Poker is a game of skill that has been around for centuries and during that time it has developed a competitive scene with many fantastic moments. Central to these moments are the poker legends who have left their marks on the game, from pros with extraordinarily long-lived careers to modern-day superstars. In this article, we’ll look at one of poker’s greatest professional players, Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston.

Player Overview

“Amarillo Slim” was one of the oldest pro poker players in the world, in the same league as other big names like Johnny Moss and Doyle Brunson. He took part in the very first World Series of Poker way back in 1970. He was invited to play at Binion’s Horseshoe as one of the seven greatest known poker players of all time.

Since then, he won four WSOP bracelets, one of them from 1972’s main event. His total tournament winnings exceeded $587,000, and he was inducted into the poker hall of fame in 1992.

He was known for establishing the Super Bowl of Poker (SBOP) Tournament Series, which ran annually from 1979 through to 1991. It was widely considered the second most prestigious poker tournament of the 80’s.

Early Life

Thomas Austin Preston, Jr. was born in Johnson, Arkansas, on December 31, 1928. Shortly after he was born, his family moved to Turkey, Texas, in search of opportunities. His parents divorced when he was young, and he was soon living with his father in Amarillo, Texas. This would be the town he came to consider his home and it eventually coalesced into his nickname, “Amarillo Slim.” He started his poker career as a rounder, a card player who traveled the country to make a living. Accompanied by fellow rounders, Doyle Brunson and Sailor Roberts, Slim rambled all across the country, gambling and often finding himself at the poker table. 

Throughout these legendary times, many stories emerged with varying degrees of authenticity. Accounts report that he beat Willie Nelson at dominoes and he won $2 million from Larry Flynt playing poker. Another time, Slim was said to be in Columbia to witness the grand opening of the new Casino de Caribe, where he was tied up and tossed into a helicopter by Pablo Escobar. The infamous drug lord suspected Slim was working for the U.S. government. After Preston was able to prove his innocence to the drug lord, he gave Slim a tour of the country. During the tour, Escobar took an interest in Slim’s gold-plated buttons. Afterward, Slim gifted Escobar a set of his own gold-plated buttons as a token of goodwill and gratitude for sparing his life. A few months later, Pablo sent him a set of emerald buttons in return.

Poker Career

While not as decorated as some other poker players, Slim still has his fair share of accomplishments. His first bracelet was won in the 1972 WSOP main event. Over the years, he scored three more bracelet wins: the $1,000 No Limit Holdem in 1974, in 1985 he claimed victory in the $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha event, and in 1990 in the $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha event.

He was close friends with Benny Binion, a casino owner, poker player and founder of the World Series of Poker. Binion willed his horse to Slim as a testament to their friendship.

As a result of Slim’s tournament successes, he was invited to be the guest speaker on numerous popular talk shows, including A.M. Los Angeles, Good Morning America, The Tonight Show, and more. His name is also on various lists, such as the Poker Hall of Fame, Legends of Nevada, the Seniors Hall of Fame and the Horseshoe’s Hall of Fame.

Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker

The World Series of Poker was considered the most significant development for competitive poker. It gave the world’s best players a chance to prove themselves and earn big prizes and prestige. This made for a fantastic event that became the cornerstone of professional poker.

However, as competitive poker grew, the WSOP alone was not enough. Before 1979, there were no other high-stakes poker tournaments other than the WSOP. Slim seized this opportunity, using his connections to create a new tournament heavily inspired by the WSOP, adopting its multi-event format and the $10,000 No Limit Hold’em main event. The Super Bowl of Poker was an event which attracted the biggest professionals and only the most dedicated amateurs. World Poker Tour commentator, Mike Sexton, claimed that all the big players that participated enjoyed the SBOP.

Despite running for 12 years, it was plagued by a lack of a consistent location, unlike the WSOP, which had a reliable venue. The SBOP constantly changed casinos, from the Hilton in Las Vegas, to the Sahara in Reno, to the Sahara in Lake Tahoe, to Caesar’s in Lake Tahoe, to Caesar’s in Las Vegas, to the Flamingo in Laughlin.

By 1991, only 12 people had arrived for the main event, and the Super Bowl of Poker did not return the following year.

Note from the Editor:
The world as we know it has changed immensely compared to what the gamblers of the first half of the 20th century experienced. There were no cell phones, or internet. Automobiles were just starting to become common and affordable trans-Atlantic flights were still a bit into the future. Computers and space travel were as far removed from society as dragons and fairies. Information was not as accessible as it is today. Because of this, and a gambler’s penchant to miraculously forget anything and everything as part of an unwritten code, many of the stories and anecdotes that come from the time could be full of hyperbole and may not be entirely faithful or accurately represent what occurred. However, the oral histories we have, as told through the years, are now all that remains of this ancient time. If any of the tales are inaccurate or outright lies, it is important to be aware that this was neither intentional, nor was it the intent of the  article.

-The Wordsmith