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Legends of Poker – Johnny Moss

📁 articles 🕔13.April 2018
Legends of Poker – Johnny Moss

We’re back with our Legends of Poker series! Last time around, we spoke about one of the most famous names from the American Wild West so we’ll need something extra special to top that today – so how about the very first inductee into the Poker Hall of Fame? How about the first winner of the World Series of Poker, a man who’s known to this day as ‘The Grand Old Man of Poker’? That’s right, it’s time to talk about Johnny Moss.

Early years

Born on May 14, 1907 in Marshall, Texas, Johnny Moss learned how to play cards in his youth. He learned the tricks of cheating at cards as well, from a group of con artists, but Moss used that knowledge differently. He got himself a job at a local saloon, watching over the games that were being played and ensuring that no cheating was taking place. Over the next two years, he developed a taste for poker and finally quit and hit the road in order to make his fortune by playing poker.

The legendary poker marathon against Nick the Greek

Johnny Moss truly made his name when he played against Nick the Greek in a heads-up poker tournament in 1949 that went on for five months. Reportedly, Benny Binion – mob boss and future gambling icon – persuaded the two to play this tournament in public, that is with spectators.

Apparently, over the course of those five months, Nick the Greek lost roughly $2 million to Moss; and, upon losing the last hand, is reported to have stood up and said ‘Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.’ This line has gone down in poker history as one of the most famous quotes related with the hobby.

Although the authenticity of this game is in some doubt, it has nevertheless claimed a position of high importance in poker history. It established the fact that poker could be a spectator sport, and is regarded as a potential inspiration behind the World Series of Poker itself.

The first World Series of Poker – 1970

The first WSOP Main Event was held in 1970, and Johnny Moss was elected champion by his peers. For a prize, he received a silver cup.

This first Main Event was not a freeze-out event, but instead had a definite start and stop time. Another apocryphal story is often mentioned here, and goes like this – when the clock ran out, Benny Binion conducted a secret ballot in which he asked the seven players who the best poker player was; however, each of the seven picked themselves. So then Binion asked them who they thought the second-best player at the table was, and Johnny Moss was crowned champion as a result of this second vote.

Other accolades

Over the course of his career, Johnny Moss won a total of 9 WSOP bracelets. He began, as already mentioned, with the very first event in 1970, and won his last bracelet playing $1500 Ace to Five Draw in the 1988 tournament – seven years before his death. That last bracelet made him the oldest bracelet winner in WSOP history at the age of 81; a record he holds to this day.

And finally, of course, Johnny Moss was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979 alongside his famous rival, Nick the Greek.

 

There’s no denying that Johnny Moss is one of the most colourful figures in poker folklore, and we hope you enjoyed this little look back at the early days of this wonderful game!

 

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