Puggy Pearson

Father of 'freeze-out' poker


Walter Clyde Pearson (Puggy Pearson), card player: born Adairville, Kentucky 29 January 1929; married (one son, one daughter); died Las Vegas 12 April 2006.

"Puggy's looks fool you, that pug nose and round face, that unbrilliant look of any sort. You just cannot conceive that a man like that is smart at anything. And he isn't smart at anything. Except one thing, and that's cards." That was the oddsmaker "Jimmy the Greek" Snyder's assessment of Puggy Pearson.

Pearson was smart enough at cards to make his living by them for nearly half a century and in Las Vegas, the home of high-stakes poker, to become the 1973 World Series of Poker champion, winning the $130,000 prize with the unremarkable hand of Ace high. "Even if I hadna won that hand I would still've been the best player," he said.

Pearson is described by his fellow player Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson as "one of the pioneers of poker as we know it today" and was part of the generation of players who bridged the gap between poker's gunslinging US past and the worldwide commercial success it now enjoys. He was known as the father of the "freeze-out" tournament, the style adopted at the World Series of Poker in the year after its inception at Binion's Horseshoe casino in Las Vegas in 1970.

The first World Series of Poker was contested between only a handful of players (in the year Pearson won, the field had expanded to 13) but last year's championship event attracted 5,619 entrants from all over the world and had a top prize of $7.5m. Pearson attended every year as either player or spectator, a cigar-smoking, Runyonesque character, often in costume - dressed as an American Indian, with warpaint and head-dress, perhaps, or Genghis Khan, with crown and earflaps.

He was born Walter Clyde Pearson in Adairville, Kentucky, in 1929, on the brink of the Depression, and the family drifted south to Tennessee as his father searched for work. "Puggy", so called after his nose was flattened in a childhood accident, was one of nine children and, as he explained to Playboy magazine in 1973, the family often had to move on because the rent was overdue. On his first day at school, "I had a complex about being poor and the shape of my nose. Everyone was better than me . . ."

He left at 14, having already begun his card-playing career: "I started hustlin' real young, at 10 or 11. I just started playin' cards and pool with the other paper boys." He first learned to play poker in the navy, taking to it enthusiastically - "While everyone else was throwin' their money on drink and women, I was organising poker games" - and on his discharge in the mid-1950s started to earn a living at the game.

Despite his successes at no-limit Texas Hold 'Em, Pearson's preferred form was limit poker, he told the writer David Spanier, as he considered it the best way of making a profit in the long term: "The best player's gonna get the money in limit poker, sooner or later."

In 1987 Pearson was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame and, as Brunson says, "is acknowledged by his peers as one of the greatest poker players of all time".

Diana Gower

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower