Johnny Moss – Poker’s Finest Champion of Champions


Brief Introduction – Johnny Moss

There are few characters in the history of poker who can never be forgotten. Winning three of the first five WSOP Main Events and amassing nine WSOP bracelets, Johnny Moss was a force to be reckoned with on the felt.

A true champion, Moss was born on May 14, 1907 in Marshall, Texas, when players still carried a pistol or two in their waistband and terms like endorsements from major corporations were unfamiliar.

For the introduction into the Poker Hall of Fame, approximately seven men were nominated in 1979 and Johnny was the only living nominee. As for education, he didn’t join any high-class school or college instead, he joined a local school house and completed the 3rd grade after which he was found on the streets selling newspapers, shining shoes and delivering mails for the Mackey Postal and Western Union Telegraph Company.

During this time of his life, he met a brawny, slightly older boy named Benny Binion, and they became lifelong friends.

Johnny Moss – Early Poker Years

Moss took to gambling like fish to water and learned dice from Blackie, a local cheater in Dallas. Although Johnny never cheated, he did learn how to see cards by using a shiner especially when he dealt them, how to smudge and spot the backs of the cards, and how to change dice in a craps game.

While Johnny got a job as a poker dealer at the Otter Club and learned to play Hold’Em at the Elk’s club, his friend Benny preferred to run illegal craps games. By the time Moss was 17, he had set aside enough to purchase his first car, a 1919 Dodge soon after which he decided to quit working and started playing poker fulltime.

Johnny On The Road…To Success

As he matured, so did his game and strategy. He had learned so much by observing other players that it had become difficult to find poker players around Dallas who wanted to play the game with him. From Texas to Oklahoma to Arkansas, Moss took to playing on an endless circuit of poker games. He enlisted in the Navy during the Second World War and to his surprise, he found many sailors who were happy to play dice and poker for recreation. However, when he was discharged, he returned to Texas and embraced his second love: golf.

Johnny Moss and Benny Binion

A Friend In Need – Johnny and Benny

Jonny Moss was no longer a stranger in the world of poker and during this happy time, he received a call from his long-lost friend Benny Binion from Las Vegas.

After leaving Dallas, Binion went on to run the Western Casino in Las Vegas, then in 1950, he opened his own club, the Horseshoe Casino in downtown Las Vegas.

Binion called Johnny because he needed help; since Moss was a poker superstar, Benny thought that he could attract more people to visit his casino if they were to see a ‘real’ poker game going on near the front doors.

With that in mind, he also called “Nick the Greek” Dandalos – a longtime gambler – and talked him to visit his new casino.

Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Casino

Moss and “Nick the Greek”

Just as Binion wanted, Moss and Dandalos agreed to play, and just as expected, the game attracted both players and observers.

A lot of five card stud games were played at the poker table. According to other sources, the Heads-Up between him and Dandalos continued for five long months until Dandalos finally stood up one evening, nearly broke, and said, “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.”

The Birth of the World Series of Poker

After nearly twenty years, Binion called Johnny and conveyed his idea of gathering the best poker players in the world – a meeting Benny termed as the “World Series of Poker”. After a week of play, the players were requested to vote on who they thought was the best poker player.

During that time, everyone chose themselves but when Benny asked them all to select the second-best, they all chose Johnny Moss and thus he was crowned champion of the first WSOP.

Early years of the World Series of Poker

Johnny’s Notable Achievements

The following year, Moss emerged victorious in a $5,000 buy-in NLHE tournament. Over the years, he went on to win seven more WSOP Championship bracelets. When he turned 81, he won his final Ace to Five Draw tournament in 1998, simply a remarkable achievement. Although Doyle Brunson is a close second as he won his 10th bracelet at the age of 72, legend has it that there are no other players who have accomplished so much at the WSOP in their ’70s.

The Late Johnny Moss

Unfortunately, towards the end of his life, Johnny battled weakening health and the numerous other complications that follow closely on the heels of old age, but nothing could come between him and his love for poker. He passed away on December 16, 1995, when he was 88 years old. Johnny Moss will always be referred to as one of the greatest poker players ever to step foot on earth – “The Grand Old Man” of poker.

Did You Know?

  • Johnny Moss was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979
  • Johnny Moss has the starting hand A-T named in his honor

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