City Cast

Remembering a Las Vegas Poker Legend

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on July 21
Photo of a poker game circa 1970s.

A photo from a World Series of Poker competition at the old Horseshoe back in the 1970s; Johnny Moss is in black and gray. (Binion's Horseshoe Photograph Collection, 1940-1985/ UNLV Special Collections & Archives)

On Monday, Daniel Weinman of Georgia won $12.1 million in the World Series of Poker, the tournament’s biggest-ever payout; he topped the largest-ever field, 10,043 players. Both numbers would have been hard to imagine for the World Series players around the table above — this was sometime in the 1970s, when the series was still young. But if any of them might’ve pictured such a huge win, it would have been the unassuming-looking guy in black and gray. That’s Johnny Moss, winner of the first-ever WSOP tourney in 1970, as well as the second and fifth — which paid him $160,000. (Curiously, in the first tournament, he was elected winner by the other players.) He died in 1995.

Some of his exploits are legendary. Jon Bradshaw’s 1987 book about gamblers, “Fast Company,” includes a gripping account of the 1973 WSOP tournament in which Moss lost to fellow icon Pug Pearson in a dramatic, back-and-forth match, after being saved several times by his last card. Moss appeared unflappable the whole time. “I never choke,” he told Bradshaw. “I play for the cash, and you don’t choke for the cash.”

A true hustler, Moss also claimed to have won (and lost) fortunes betting on golf and bowling — “What folks are bettin’ on, you learn to play,” he said — including a $100,000 golf match at the Desert Inn course. But it’s poker he’ll be remembered for; he was a charter member of the Poker Hall of Fame. “I’m a spender,” he said. “Most people are savers. Savin’s not in me.”

Hey Las Vegas

Want to know what's happening in Las Vegas? Sign up for our free newsletter, Hey Las Vegas. Packed with local news, curated event recs, local life hacks, and more, it's your daily toolkit for getting the most out of the city you love.