’em at The Elk’s Club, but not before learning other games including Stud and Lowball. Johnny soon had all the Hold’em players brought over to the Otter’s Club where he made a fat income of $20 a week. After his marriage to Virgie Ann Mouser in May of 1926 Johnny went strictly for a life of gambling.
The Oil Rich Poker Games and the Big Bankrolls
Having chosen to go all out for gambling alone, Johnny Moss had it tough in the early years while searching for Oil rich poker games with big bankrolls. A roughneck job at Texaco presented Johnny with the long sought opportunity, and before long he was up with a fat bankroll. With a decent sized bankroll now, Johnny Moss decided to give Virgie a treat with an Olney, TX., holiday where she would meet with her relatives.
However, Johnny was never to return back as planned because he was soon to strike a deal of joint venture with an Olney domino parlour he just discovered. The deal was a huge success as Johnny could pay the police chief 4 times his salary ($150) just for him to leave them alone to gamble. Unfortunately, by early 1930, Johnny was jailed after a raid, but not long afterward he was out and headed for Graham, TX., for oil rich poker games of which the oil city presented a perfect opportunity.
With the help of a Graham bank manager Johnny opened another gambling parlour, and soon passed the 6-figure bankroll mark. By learning from the pros, Johnny Moss learned how to play sports, like golf and bowling and other big card cards for money in just a short while. By 1930, large games with $50,000 sit-downs had become common in the oil rich town of Dallas, Texas, hence; poker had become big business.
Johnny tried his hands successfully on the big games as Dallas beckoned. Before long Johnny was in Dallas where he ran the Arrigon Club for 7 months, having taken up 50% stake between 1942 and 1943 before he was called for military service.
Back To The Tables
By the time Johnny was honorably discharged from the military in December 1945 and went back to Texas, the game of Texas Hold’em had taken up the poker airwave. Johnny dived deep into the game as he reentered the stage, but he struck beyond his capacity and went in the red by $80,000. His friend Benny Binion brought him back in the black with $100,000 spot.
Johnny headed again for the massive bankroll and took up residence at Bugsy Siegel’s prestigious Flamingo Hotel where he hit the tables in the Fur Room all night for an $800 limit game. He also visited California for a daily Lowball game. Later he met Howard Hughes who lent Johnny his private jet to visit the two cities daily. His part was to take care of the crew of Hughes’ private jet.
Before the big games became scarce in the early 1950’s, Johnny had already played the much-celebrated Head-up epic with the famous Nick the Greek. Since big games had become scarce, Johnny got hooked up on craps and went in the red again with $500,000 and all of the Vegas Casino’s had credit lines on his name. Johnny opted to pulse his gambling addiction for a while to repay the debt with $100,000 yearly installment.
He also had to quit playing craps and was out of gambling for 6 months straight after a car accident in 1955, but by the time he returned back to the road games, other big names like Sailor Roberts, Amarillo Slim Preston and Doyle Brunson, had emerged. Honorably, by 1958 Johnny went off tables to erect his first personal residence in Odessa, Texas with the help of his wife, and as he ran out of cash Johnny went for a bank loan.
The Road Games and the Law
By 1961 Johnny Moss was back on the road for the road games, however; the Interstate Gambling Law had been passed against road games. Traveling to another city to play games, which was Johnny’s lifeline, had now become illegal. As a result, the hijackers with their guns, the IRS and the federal agents with their peeping eyes made things hard for Johnny. Virgie, his wife, wanted Johnny to retire from gambling so that the family would then only depend on Virgie’s long time investments in stocks and the Odessa apartment proceeds. By 1963 Johnny threw in the towel and retired.
The Big Stake Tournaments – From Retirement to Bankrolls
If there was any person’s life in which the saying “The Old Soldier Never Dies” became visibly real, it was in the life of Johnny Moss. By 1968, a phone call from a friend in the gambling world pulled Johnny out of his retirement. It was the year of the Texas Gamblers Convention; a prestigious poker tournament where the best poker players of the decade gathered in the Las Vegas type of town; Reno, Texas to play competitive poker variants in a safe environment.
It was another opportunity for Johnny Moss to reinvent himself on the game with old pals and give his passion a chance to flow again. The Texas Gamblers Convention was a cash game of many poker game variants instead of the usual freeze-outs, and Johnny was too excited to grab the chance and stake it all. A voting process would determine the best player. Guess who won the competition! It was Johnny!
The Texas Gamblers Convention became the most prestigious poker event of the time. Benny Binion and his family saw the prospects of the poker convention, bought over the right and changed the Convention to the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 1970. Under the new name, Johnny Moss became the first person to win the title again by voting, beating 38 participants.
Benny Binion and his associates changed the WSOP format from cash games to freeze-out modes in 1971, with five tournaments played before the final event. Another major change was the introduction of a high buy-in of $5000. This factor alone reduced participation to only 6 poker players. Johnny emerged world poker champion again by winning the 1971 WSOP with $30,000 prize money.
Johnny Moss was not done as he was at it again at the 1974 World Series of Poker where the winner was meant to take all freeze-outs. This time he went home with prize money of $160,000 cash.
In all, Johnny was nicknamed “The Grand Old Man” due to his poker exploits and his long marriage with the poker tables. He participated in all the World Series of Poker tournaments from 1970 through 1995, amassing nine tournament bracelets and winning over $824,922 WSOP tournament prize money! As Johnny retired back into his shell, he ranked fourth in the world among the WSOP tournament winners of his time.
By 1979 Johnny’s name had appeared on the list of the charter inductees into the Poker Hall of Fame. As Johnny Moss was leaving the scene after paving the way for a younger generation of poker players, he was immortalized with one of the poker games. The Texas Hold’em variation game of Ace-Ten was renamed in Johnny’s honor as “The Johnny Moss”. Other notable Tournament Bracelet winners are; Phil Hellmuth who won it eleven times, Johnny Chan who won it ten times, and Doyle Brunson who also won it ten times.
Johnny Moss, Gambling Legend!