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Johnny Moss - Biography


Photo Courtesy (Nevada Casino History)

Johnny Moss immortalized on a poker chip

Photo Courtesy (Nevada Casino History)

Johnny Moss (May 14, 1907 – December 16, 1995) was a professional poker player, born in Marshall, Texas, who supported himself and his family through various sporting and gambling adventures. In 1979, seven men were selected for the inaugural class and induction into the Poker Hall of Fame. Johnny Moss was the only living inductee.

Moss attended a local school house and finished the third grade. After that he was on the streets of town selling newspapers, shining shoes, and running messages for the Mackey Postal and Western Union Telegraph Company. During this time he met a tough, slightly older boy named Benny Binion, and they became lifelong friends.

When he had a spare nickle, Johnny hung-out at a domino parlor and played occasionally. It took a week before he won a single game, but he memorized every discoloration and cigarette burn on the dominoes, and every move his opponents made. Within a month he was holed-up at the domino parlor 15 hours a day making what had become easy money.

Moss took to gambling like a duck to water, and learned dice from a local cheater named Blackie in Dallas. He never cheated Johnny, but he did show him how to use a shiner to see cards as he dealt them, how to nick and mark the backs of the cards, and how to change dice in a craps game.

Moss's friend Benny took to running illegal craps games while Johnny got a job as a poker dealer at the Otter Club and learned to play hold'em at the Elk's club. By the time he was 17 he had saved enough to buy his first car, a 1919 Dodge. Shortly thereafter he realized work and gambling didn't mix, so he quit working.

On the Road

As he matured, so did his poker game, and it became tougher to find players around Dallas that wanted to tangle with him. He took to playing on an endless circuit of poker games in towns from Texas to Oklahoma to Arkansas. During the Second World War Moss enlisted in the Navy and found plenty of sailors who wanted to play dice and poker for recreation. Moss obliged. When he was discharged, he went back to Texas, and back to his second love: golf.

There were plenty of rich oil men in Texas, and plenty of country clubs around the south. Moss found that he could wheedle his way into any country club, beat the business men at golf, and then get invited to their private poker games where they figured they would get their money back. They rarely did.

During this happy time of big money and a bankroll that topped a million dollars, Benny Binion called Johnny from Las Vegas. Binion had left Dallas to run the Western Casino in Las Vegas, and now in 1950 Benny had opened his own club, the Horseshoe casino in downtown Las Vegas, and he needed help. Binion thought he could attract attention and get more people in the casino if they were to see a big-time poker game going near the front doors. He called Moss and "Nick the Greek" Dandalos, a longtime gambler with a penchant for gambling in the biggest games he could find, and talked them into visiting his new casino.

They agreed to play poker out on the casino floor, a novelty at the time, and the game attracted both players and spectators. And, it paved the way for future poker rooms and players to be viewed as acceptable, instead of crooked. At the poker table they played a lot of five card stud, and according to all accounts, the three-month long event saw both Moss and Dandalos win hundreds of thousands of dollars from all comers, but it was "Nick the Greek" who finally stood up one evening, nearly broke, and said, "Mr. Moss, I have to let you go."

By the time Binion called on Moss again, twenty years had passed, and Benny had an idea for a meeting of the best poker players in the world that he was going to call the World Series of Poker. After a week of play, the players voted on who they thought was the best player. Every one of them chose themselves. When Benny asked them to choose the second-best, they all chose Moss, so he was announced as the champion.

The following year, Moss was again the champion, winning a $5,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold'em tournament. Over the years, Moss went on to win seven more WSOP Championship bracelets: 1971 Limit Ace to 5 Card Draw,1974 $10,000 No Limit Hold'em, 1975 $1,000 Seven Card Stud, 1976 $500 Seven Card Stud, 1979 $5,000 Seven Card Stud, 1981 $1,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo, 1988 $1,500 Ace to Five Draw.

His final win, in the 1988 Ace to Five Draw tournament, occurred when he was 81-years old, simply an amazing feat. No other player has accomplished so much at the WSOP in their '70's, although Doyle Brunson is certainly a close second, having won his 10th bracelet at the age of 72.

Johnny Moss passed away at the age of 88 and will always be remembered as one of the greatest poker players of all time - "The Grand Old Man" of the game.

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