Poker Legend Amarillo Slim Known for His Wits and Charisma

Written By Janice Doughtrey

Thomas Austin Preston Jr., known professionally as Amarillo Slim, was a name synonymous with poker not just for his exceptional skill but also for his magnetic personality. Born in 1928 in Johnson, Arkansas, Slim’s journey into the world of professional poker was as colorful as the man himself. His knack for storytelling, combined with his undeniable poker skills, made him one of the game’s most memorable characters.

The Early Years

Slim’s initial exposure to gambling was during his youth, in pool halls and gambling dens. His family moved to Amarillo, Texas, which later contributed to his iconic nickname. Slim was not just a poker player; he was a gambler in the broadest sense, participating in everything from pool to bets on which sugar cube a fly would land on first.

Making a Mark in Poker

Although Slim participated in various gambling activities, it was poker that truly allowed him to shine. He participated in illegal games, hustled in pool halls, and gradually built a reputation. His big break came when he won the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in 1972. This victory put him in the spotlight and marked the beginning of his ascendancy as a poker legend.

A Man of Many Talents

Slim was not just a formidable poker player; he was a showman. He appeared on talk shows and even had cameo roles in movies. His book, “Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People,” became a bestseller, further elevating his status as a poker celebrity.

The Persona

Amarillo Slim was as much a character off the table as he was on it. Known for his cowboy hat and sharp wit, he became a media darling. He was the epitome of the old-school gambler, one who could disarm you with a smile and take all your money with a straight face. His charisma made him a great ambassador for the game, attracting new fans and players alike.

Challenges and Controversies

Despite his affable personality, Slim had his share of controversies. Accusations and legal troubles somewhat tarnished his reputation in his later years. However, it’s worth noting that these issues did not erase his contributions to the game of poker.

Hall of Fame and Lasting Impact

In 1992, Amarillo Slim was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, an acknowledgment of his enduring impact on the game. His charisma, coupled with his skill, helped bring poker into mainstream American culture.

Later Years and Legacy

Slim continued to play well into his later years, although not as actively as before. He passed away in 2012, but his legend lives on. Amarillo Slim remains one of the most unforgettable figures in poker, not just for his game but also for his larger-than-life personality.

Amarillo Slim’s Best Hands

While Amarillo Slim was known for his charisma and storytelling, he was no slouch when it came to the technical aspects of poker. His best hands reveal a player with an acute sense of timing, an excellent understanding of odds, and an uncanny ability to read his opponents. Here are some instances where Slim’s poker acumen was on full display.

The 1972 WSOP Main Event

The hand that secured Slim’s victory in the 1972 WSOP Main Event was particularly memorable. Slim was up against Walter “Puggy” Pearson, another legend in the poker world. With a two-pair hand, Slim made a sizable bet that Pearson couldn’t match. The hand epitomized his style: aggressive, confident, and calculated. This hand didn’t just win him the title; it also elevated his stature in the poker community.

Heads-Up Match with Stu Ungar

One of the most talked-about hands involving Slim was during a heads-up match with Stu Ungar, one of the greatest poker players ever. Slim pulled off a brilliant bluff against Ungar, making him fold a stronger hand. This hand illustrated Slim’s psychological prowess; he knew exactly when to apply pressure and make daring moves.

The Flush Over Flush Incident

In a high-stakes cash game, Slim found himself in a tricky spot with a strong flush. However, he sensed that his opponent might have a stronger flush and managed to control the size of the pot, thereby minimizing his losses. This hand showed another side of Slim’s game: his ability to limit damage and navigate tricky situations.

Betting with Air

Amarillo Slim was known for his fearless betting with less-than-stellar hands. In one memorable pot, Slim was holding nothing more than a high card but managed to outbet his opponent who had a decent pair. He used his table image and reputation to instill fear and uncertainty, forcing his opponent to fold a better hand.

Significance of These Hands

These hands weren’t just flash-in-the-pan moments; they were illustrative of Slim’s multifaceted skills. His understanding of poker was comprehensive, covering the mathematical, the psychological, and the situational aspects of the game. He knew when to be aggressive, but also when to pull back. His best hands were a combination of all these skills, and they serve as educational tools for players wanting to understand the depths of high-level poker play.

Slim’s best hands contribute to his enduring legacy. They are not just a testament to his skill but also an integral part of poker history. They offer a glimpse into the mind of one of the game’s most unforgettable characters and serve as a benchmark for poker excellence.


Amarillo Slim’s life was a tapestry of highs and lows, victories and controversies, but through it all, he remained an enduring figure in the world of poker. His wit, charm, and exceptional skill have left an indelible mark, ensuring that the legend of Amarillo Slim will live on for generations to come.