The Poker Legend of Amarillo Slim

The Poker Legend of Amarillo Slim

Amarillo Slim Preston passed away in 2012 as one of the most famous poker players of all time. His poker resume includes a win in the 1972 World Series of Poker Main Event, as well as four total WSOP bracelet event wins.

Slim’s legacy in the game encompasses far more than his accomplishments at the poker table. A legendary figure in poker for decades, Slim’s reputation among his peers and the general public took major hit in 2003, when he was indicted on charges of indecency with his 12-year-old grandchild.

Let’s take a look at the life and times of Amarillo Slim:

Brining Texas Hold’em To Vegas

Chris Moneymaker’s win in the 2003 WSOP Main Event vaulted poker into an unprecedented profile in the mainstream. Amarillo Slim was already one of poker’s most recognizable figures by then.

Amarillo Slim was born as Thomas Austin Preston Jr. in  Johnson, Arkansas in 1928. His parents moved to Texas when he was an infant, and Slim eventually moved to Amarillo, TX with his father.

He eventually took on the name of his of residence as a moniker. Amarillo Slim embarked on a life of gambling, hustling in Texas pool halls, and poker playing that would eventually make him one of the most well-known figures in the poker world.

The name “Amarillo Slim” was derived as a polar opposite to pool legend Minnesota Fats, one of Slim’s chief rivals.

Slim stands as one of a group of players credited with bringing Texas Hold’em to Las Vegas in the 1960, along with fellow poker legends like Doyle Brunson and Crandell Addington. That trio of players, and others, brought the game to Vegas from of the backrooms of Texas.

No-Limit Texas Hold’em eventually became the most-played poker game in the world. Poker rose in popularity in Las Vegas in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the first annual World Series of Poker took place in 1970.

Slim won the $10,000 WSOP Main Event in 1972, albeit in hindsight the win came in controversial fashion. Only eight players entered, with Slim, Brunson, and Puggy Pearson emerging as the final three players.

Neither Brunson nor Pearson wanted to win the title for various reasons, so the three poker legends (along with tournament organizer Benny Binion) orchestrated a plan that would allow Slim to win the championship, while looking like a legit poker game to the public (as legend has it, at least).

By 1979, Slim was promoting his own poker series, which eventually came to be called the Super Bowl of Poker. The Super Bowl of Poker ran annually from 1979 through 1991, and for most of that time rivaled the WSOP in terms of prestige.

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Building a Legend

The WSOP, along with the Super Bowl of Poker, grew in popularity throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Amarillo Slim stood as one of the centerpieces of that era in poker.

Slim’s three biggest recorded tournament cashes happened in Pot-Limit Omaha events at the WSOP. 

He took down the $5,000 PLO event at the 1985 series for $85,000, and won the 1990 edition of that same event for $142,000. In 2000, Slim cashed for $97,500 in the $2,500 PLO event, finishing second to Phil Ivey.

While it’s impossible to calculate how much money Amarillo Slim won at poker over the course of his life, his recorded tournament earnings finished at $560,001 according to the Hendon Mob database.

Slim’s legend includes much more than his tournament poker exploits. He once challenged tennis champion Bobby Riggs to a pingpong match, allowing Riggs to choose between coke bottles or frying pans as the paddles. Slim had been practicing table tennis with both for months, and defeated Riggs.

Other parts of Slim’s legend include:

  • Winning $300,000 from Willie Nelson in a dominoes game
  • Winning $2 million off Hustler founder Larry Flynt at poker
  • Being kidnapped by Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar while in Colombia for the grand opening of a casino
  • Appearing in the 1974 movie California Split, which starred Robert Altman
  • Playing poker with U.S. presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon 
  • Appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson

Slim was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992. By the time Moneymaker’s win in the 2003 WSOP Main Event vaulted poker into worldwide popularity, Slim was poised for a profitable run as one of the game’s most famous figures.

The Poker Legend of Amarillo Slim

Amarillo Slim won four WSOP bracelets over his career, including a win in the 1972 Main Event. (Photo courtesy Hendon Mob)

The Downfall of Amarillo Slim

Slim entered 2003 as one of the most well-known poker players in the world. That year would prove to unfold as a time of unprecedented growth for the game.

Moneymaker’s win in the 2003 WSOP $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em World Championship preceded an explosion in the popularity of poker around the globe. Slim’s peers, such as Brunson, profited from this growth by way of marketing deals, ownership in online poker sites, and presence on ESPN and other poker television shows.

Slim stood to become one of the poker pros that would massively profit from the mid-2000s poker boom. 

As 2003 began, author Greg Dinkin was working on a publication called Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People: The Memoirs of the Greatest Gambler Who Ever Lived. The autobiography was slated to become a feature film, with Nicolas Cage playing the starring role as Slim.

Slim also started working on a poker strategy book, titled Amarillo Slim’s Play Poker to Win. By the time booth books came out in 2005, however, Slim’s life had changed drastically. 

In March 2003, Amarillo Slim was accused of indecency with his 12-year-old grandchild. The alleged incident took place at Slim’s Texas ranch.

In August 2003, Slim was indicted on the charges. Preston took a plea bargain in February 2004, by pleading no contest to reduced the charges of misdemeanor assault.

The incident significantly changed the public perception of Slim. The proposed movie starring Cage was dropped, and many of Slim’s peers in the surging poker world shunned him.

While Brunson, Ivey, and other stars of the game profited from the poker boom, Slim became a pariah.

In a 2009 interview with poker journalist Nolan Dalla, Slim denied the indecency charges. His public reputation, however, never recovered.

Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston Jr. passed away from colon cancer in 2012, at the age of 83. 

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About the Author
Geoffrey Fisk

Geoffrey Fisk

Freelance writer and poker player based in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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