The Great Gambler – Puggy Pearson


“I’ll play any man from any land any game he can name for any amount he can count…Provided I like it!”

Enter ‘Puggy’ Pearson

Walter Clyde ‘Puggy’ Pearson was born on January 29, 1929 in a shack in the hills of Tennessee and was raised together with his nine siblings in a large but poor family. “We were so poor that we had to move every time the rent came due.”

Because of their financial instability, Puggy dropped out of school in the fifth grade to work and support his family. Although he never completed his studies, Walter was known to be a very brilliant man. He was a fast learner, a compassionate being, and he knew what it was like to survive on a penny.

The Nickname Puggy

When Puggy was 12 years old, he was as active as any other child of that age and one day, while he was helping to build a church with some of his friends, he decided to show off his new talent of walking on his hands. Unfortunately, the floorboards that he thought were nailed down were in fact not, and because of his weight, the floorboards gave way causing him to smash his face on the ground. That painful accident left him with a disfigured nose, leaving him with the nickname ‘Puggy’.

Puggy, Poker And The US Navy

At the young age of 16, when most teens would waste their pocket money on fancies and desires, our man Puggy left home to join the US Navy, where he served three terms. It was here that he found out who he really was – a gambler. Therefore, while he worked for the Navy, he also strengthened his skills at gambling and soon became a shark in a world of minnows. That was when he decided that gambling and hustling would be his career.

Puggy And Golf

Walter, much like legendary poker professional Nicholas ‘Nick the Greek’ Dandalos, was all about action; and when he found out that there was big action in golf, he decided to learn how to play. Through constant practice he eventually became a scratch player, and much like other pros, there was one thing about Puggy that made him somewhat unique: the more he bet, the better he played.

“I shoot whatever it takes to get the money.”

During a high stakes poker game one evening, the players were discussing about golf when this question popped up, “If you had to choose anyone in the world to putt a ten foot putt for your life (if they missed it, you would be killed), who would you choose to putt it?” Doyle Brunson responded,

“Puggy Pearson. I’ll tell you one thing about Puggy. He won’t dog it. He might not make it, but you’ll get a good roll for your life.”

The Roving Gambler

If there was a big game in town, Puggy would be there. He was a man who would always seek out the biggest action wherever it was. He even owned a bus that he proudly named the ‘Rovin’ Gambler’ and on one side of the bus, in large letters were his name and the quote, “I’ll play any man from any land any game he can name for any amount he can count. Provided I like it.”

Notable Achievements

With half a million dollars in live tournament earnings, Puggy was known for his fearless and aggressive style. He was a runner-up in both the 1971 and 1972 World Series of Poker but it was in 1973 when he claimed the limelight. Moreover, he won four bracelets of which two were in 7-card stud. His most notable achievement includes his victory against Johnny Moss in the 1973 World Series of Poker $10,000 NLHE World Championship for which he won $130,000. In the same year, he won a $4000 Limit Seven-card Stud as well as a $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em title. In 1987, Puggy was the second living person (behind Johnny Moss) to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

Puggy The Poker Professional

Before 1949, all poker games were cash games; a player could cash out his chips and leave the room at any time. In the early 1950s, Pearson originated the idea of a freezeout tournament – the most common type of tournament where there are no rebuys and play continues until one player is the last man standing – and shared the idea with fellow gambler ‘Nick the Greek’. Puggy, the Greek, Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson all believed that a freezeout tournament would be a great addition to poker, thus they urged legendary casino owner Benny Binion to include it in his schedule of games. Then in 1970, Binion founded the World Series of Poker.

Heart of Solid Gold

Walter was a remarkable gambler and a very talented poker player. Despite having somewhat of a notorious reputation with dealers, he had a soft and caring heart. For instance if he found out that a dealer was ill, or someone in his family had died (or if anyone in the poker community was suffering from some sort of emotional issues), Walter Clyde ‘Puggy’ Pearson was the first in line to help. Amarillo once said,

“Puggy was softer than butter on a hot stove…”

The Final Days

Walter Clyde ‘Puggy’ Pearson had a long history of heart problems, and he finally left this world on April 12, 2006 at the age of 77. It is believed that the cause of his death could have been a heart attack. He is survived by his son Stephan Mark Pearson, his daughter Andrea Elaine Phelan and his grandson, Walter Frank Phelan.

Did you know?

Puggy Pearson was the only poker player to attend every World Series of Poker tournament from 1970 to 2005.

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