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Benny Binion (1904 - 1989)

PokerBet: Benny Binion

Benny Binion is credited with moving poker out of the smoky back rooms of yesterday and into the glitzy, legitimate poker rooms of casinos today. Binion moved to Las Vegas in 1946 to escape impending murder charges of another gambler in Texas. He bought the El Dorado Casino in 1951 and changed its name to Binion’s Horseshoe Casino. Poker wasn’t a popular game in casinos yet, namely because players play against themselves and not against the house, so the casinos wouldn’t make much money from the game. Binion was a visionary and knew the excitement of the game they played in Texas, high stakes No-Limit poker, would attract crowds to his casino. In 1949, he hosted the legendary five-month poker game between Johnny Moss and Nick ‘The Greek’ Dandalos. The crowds were in awe of the amount of money the two men bet back-and-forth. It is estimated, in today’s value, that Moss won about $50 million of the Greek’s money. Other casinos took notice and poker finally became a fixture in Las Vegas and left its illicit past behind.

Binion is also credited for the World Series of Poker the first one being played at his casino in 1970. He served time in prison from 1953 to 1957 for tax evasion and wasn’t allowed to hold a gambling licence because of it. He was kept on the payroll at the casino as a consultant. Binion passed away on Christmas day at the age of 85 in 1989. A year after his death, he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

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Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson (1934 - )

PokerBet: Doyle Brunson

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Doyle Brunson was one of the ‘Texas Rounders’: A group of men who went from town to town in Texas in the 1950s, when poker was still illegal, and risked their lives playing a version of high stakes poker they invented, No-Limit Texas Hold ‘em. After draining the pockets of the poker players in that state, Oklahoma and Louisiana, the Texas Rounders made their way to Las Vegas in the early 1970s Brunson included. There, Benny Binion had set the scene for poker’s rise to prominence in the casinos. Brunson won the WSOP three years after arriving in Las Vegas, in both 1976 and 1977, with ten bracelets in total as of 2006 (tying with Johnny Chan for the most ever won by any player).

The Texas Dolly was a gifted athlete in high school: he ran a 4:18 mile and was chosen as one of the top ten basketball players in the US. The Minneapolis Lakers were set to draft him until a ton of sheet rock smashed his leg in two places. He changed career paths and obtained a master’s degree in administrative education in 1955. His first job with his new degree was as a business machine salesman. On the first day of his new employment, somebody invited him to a game of Seven-Card Stud, where he promptly won more than a month’s salary in only three hours. He quit his job and started playing poker professionally, even though it was still illegal and regarded negatively by some people. He recalls in an interview that a friend from high school had crossed the street when the two men approached each other as the fellow did not hold Brunson’s profession in high regard. That was over forty years ago. Today, Brunson is one of the most respected players the game has ever seen.

A year after winning his second WSOP, Brunson published a highly successful book on poker, Super/System: a Course in Power Poker, which sold for $100 an exorbitant amount of money in 1978. He has since said he regretted writing the book as he was more easily beaten by people who had studied it; he needed to change the way he played poker.

Brunson continues to play poker and win at high stakes No-Limit Texas Hold ‘em

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Johnny Chan (1957? - )

PokerBet: Johnny Chan

Johnny Chan won the WSOP in 1987 and 1988 (winning two successive WSOP tournaments like Doyle Brunson did in 1977 and 1978) and has since gone on to claim ten bracelets in total as of 2006 (Brunson also tying with 10 bracelets and the most-won by a player). Chan moved to the US when he was nine years old, first to Phoenix, Arizona in 1968, and then Houston, Arizona in 1973. His family owned restaurants and Chan was intending to enter the business when he dropped out of the University of Houston’s hotel and restaurant management program to play poker professionally when he was 21 years old. He is known inside and outside of the poker world for his role in the poker film Rounders. Chan was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002.

George Devol (1829 - 1903)

PokerBet: George Devol

George Devol left home at the age of ten for a life as a riverboat cabin boy. Seven years later, he was plying the waters of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers from Louisiana to Cincinnati as a professional riverboat gambler. He was a deft card cheat and won (or, more appropriately, stole) tens of thousands of dollars from soldiers stationed along the Rio Grande who were fighting in the Mexican War. Devol never played a fair game in his life, but he is mentioned here because he wrote a book, before he died near-penniless, about his exploits as a crooked riverboat gambler in the 1800s, 40 Years a Gambler on the Mississippi. The book offers a glimpse into the world of poker from centuries ago and is an interesting read for those interested in poker’s sultry, seedy past.

Annie Duke (1965 - )

PokerBet: Annie Duke

Arguable one of the best female poker players if not the best Annie Duke began her professional poker career at the age of 22. She majored in English and psychology at Columbia University and was working toward a graduate degree in cognitive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania when she upped her life in 1991 after proposing to an old friend, Ben Duke, and moved to Colorado. She began playing the game in small poker rooms to pay the mortgage and within a few years she made a name for herself in the poker world.

Her brother, Howard Lederer, himself an excellent professional poker player, taught her how to play and in 1994 they made history by being the first brother and sister to make it to the final table at the WSOP. (This was her first WSOP game and she came in 13th beating out her brother.) In 2004, she entered a $2000 buy-in Omaha Hi/Lo Split and knocked out 234 players to win her first WSOP bracelet. Later that year, she beat out eight of the world’s best poker players to take home $2 million in the No-Limit Texas Hold ‘em winner-take-all, invitation-only WSOP Tournament of Champions. She has trained Ben Affleck and Matt Damon among others how to play winning poker.

Duke is married and a busy mom of four young children.

Chris Ferguson (1963 - )

PokerBet: Chris Ferguson

Chris is one of the most recognizable players in poker with his tall stature, long brown hair, hat and duster. His dark image belies his amazing intellect: he is a mathematician and computer scientist with a photographic memory. Chris has put his abilities to work for him and as of 2004, he has won more money in a single year at the WSOP than any other player. He won the 2000 WSOP and five bracelets in the following events from 2000 to 2003.

Gus ‘The Great Dane’ Hansen (1974 - )

PokerBet: Gus Hansen

Gus Hansen is known as an aggressive player who takes huge risks and plays a lot of hands that other players wouldn’t bother with (a ‘loose player’). He’s able to play this way because his post-flop game is excellent, he’s very difficult to read and he has an excellent ability to understand people and read their tells. This puts a lot of pressure on the other players to figure out if he’s bluffing or not. Before he started playing poker professionally, Hansen was a ranked backgammon player. He has won four WSOP tournaments and in 2004, along with Doyle Brunson and James Garner, was inducted into the World Poker Tour Walk of Fame. Originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, he now resides in Monte Carlo and Las Vegas.

James Butler ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok (1837 - 1876)

PokerBet: James Butler Hickok

Wild Bill is best known for the hand that was named after him, the ‘Dead Man’s Hand’: a pair of Aces and 8s. In 1876, Hickok was playing a game of Five-Card Draw in a saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota with his back to the door, which he normally never did due to paranoia about being shot. Just as Wild Bill’s replacement cards were being dealt to him, Jack McCall casually walked up behind him and shot him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. McCall had two trials and was eventually sentenced to death by hanging, which occurred in 1877, and was buried with the noose still wrapped around his neck.

As far as Wild Bill’s other card goes, all of the rumors are incorrect: Wild Bill was shot before his fifth card could be picked up and all of the cards on the table were scrambled in the chaos after the shooting.

He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.

John H. ‘Doc’ Holliday (1852 - 1887)

PokerBet: Doc Holiday

Doc Holliday was born into a life of privilege in a rich, aristocratic Southern family in Valdosta, Georgia in 1852, just before the Civil War. After the war, he attended dental school in Baltimore, Maryland and obtained a medical degree and a licence to practice dentistry. Soon afterwards, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and moved to a drier and warmer climate to ease his condition: Dallas, Texas. His persistent coughing bothered his patients and his business floundered. However, he found that he not only preferred being in saloons and card rooms, but their smoky environment provided the perfect cover for his coughing.

A few months later, he killed a prominent city official in an argument over a $500 pot and quickly moved to another city. He also killed somebody over a poker game in that city and had to move again, this time to Denver, where firearms were banned. That didn’t stop Doc: he almost killed another man over a game of poker (he did manage to severe three of his opponent’s fingers and cut out an eye). He moved next to Wyoming and didn’t kill anyone. Then he moved to Fort Griffin, Texas, where he partnered up with Wyatt Earp and Kate ‘Big Nose’ Fisher, who would burn down a building near a jail after one of Doc’s many murders to free him from prison.

He would kill another five men plus all those downed at the famed shoot-out at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. He was found not guilty for his role in the shootings because he acted in self-defense. By now his tuberculosis was killing him and the Governor of Colorado, where he resided, refused to sign extradition papers to have him stand trial for a murder in Arizona. He died in 1887 at the age of 35.

Edmond Hoyle (1672 - 1769)

PokerBet: Edmond Hoyle

Even though poker did not exist when Edmond Hoyle was alive (as such, he would never have played), he contributed to poker by being the first person to write a card games rules book. He wrote about the rules, statistics, ethics and the like about a particular card game, Whist, in his 1742 book, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, Containing the Laws of the Game; and also some Rules Whereby a Beginner May, with Due Attention to Them, Attain to the Playing it Well. Countless books have since been published under his name with the rules of almost every card game imaginable. In October of 2005, Martha Stewart divulged on a poker-themed episode of her show, Martha, that, “I know every card game. I got Hoyle’s Book of Card Games in prison.” (Perhaps Jennifer Tilley and Ben Affleck had better ready themselves for a showdown with Stewart at a future celebrity poker match: we already got a glimpse of her steely poker face when her legal troubles erupted she’s good!)

Phil Ivey (1976 - )

PokerBet: Phil Ivey

Phil’s grandfather taught him how to play when he was eight years old. He loved the game so much, he kept on playing. By 18, he had a fake ID and was playing poker in Atlantic City casinos. At first he lost more than he won, but by learning from his mistakes, he quickly improved his game and moved permanently to America’s Playground when he was 20 years old. Just over a year later, he entered his first WSOP and made two final tables and won a bracelet his first of five as of 2005 in a $2500 Pot-Limit Omaha tournament. He went on to play high stakes cash poker games in Las Vegas and eventually moved to Long Beach, California in 2002 the same year he won three WSOP bracelets. Each of those bracelets was won in different games: Seven-Card Stud, Stud Hi/Lo, and SHOE (a cycle of Stud, Hold ‘em, Omaha and Stud Hi/Lo). This versatility is essential to being a truly gifted poker player.

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William Barclay ‘Bat’ Masterson (1854 - 1921)

PokerBet: William Barclay Masterson

Bat Masterson was born in Quebec, Canada in 1854 and moved to a farm with his family in Illinois when he was still very young, where he learned how to shoot. He left home with his brother when he was 17 and they both found work with the Santa Fe Railroad. His brother returned home when they finished their contract and they were both told to come back in the spring as there wasn’t any money available until then to pay them. Masterson took a job preparing buffalo hides and eventually put his shooting skills to use by hunting them. By 1877, he was elected to be a peace officer in Dodge City, Kansas, where his brother was deputy sheriff. From 1892 to 1893, he was the (un-elected) city marshal of Creede, Colorado. By now, he was known as an avid gambler and had a strong desire to uphold law and order. It was this phase of his life that was immortalized in the popular 1950s television series Bat Masterson. It’s about a traveling, gambling lawman who would rather use his words or his cane to end a fight than his gun.

Chris Moneymaker (1975 - )

PokerBet: Chris Moneymaker

Chris Moneymaker only started playing poker a year before his unlikely victory at the 2003 WSOP. What also sets Moneymaker apart is that he honed his poker skills online and not in casinos in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

Practice your skills enough and you, too, could make it to the final table at the WSOP. Visit Full Tilt Poker for No-Limit Texas Hold ‘em tournament and learn more about poker than you could by playing the occasional home game. They have regularly scheduled, multi-player tournaments what Moneymaker played to prepare for his 2003 win with six qualifying tournaments a month for the WSOP.

Johnny Moss (1907 - 1997)

PokerBet: Johnny Moss

Johnny Moss started his professional gambling career in the 1930s traveling throughout the Southern United States. In 1949, Benny Binion invited him to play in a heads-up No-Limit poker game against Nick ‘The Greek’ Dandalos in 1949. The game was intended to boost poker’s popularity in casinos, and it worked. The marathon five-month game ended with Moss winning (in today’s figures adjusted for inflation) over $50 million. The game finished with the Greek’s famous line, “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.” By the time he died, Moss had played in every WSOP from 1970 to 1995 and won eight bracelets. He was inducted in the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.

Thomas ‘Amarillo Slim’ Preston (1930 - )

PokerBet: Thomas Preston

Amarillo Slim was one of the old Texas Rounders and played the game professionally before it was made legal. Like the rest of them, he ended up in Las Vegas and eventually won a WSOP in 1972 four in total as of 2006. His win in the seventies, and his charming personality, lead to several appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, 60 Minutes, and other shows. He became rather famous outside of the casinos and helped introduce legitimate poker to the rest of the world. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992.

Jack ‘Treetop’ Straus (1930 - 1988)

PokerBet: Jack Straus

Jack Straus earned his nickname, ‘Treetop’, due to his towering height of 6’ 7” and scruffy beard. He is best known for his 1982 win at the WSOP. He had just lost a hand in which he was ‘all-in.’ As he was about to get up and leave, a $500 chip was discovered lodged under his drink holder. It was decided he could play the chip and with that he went on to win the whole tournament. The saying that all a tournament player needs to win is a ‘chip and a chair’ is credited to Straus. While playing a high stakes poker game in 1988, he succumbed to a heart attack. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988.

Stuart ‘The Kid’ Ungar (1953 - 1998)

PokerBet: Stuart Ungar

Stu Ungar should be called ‘The Comeback Kid.’ He rose to poker prominence in the early 1980s, three years after moving to Las Vegas, by winning the 1980 and 1981 WSOP. He was a brilliant gin player with a photographic memory before he started playing poker professionally. His eidetic memory and superior skills got him banned from many casinos and he was not allowed to play Blackjack anywhere in Las Vegas. His life crumbled in a downward spiral of drug addiction and a series of bad sports and horse bets. A close friend, Billy Baxter, paid his $10,000 buy-in for the 1997 WSOP, which he won and they split the winnings. Baxter offered to pay again the following year, but ten minutes before the tournament started, Ungar backed out citing fatigue. He died seven months later due to heart damage brought on by drug abuse. After being a millionaire and losing everything four times over, Ungar died with only $800 to his name.

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