One of a kind: Legendary gambler Amarillo Slim has played his final hand

Texan renowned for his outrageous bets and who reinvigorated a sport has died aged 83

New York

There really wasn't anything Amarillo Slim wouldn't bet on. Elections and sports games, for sure, but crazy stuff too, from whether a cat could pick up a Coke bottle to which sugar cube a fly would land on. He challenged the motorcycle ace Evel Knievel to a game of golf, using only carpenter's hammers, beat a Taiwanese table tennis world champion using Coke bottles as paddles, and took the singer Willie Nelson for $300,000 in a game of dominoes.

Yet it was as the man who popularised poker, and who brought Texas Hold'em to the masses, that Slim will be forever remembered, and it is the world of poker that is mourning his passing at the age of 83.

The five-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) champion passed away from colon cancer on Sunday in Amarillo, Texas.

"Slim will forever be remembered as the most famous poker player of the 20th Century. But he was much more than just a poker player and gambler," said Nolan Dalla, WSOP media director. "He was a real life character, stealing just about every scene on which he appeared on the greater stage of life. There will never be another quite like him."

If it hadn't been for Thomas Austin Preston, standing six feet two with a stetson on top of that, poker may still have been the preserve of down-at-heel hustlers. He took his nickname from the Texan town where he grew up, and parlayed his early success travelling from town to town playing pool and poker into fame at the earliest poker tournaments.

He was the first to achieve the mix of mathematical genius and outrageous showmanship that has defined poker ever since, and his bets and challenges became as famous as his skills around the poker table.

"If there's anything I'll argue about, I'll either bet on it or shut up," he once said. "And since it's not very becoming for a cowboy to be arguing, I've made a few wagers in my day. But in my humble opinion, I'm no ordinary hustler. You see, neighbour, I never go looking for a sucker. I look for a champion and make a sucker out of him."

Along the way, Slim played against presidents and powerbrokers, among them Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and the drug baron Pablo Escobar. He also claims to have taken Larry Flynt, the pornography tycoon, for $1.7m in a grudge match, though Mr Flynt denies that and damns his old adversary as a liar.

Certainly Slim was not shy of telling a tall tale, as any reader of his autobiography Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People would be able to judge.

It is likely to be just a matter of time before his life story – or some version of his telling of it – appears in movie form, and his death caused a resurgence of speculation that Nicholas Cage could be asked to play him in the biopic which was first planned, and dropped, in 2009.

Slim's family said they hoped, "everyone will remember our beloved Amarillo Slim for all the positive things he did for poker and to popularise his favourite game – Texas Hold'em".

The stakes are wry: A bettor's life

* Known for his extravagant proposition bets, "Amarillo Slim" bet that he could beat tennis champion Bobby Riggs at ping-pong. The catch? Slim could choose what they used as bats. After months of practice, Slim beat Riggs – with both using iron skillets to play. He later repeated the hustle against a Taiwanese ping-pong champion, this time with Coca-Cola bottles.

* Slim beat "Puggy" Pearson to take the 1972 World Series of Poker title, $80,000 prize money, and the first of five 22-carat-gold bracelets he would win.

* Betting legend says Slim once claimed he could outrun champion racehorse Seabiscuit over 100 yards – if he could choose the track. He selected a 50-yard course and in the time it took the jockey to slow the horse and turn around, Slim had sprinted to victory.

* In his autobiography, Slim claimed he was kidnapped from a Colombia casino in the 1990s by the henchmen of drug lord Pablo Escobar. He said it was only their last-minute realisation of his identity that stopped them from throwing him out of a helicopter. He said the cartel boss apologised before sitting down to enjoy a game of Texas hold'em with him.

Michael Pooler

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
News
people
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

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world