AMARILLO, Texas – Thomas Austin “Amarillo Slim” Preston Jr., a poker champion whose brash style, fast talking and love of the spotlight helped broaden the professional game’s appeal and made him one of its most recognizable characters, has died at 83.
Preston’s son, Bunky Preston, said he died Sunday of colon cancer while in hospice care in Amarillo, where he lived.
“He was playing poker until the very, very end,” Bunky Preston told the Associated Press on Monday.
While Thomas Preston craved the spotlight that his poker fame provided, his public image was sullied eight years ago when he was sentenced to probation on misdemeanor charges that he assaulted a young relative.
He got his “Amarillo Slim” nickname playing pool, according to Preston’s son, and with his cowboy hat and Southern drawl, he wouldn’t have been out of place gambling in an Old West saloon.
Preston would bet on just about anything, and he mastered the art of stretching the truth. Among his many claims laid out on his website are that he played Minnesota Fats in one-pocket billiards using a broomstick; beat Bobby Riggs, of Billie Jean King fame, at pingpong using an iron skillet; and outran “a horse for a hundred yards (no one ever said nothing about the race being straight-away).”
Preston’s accomplishments at the poker table were very real, and his 1972 win in the fledgling World Series of Poker in Las Vegas helped make him an unofficial ambassador for the game. Often not the best player at the table, Preston nonetheless sought out the spotlight.
Preston wrote or co-wrote several books about the game and himself, and he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1992.
The self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Gambler” was born in Johnson, Ark. His family later moved to Texas and settled in Amarillo.