Old-style poker players had something different about them. Maybe it’s the sepia that some of the footage of them is now shown in; they’re viewed through a filter from which seems to seep time itself. Poker players of old have become part of the folklore that surrounds the game and that applies to no-one more than poker idol Puggy Pearson. Puggy Pearson was a world champion, a raconteur and is now remembered as one of the few men who were there at the formation of the World Series of Poker in 1970. But who was he really? Let’s cast our eye back in time to find out.
The Tennessee Titan
Born in 1929 and raised in Tennessee, Walter Clyde Pearson got the nickname ‘Puggy’ after he suffered a broken nose in a childhood accident. Despite having a disfigured nose from the age of 12, Pearson would join the navy at 17 and served three terms at sea, becoming a prolific gambler and poker player during his time in the Navy.
Pearson wouldn’t win his first WSOP bracelet until 1971, but then, he hadn’t invented the poker tournament yet. Yes, you read that correctly. After years of playing cash game poker, it was in the early 1950s that Pearson shared his idea for a ‘freezeout’ tournament with Nick ‘The Greek’ Dandalos. The idea more than took off. Dandalos then took the concept to Benny Binion and after encouragement from players such as Pearson, Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim, the World Series of Poker was founded in 1970.
This was what Puggy Pearson said about sizing up his opponents way back in an archive video that might be one of the first examples of poker professionals really breaking down what their lives are like.
The Bracelet Run
Pearson wasn’t content to help the poker community enjoy the excitement of tournament poker – he wanted to win some. That he did in stunning style in 1971 when he won his first WSOP bracelet. That was in the Limit Seven-Card Stud event and won ‘Puggy’ $10,000.
His next bracelets, three of the four he would win, all came at the 1973 World Series of Poker. Pearson won the $1,000-entry NLHE event, the $4,000-entry Limit Seven-Card Stud event and most importantly the WSOP Main Event. This win earned him $130,000 and was a winner-takes-all tournament with 13 entrants.
Beating Johnny Moss heads-up was a fantastic accomplishment for Pearson and came on the back of Jack ‘Treetop’ Straus’ exit in 3rd place. Pearson hated to lose, once declaring that “Losing is like smoking. It’s habit forming.”
A Lasting Legacy
As well as winning four WSOP bracelets, Pearson was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame and would frequently travel around in a Roving Gambler RV with the following slogan emblazoned on the side of the vehicle:
‘I’ll play any man from any land any game he can name for any amount I can count, provided I like it.’
What about a woman? Maybe Pearson didn’t fancy taking on the sex with the true poker edge.
All in all, Puggy Pearson was a poker legend who helped pioneer the poker tournament and died aged 77 in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2006, three years after Chris Moneymaker brought to glorious fruition a vision Puggy had imagined half a century earlier. Pearson remains one of poker’s pioneers and a true poker idol.