January 29, 1929 in Tennessee - April 12, 2006
one man is known to have been present, as either competitor or
spectator, at all 37 final tables of the main event of the World Series
That man was Walter Pearson (known as Puggy from his squashed-in nose,
caused by a childhood accident), who has died in Las Vegas, aged 77. It
fell to me to ensure that his record remained unbroken in his lifetime,
when a harassed official of the World Series came into the press room
Horseshoe casino on the day of last year's final, desperate to find a
ticket for Puggy. The event had long been sold out and there was an
endless line waiting for returns. I immediately announced (without any
authority) that Guardian Unlimited, for whom I was covering the event,
would happily commission him to write a colour piece on it.
So he got his ticket (and never did write the piece, which everyone
knew was a device to get him in), and I had the benefit of his salty
comments on the play. When he was introduced from the podium to great
applause, he made his way up and rendered a song he had written, I'm a
Rovin' Gambler. He went on rather a long time, and was asked to stop.
But the crowd chanted "We want Puggy, we want Puggy," and he continued
to the end.
It was Puggy who came up with the idea of the freeze-out tournament some 40 years ago. Up to 1972, all poker
games were played for cash among 10 or so players around a single
table, and the first two world championship titles were decided by
players' votes. Puggy had the idea of inviting any number of players,
each putting up a sum of money, dropping out when their fixed amount of
chips was gone, with the main prize going to the last one standing. He
suggested this to the legendary Nick "the Greek" Dandalos, who, in turn, pitched the idea to Las Vegas club owner Benny Binion, who saw its potential. It was soon adopted for all poker tournaments.
Puggy won the title himself in 1973, when the contest had just 13 players. He got $130,000 as his first prize, stopping Johnny Moss from winning it three times out of four by calling Moss's all-in bet with the less than premium hand of Ace-Seven, which bested Moss's
King-Jack, neither hand matching any cards on the board. By last year
the World Series had grown to 5,600 entrants and the main event cost
$10,000 to enter, aggregating the biggest prize in sport - $7.5m
(£ 4.2m) to the winner.
Puggy also won the 1973 limit seven-card stud and Texas Hold'em $1,000 buy-in titles, together with the diamond bracelets that went with the money.
in hillbilly country in Tennessee, one of 10 children - "We were so
poor we had to move house every time the rent was due" - he learned to
in the navy, and also became an expert pool player and golfer. In his
heyday, he went from tournament to tournament in a touring bus that had
painted on the side: "Puggy Pearson - Roving Gambler - I'll play any
man from any land any game he can name for any amount he can count,"
and in smaller letters, "Provided I like it."