Amarillo Slim: A Cold-Blooded Gambler

By James Calemine

“Sitting plush with a royal flush
Aces back to back.”
–The Grateful Dead
“Ramble On Rose”

I heard “Ramble On Rose” this Sunday morning. It inspired me to grab the book Amarillo Slim: In A World Full of Fat People, published in 2003, from the shelf. Amarillo Slim operated as a cold-blooded gambler of the highest order.

Born in Johnson, Arkansas, on December 31, 1928, Thomas Austin “Amarillo Slim” Preston, earned his nickname in Texas as a first-rate pool hustler during his teenage years. He loved gambling. He even earned money in the military by selling “cigarettes, penicillin, coffee, syrup, nylon hose and gasoline” on the black market.

Slim won the 1972 World Series of Poker. He wrote a book–Play Poker To Win–a year later. In 1992, he earned an induction into the Poker Hall of Fame. In the Introduction to A World Full of Fat People, Slim wrote: “If there’s anything worth arguing about, I’ll either bet on it or shut up.”

Slim whipped Willie Nelson (a state champion) at dominoes for $300,000. He defeated Minnesota Fats at pool with a broom. He beat Evel Knievel at golf with a hammer and humiliated Bobby Riggs at ping-pong with a skillet.

He gambled with Larry Flynt (and won $2 million), President Lyndon Johnson, President Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Boyd, Benny Binion, Jimmy The Greek, Pablo Escobar and a long list of other suckers. It’s all here in these 270 pages; including his dangerous bet to float down the Snake River during the winter as well as some trouble he encountered here in Georgia.

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote: “My own firm rule is that I must win two out of three. That is the mandatory minimum for any gambler who plays with Real Money. Anything less is unacceptable. Gambling is an Acceptable vice for most people, but a Fatal Addiction for others.” It was not fatal for Amarillo Slim…

Slim played himself in Robert Altman’s film California Split. He reveals behind the scenes strategies on how he placed his bets. The book also contains poker wisdom, such as 1. ‘Play the players more than you play the game.’ 2. ‘Choose the right opponents.’ 3. ‘Never play with money you can’t afford to lose.’ And there’s more. But, that’s enough free advice, eh?

The book reads so fast you’ll want to place a bet. Amarillo Slim died on April 29, 2012. His own words sum up this book and his life: “I’m no ordinary hustler. You see, neighbor, I never go looking for a sucker. I look for a champion and make a sucker out of him…”