The name of Johnny Moss takes us back to the early days of the World Series of Poker when the competition was more like an invitational event for Texas Hold’em aficionados from the American South.
Moss however, tends to transcend most of the other players at the time in terms of reputation and all round poker skill. He was born in 1907 in Marshall, Texas and that makes it a little difficult to establish whether certain stories are turn or not. Moss is said to have learned how to gamble at a very early age, being taught how to cheat and then how to use that knowledge to win fairly. A local saloon is said to have employed him to watch over their card games.
Moss eventually became a rounder, travelling the country looking for poker tournaments in which to play and in this fashion eventually ended up in Las Vegas in the early days of that city as a gambling hub. There is a great story related from 1951 which quite possibly is not true but it goes as follows – Benny Binion, owner of Binion’s Horseshoe, was looking for a high stakes match up to publicise his casino and persuaded Moss, regarded at the time as the best all round poker player, and Nick ‘The Greek’ Dandolos to participate. The Greek was an incredibly high stakes player, during his career he was said to have won and lost fortunes several times.
After five months of solid heads-up play, and with Moss up by several million dollars, The Greek finally gave up, saying “Mr. Moss, I have to let you go.” This is one of the most famous poker stories ever and you can read more about it here (and why it probably didn’t happen).
This story didn’t come to light until the early 1970s, several years after The Greek’s death and by this time Moss had won the World Series of Poker (in 1970, 1971 and 1974), so the extra adulation wasn’t really necessary. In 1970 the WSOP was decided by a player vote so Moss also had the backing of his contemporaries as the best poker player of that era. In total he won nine WSOP bracelets.
Johnny Moss died in December 1995.