Thomas Austin Preston, Jr. (AKA Amarillo Slim) was born in December 1928. The years that followed, up until the day he died (April 29, 2012), marked the history of one of the best poker players who ever lived. A professional card player renowned for his gambling skills, Preston certainly played a winning hand. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Poker (1992) having won the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 1972.
Amarillo Slim was a hardcore gambler, an author, and the subject of several films. While there are certainly quite a few gambling documentaries in existence, Slim appeared in an unusual amount of films, which isn’t typical, even for a poker legend. The following is an overview of Amarillo Slim`s career and the documentaries about his life.
Born on New Year’s Eve in Johnson, Arkansas in 1928, Amarillo Slim and his family moved to Texas while he was still an infant. The son of a car salesman, his family moved frequently between Amarillo and Arkansas during the years of the Great depression. From the start, Preston was thin, and by the time he was an adult he was a lanky six foot four, barely weighing in at 170 pounds. He possessed an incredible memory and memorized such information as the US Constitution and the details of license plates. In the documentary “Poker: Amarillo Slim - Anything to Win!” Preston discusses just what it takes to be a pro.
However, long before Preston became a legend as a tournament player, he worked as a rounder and toured the States in search of action, alongside such personalities as Sailor Roberts and Doyle Brunson. Many of Slims wagers were a long way from poker. In 1939, he was said to have bet tennis star Bobby Riggs that he could overtake him at a game of table tennis. That is if he, Preston, chose the rackets. Amarillo, having practiced for months, surprised Riggs by appearing with iron pans. Having taken on the bet, Riggs practiced with his skillet. However, for the match Slim arrived with two empty bottles of Coke and proceeded to win the match. L:
Around this time, Preston learned to play snooker and played in pool halls hustling around Amarillo, Texas. Amarillo Slim boasted profits of $100,000 (in his bookmaking business) while enlisted in The United States Navy (1945) where he entered poker exhibitions and entertained the sailors. Later, he returned to the Navy and Europe; there he established an illegal business focused on selling “Mickey Mouse” watches to thousands of Russian soldiers.
The documentary “The True Gambler” highlights details about Slim’s life, providing an insight into his wit and cynicism. Known to turn a phrase, Slim once stated that most poker players “don’t have the guts of an earthworm.” He quipped that he was well versed in bluffing his way out of a situation by saying, “Is fat meat greasy?” Preston went on record that he once won a few hundred thousand dollars from the legendary Willie Nelson during a friendly game of dominoes. He even bet on where a fly would land. Preston was equally outspoken regarding the negative traits he saw in some of his opponents.
“Amarillo Slim: The Best Poker Gambler Ever” is a 45-plus minute documentary that offers an in-depth look at Preston’s life, a gambling history that further describes Amarillo Slim’s illustrious days at the card table.
Each of these documentaries helps create a picture of Preston as a professional gambler. Having gained a widespread reputation as a hustler, Amarillo Slim again changed up his game embarking on illicit bookmaking throughout the winter months and playing poker during the summers.
In 1970, the World Series Tournament was played in Vegas; Slim took up competition against a few players at Hold ’em, his favorite game. He would go on to acquire over $500,000 during tournaments in his lifetime, and was eventually inducted into Poker’s Hall of Fame in 1992. L:
From the early 1970s, until he appeared in several poker documentaries, Preston was a guest on television shows such as “The Tonight Show” and “I’ve Got a Secret,” and played a bit part in a movie. The short film “Amarillo Slim – Memoirs of a Gambler” show the complexities of Slim’s character.
Between January and February of 1980, Amarillo Slim was the host of the Second Annual Poker Classic, featuring the primary poker tournaments during that period. The prestigious series, later referred to as the Super Bowl of Poker, continued until the early 1990s with Gabe Kaplan and Stu Ungar among the star finalists. Over the years, Slim won four WSOP bracelets, two in Omaha, the last of which was earned in 1990. In 2000, he came in behind Phil Ivey as a second place winner. L:
Along with a cameo role in the movie “California Split,” Preston has been featured in an unusual amount of popular documentaries. The films listed above, “Poker: Amarillo Slim Anything to Win!” “Amarillo Slim - The True Gambler” and “Amarillo Slim: THE BEST POKER GAMBLER EVER” (a history of gambling documentary), are some of the most popular.
These life stories, along with other documentaries about poker players, present insights and advice to new and existing players. In 1973, he co-wrote “Play Poker to Win,” with Bill G. Cox, published by Grosset and Dunlap. The book was later revised by HarperCollins and published in 2005, under the name “Amarillo Slim's Play Poker to Win.”
Preston’s autobiography was published in 2003, “Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People,” and in 2007 he set up a website featuring tips and advice in the form of an eBook “All In: An E-guide To No Limit Texas Hold'em.” L:
Amarillo Slim was a strong believer in certain principles of the game. As discussed in the documentaries, he believed keeping track of his opponent’s behaviour, particularly the eye movement, was more important than the cards that were held or the words that were spoken. His own eyes were covered by the rim of a huge Stetson, befitting his nickname. He once stated that the most important practice was to “quit a loser.”
Later in life, Preston’s reputation was marred by a family scandal. His marriage ended, and in April 2012, Amarillo Slim died at the age of 83 from colon cancer. He left behind two sons, a daughter, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and countless stories that will live on in poker rooms by those who knew him and in the documentaries that were made about him. While many poker players have managed to surpass Amarillo Slim on paper, few have been quite so illustrious and sharp-witted.