Poker legend

Johnny Moss: The Poker Legend

Background Info about Johnny Moss

In the history of poker, there are very few people who have achieved more than the legend, Johnny Moss. At the launch of World Series of Poker, Moss won three out of the first five series of the main event. In total, he won nine World Series of Poker events and eight bracelets as well as huge earnings to go with them. No doubt, he was a force to be reckoned with in the poker world. Johnny was a true rounder. He was born in the old school days when casino players went about carrying pistol at poker table. Moss was bred at the time when luxury such as endorsement from corporation was non-existence.


He was born on the 14th of May, 1907. He was a gambler as well as a professional poker player. Moss was the first winner of the famous World Series of Poker Main Event. This was at a time when cash game event were more of the skills than luck. In 1970, Moss won the bracelet and was awarded the title after he was voted by his peers. After this event, he also won twice at the current format of the World Series of Poker Main Event tournaments. He won his two bracelets in 1971 and 1974. Johnny Moss was one of the chartered inductees into the prestigious Poker Hall of Fame in the year 1979.



Moss was born in the town of Marshall, Texas. He spent the whole of his formative years in Dallas. It was at this place that he learnt to gamble. Not long after his initiation into the world of gambling, he started moving towards pool halls and saloons where he could find backroom poker games. While playing cards at tables, Johnny had learnt the tricks and skills of the trade at a very early age. However, he didn’t use his knowledge and skills of cheating at card games to separate the suckers from their money. Instead, he was engaged at a local card game to help keep an eye on the players and ensure their honesty at tables.


Compared to the time of Johnny Moss, the available resources to poker players in the contemporary time are huge luxury. During the time of Johnny, there was no access to such resources. There was no comprehensive book that has been written on poker strategy in his days. All he learnt about poker were things he picked up while playing the game and watching others at the game. His time at local poker games where he was performing the role of an overseer taught him a lot of things he knew about poker. He was able to develop his gaming strategy as well as insight that significantly improved his skills as a successful poker player.


It is important to mention that Johnny started off his career in the field of poker long before the launch of legal casino poker rooms and major tournaments. During his time, he was playing professional poker games, traveling from one casino location to the other to play at tables. He was indeed a traveling gambler that earned his livelihood on the road. In the 50s, Johnny moved to Odessa in Texas to take advantage of the gambling action and the oil boom. It is essential to mention that he, and his fellow gamblers, was part of the largest poker games that took place in Texas for several years.


Johnny Moss: Myth and Legend

There were a lot of stories that surround the life of this exceptional poker pro. Myth and legend are part of his life. As a matter of fact, there was no shortage of vivid and colorful stories and anecdotes that are associated with the name, Johnny Moss. Early in his poker career, it was a norm to go about with a concealed pistol, without anyone noticing. Moss always had his pistol with him. History had it that on a certain day while playing cards at one of the backroom games, Johnny noticed a peephole at the ceiling from which the house was able to spy on the cards that players were holding.


Known as an individual who would not tolerate a cheater, Johnny told the house that if they didn’t ask the spy to come down and cover the hole, he would not hesitate to open fire at the ceiling and the spy. They tried to call Moss’ bluff and pretended they didn’t understand what he meant. Johnny didn’t think twice; to show he was serious, he fired a few rounds of shots into the ceiling and the man above got injured. There was nothing they could do about it; really, a cheater should pay for his sin.


Another legendary story about Moss was the one told about his involvement at a high stake round of golf game. At this game, he was backed by a couple of people of criminal tendency. Johnny was down by $250,000 and very close to the end of the round; his backers began to weigh the pros and cons of just killing the opponent instead of paying him a quarter million of his winning. Interestingly, Moss won with the last couple of holes and pulled close to an even for the game. His opponent was surprised and told him that he was the luckiest man alive. Moss simply replied him that “No sir, you are”. By this, he was referring to what would have been the fate of the man if he (Moss) had not drawn even at the game.


Johnny Moss Epic Heads-Up Marathon with Nick Greek

History had it that in the year 1949, Johnny Moss took up Nick the Greek in a five months long heads-up poker marathon. The game was set up by the mob boss, Benny Binion. Moss ended up winning between $2 and $4 million USD at the end of the game. When the game ended, Nick the Greek reportedly made a statement that had become one of the most popular poker quotes in history. The statement – “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.” The game between Moss and Nick is often said to be the inspiration that birthed the World Series of Poker. The game also became the basis for the book, The Biggest Game in Town, authored by Al Alvarez. The story that emanated from the game also became the best poker story ever told in the world of poker.


Although this story was one of the best known and most told poker stories, a book that was released later, ‘Showgirl Stories’, written by Steve Fischer, claims that the game didn’t take place. Based on the report of Fischer, there was no story or report of the tournament prior to the death of Nick. According to him, the story surfaced six years after his death, which made the authenticity of the story highly questionable. Also, Binion, the supposed organizer of the game never mentioned the game even in all his accounts of the detailed history of games that took place in Las Vegas. When asked about the game, he avoided answering the questions saying that his memory wasn’t what it used to be. This statement subtly hinted that the game never took place and he was simply trying hard not to debunk a legendary story.


Nick the Greek was regularly featured by national media but there were no news reports relating to the game in any national or local source. According to Fischer, almost all the versions of the story were very identical to the version that was first told by Johnny Moss himself. The game is again and again said to have taken place in the year 1949 at the Horseshoe Casino. This was a casino that didn’t exist until about a year and a half later. Fischer went ahead to point out that at the time that Binion was said to have organized the game; he was busy fighting off the request to have him extradited from Texas. As a result of his gambling past, Binion had lost his license to run any gambling establishment since the year 1948. He didn’t regain this license until the April of 1950. Additionally, he didn’t get the license to open up Horseshoe Casino until early December of 1952. According to Fischer, the idea that Binion sponsored a poker game at the front of a window of a casino that was closed at the same time he was fighting an extradition battle was quite “absurd.”


While reacting to article relating to this story in 2017, Binion, who was about 80 years old at the time, tried to clarify the issue and address the crux of the matter. According to him, Johnny Moss and Nick the Greek (Nick Dandolos) actually played a poker match in the year 1949. He emphasized that the game was not at the Horseshoe Casino. He also explained that the poker game was not the months long open game that many people have insinuated that the game was. According to Jack Binion, the game took place at the Flamingo and it wasn’t a public game. In the meantime, there was another game of poker a few years later that involved Moss, which took place at the Horseshoe casino.


Binion reported that there was a big poker game at the Horseshoe Casino in the early 1950s, but Nick wasn’t part of the game. The big game starred multiple players, which include Johnny Moss, who was coming and going as the game progress around the clock. The game at the Horseshoe was a public game, which was different from the game that was played at the Flamingo in the year 1949. Benny went ahead to reveal that the confusion about the game must have stemmed from the fact that Moss participated in the two games and had probably mixed the stories up while narrating it to spectators. He emphasized that there was never a game between Moss and Greek at the Horseshoe and the duo had never engaged in high stakes heads up in any public casino. He also explained that the inspiration for the World Series of Poker was the formerly held Texas Gamblers Reunion and not the game between Moss and Nick Dandolos.


Johnny Moss: The Best Poker Player of His Time

No doubt, Johnny Moss had huge success at poker table. However, the poker table wasn’t the only place he got his winnings. As a matter of fact, he was highly respected and feared in bowling alleys and on golf courses. In the course of his poker career, he had won millions of dollars from these areas too. In the 1950s, Moss relocated to Odessa in Texas so he could be very close to the oil boom and satiate his appetite and lust for gambling. In spite of his numerous victories at card tables and golf, there were rumors that were circulating that Moss had lost over $8 million USD while betting on sports and dice. Johnny Moss later gave up his gambling tendency and his cigarette addiction at his later years to enjoy a complete and better quality of life.


While talking about the legend during an interview with Nolan Dalla, Doyle Brunson, a living legend himself, had a lot to say about Johnny Moss. According to him, he learnt a lot from Johnny, who was the best professional poker player in the world during his time. He went on to say that if he were to have a poker mentor, Johnny Moss would definitely be the individual. Towards the later part of his years, Johnny struggled with failing health and a lot of problems that sprang up at his old age. In it all, nothing was strong enough to conquer Moss’ love for poker game. Whenever Johnny Moss sat at table during his lifetime, everyone at the table would know that something different would happen at the table. In the course of his years as a professional poker player and even after he retired, he witnessed some of the biggest events in the history of poker. On the 16th of December, 1995, the poker legend, Johnny Moss passed away peacefully.


Johnny Moss at World Series of Poker

Johnny played in the first ever World Series of Poker event that took place in 1970. He was elected the champion by his colleagues, and he received a silver cup for his prize. According to history, which was reported in print at several times, there were six players that participated at the event and when the players were asked to vote, each voted for himself. However, when they were asked to vote for the second time, Moss emerged the winner. All through to 1995, Johnny participated in the game. In 1971, he played in the $1,000 Limit Ace to 5-Draw event at the second World Series of Poker ever. He finished first and won the grand prize of $10,000. He didn’t just win the cash prize; he also won his first real bracelet at the event, since the first was a sliver cup. The following day, he won his second bracelet at another event of the second WSOP. He played in the $5,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship and placed first. He won the first prize and took home the cash of $30,000 and his second bracelet.


In 1974, he placed second at the $10,000 Limit 7-Card Stud event of the 5th World Series of Poker. He won $34,150 for his second place finished. A few days later, he won his third WSOP bracelet at the $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship event. He placed first and won the cash prize of $160,000 and the WSOP bracelet. The following year, he won his fourth WSOP bracelet at the $1,000 Limit Seven-Card Stud at the 6th World Series of Poker, 1974 in Las Vegas. He placed first and won the prize of $44,000 as well as a bracelet.


His 5th bracelet came the following year at the $500 Seven-Card Study at the 7th World Series of Poker event. He placed first and won the cash prize of $13,000 and a WSOP bracelet. In 1979, he took home his 6th World Series of Poker bracelet at the $5,000 Seven-Card Study. In addition to winning a bracelet for the first position, he also took home the grand prize of $48,000. He earned his 7th WSOP bracelet in 1981 at the $1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split event during the 10th World Series of Poker of 1981. He finished first and won the bracelet and the cash prize of $33,500. His 8th and last WSOP bracelet was earned in 1988 in the $1,500 Limit Ace to Five-Draw event of the 19th edition of World Series of Poker. He won the first prize and earned $116,400 and a bracelet.


His eight bracelets and one silver cup placed him in the 5th place among the all-time WSOP winners. He came directly behind Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, and Doyle Brunson, who won 10 bracelets each, and Phil Hellmuth, who had earned 15 bracelets in the course of his poker career. Until the 2005 World Series of Poker (WSOP), Johnny Moss was the player with the highest number of bracelets ever won in the history of poker. Johnny Chan won his 10th WSOP bracelet at the 2005 event, making him take the lead over Johnny Moss. In the course of his career, Johnny won a total of eight bracelets, one silver cup and $834,422 USD in World Series of Poker tournament play.


Highlights of Johnny Moss World Series of Poker Bracelets

1970World Series of Poker World Championship (Won by Election)N/A
1971Limit Ace to 5-Draw$10,000
1971$5,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship$30,000
1974$10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship$160,000
1975$1,000 Seven Card Stud$44,000
1976$500 Seven Card Stud$13,000
1979$5,000 Seven Card Stud$48,000
1981$1,000 Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo$33,500
1988$1,500 Ace to Five Draw$116,400


It is important to emphasize that Moss’ first place of 1970 was won through vote. He was voted the champion of the event by his peers at the table. He got a silver cup for his effort. Johnny Moss won his last bracelet in 1988 and he set the record for the oldest bracelet winner in the history of World Series of Poker. This record remains steadfast even up till date.


Johnny Moss Other Tournament

When tournaments began to gain popularity in his time, Johnny Moss was all in. He participated in a good number of poker tournaments during his lifetime and he was successful at many of the events he participated in. In 1979, he bought into the $10,000 No Limit Hold’em event at the Amarillo Slim’s Superbowl of Poker in Las Vegas. He placed 7th and won the sum of $15,000. In the same month, he placed second at the $10,000 Deuce to Seven Lowball event at the same Amarillio Slim’s Superbowl of Poker. He won $37,000 for his second place.


In 1981, he participated in the $5,000 Seven Card Stud at Amarillo Slim’s Superbowl of Poker again and placed first. He won the sum of $57,000 at this event. Three years later, he placed 4th in the $5,000 Limit Seven Card Stud event of the Grand Prix of Poker in Las Vegas. He won $20,000 for his effort. He also participated in the $300 + 30 Limit Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo event of the 1986 Stairway to the Stars in Las Vegas. He placed first at this event.


He bought into the $1,500 + 50 Limit Omaha of the Hall of Fame Poker Classic in 1989. He finished in the second place and won $31,500. In the December of the same year, he played in $1,500 + 50 Limit 7 Card Stud at the Hall of Fame Poker Classic 1989. He finished second and won $52,800.  In 1990, he bought into the $1,000 + 50 Seven Card Razz of the Amarillo Slim’s Superbowl of Poker and finished second with a winning of $26,000. Johnny Moss also bought into the $2,500 + 60 No Limit Deuce to Seven event of the Hall of Fame Poker Classic in 1992. He finished second and made a winning of $44,375.


Johnny Moss played his last game in June 15, 1995 at the Queens Poker Classic Summer Edition in Las Vegas. He bought into the $2,500 + 65 No Limit Hold’em event. He finished 7th and earned $6,563. Six months later, Johnny Moss passed away. Although he died at an old age, his death was still a loss to the world of poker. He definitely will be remembered for all his exploits at the poker table. In the course of his poker career, Johnny net worth from his total live earnings was $1,254,859. His best live cash ever was $160,000.


Personal Life of Johnny Moss

Johnny Moss was married to Virgie, who was a citizen of West Texas. At the beginning of his poker career, Johnny’s strategies for his tournament poker were basically survival at the early stage. With the growth in poker tournaments and increase in blinds, he shifted his strategy from survival to testing his opponents with bigger pots and aggression. Doyle Brunson, who was Moss’ fellow professional poker player, puts Johnny on his Mount Rushmore of professional poker players, alongside Chip Reese, Puggy Pearson, and Sailor Roberts. His autobiography was written by Don Jenkins, with authorization of course. Jenkins titled the autobiography, Champion of Champions.


Johnny is considered by many in the world of poker as one of the greatest professional poker players that ever walked the planet earth, and they are very correct on many grounds. There are many reasons why the legend is a great poker player and there is no blog, article, book, or narration that can do justice to his greatness.


First, he won the inaugural edition of the World Series of Poker Main Event. He didn’t just win the first edition, he went ahead to win eight more editions. He started playing at poker tables when the game was still in its unrefined stage. He taught himself how to play the game because there were no resources as they were today, to teach him. To honor the legend, Johnny Moss, he became the first member to get inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. Professional poker players across the world agree that Moss was the kind of poker player that anyone would be glad to lose to.



Johnny Moss was an exceptional professional poker player who had made his mark in the world of poker. He was the first poker player to win the WSOP prize at the inaugural edition of the event and he won a total of eight World Series of Poker bracelets and a silver cup in his lifetime and he also made great winnings at other events. He was also the first professional poker player to be inducted into the Poker World of Fame. He died at the age of 88 on the 16th of December, 1995.

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