Walter Clyde "Puggy"
Pearson, the 1973 World
Series of Poker $10,000 buy
in, no-limit Texas hold 'em
champion and a member of the
Poker Hall of Fame, died in Las
Vegas. He was 77. The cause
was not immediately released.
Puggy Pearson WSOP Gallery of Champions
Puggy
Pearson

Poker tournament pioneer 'Puggy' Pearson dies
By Ed Koch <koch@lasvegassun.com>
Las Vegas Sun

As the quintessential road gambler, cigar-chomping Puggy Pearson would
take on anyone, anywhere, anytime and at almost any game you could
wager on - providing he liked it.

He developed a fondness for poker as a teenager and came up with an idea
that revolutionized the modern game. He proposed that players at the same
table start with the same amount of money and play until one player had it
all - "freeze-out" style, he called it.

In 1970, Horseshoe owner Benny Binion used that formula in his new World
Series of Poker tournament, launching a format used in poker tournaments to
this day.

Walter Clyde "Puggy" Pearson, the 1973 World Series of Poker $10,000 buy
in, no-limit Texas hold 'em champion and a member of the Poker Hall of Fame,
died Wednesday in Las Vegas. He was 77.

The cause was not immediately released. The Clark County coroner's office
conducted an autopsy Thursday and the results are pending. But Pearson's
family said he had oral surgery on Tuesday and that he apparently hit his
head when he either fell or had a heart attack on Wednesday.

Pearson had been ailing for several years, but earlier this week played poker
in the Bellagio card room, his favorite haunt in recent years.

Palm Mortuary on Jones Boulevard is handling the arrangements. A memorial
service has been tentatively scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Bellagio,
his family said.

"I'm a roving gambler," Pearson was quoted as saying in the 2002 book "The
Championship Table," by Dana Smith. "I ramble all around. Wherever I meet
with a deck of cards, I'll lay my money down. I've gambled all over Texas, I've
gambled up in Maine. And now I'm going to do it all over again."

His motto was emblazoned across his 38-foot-long, diesel-powered Imperial
Holiday Rambler tour bus: "I'll play any man from any land any game that he
can name for any amount that I can count," followed by, in much smaller
letters: "providing I like it."

Pearson's showdown with fellow Hall of Famer and three-time world poker
champion Johnny Moss at the 1973 world championship game was the first
World Series event recorded for TV broadcast.

On the final hand, Pearson defeated Moss to win poker's most prestigious
title and the winner-take-all prize of $130,000 from a field of 13 players.

By comparison, the winner of the same event at last year's World Series of
Poker won $7.5 million from a field of 5,619 players.

In the 1970s and '80s, Pearson often showed up for major tournaments
wearing costumes. One year he dressed as a cowboy with six-shooters; in
other years he appeared in full American Indian dress or in Viking gear.

Although he won four World Series events, Pearson, in later years, declined
to play in long tournaments, preferring shorter, live-action games that were
his bread and butter as a road gambler.

"He was a colorful character with two feet in the past taking a step into the
future," said Howard Schwartz, marketing director of the Gamblers Book Shop
downtown. "Puggy played a major role in helping poker make the transition
from the back rooms to the modern televised game."

Several books about gambling devote entire chapters to Pearson, including
"Fast Company" by Jon Bradshaw and "Aces and Kings" by Michael Kaplan
and Brad Reagan.

Pearson was a quick learner, said fellow poker player Paul Magriel, author of
the 1976 book "Backgammon," which is considered the bible of backgammon.

"He was a remarkable guy - a good ol' boy from Tennessee," Magriel said.
"He sounded like an illiterate Southern guy, but Puggy was highly intelligent.
He quickly picked up backgammon. He had a flair for the game."

Longtime Las Vegas gaming analyst Larry Grossman added: "During the era
of Johnny Moss, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim Preston and Sailor Roberts - the
early days of tournament poker - Puggy was as tough a player as anybody.

"He was an all-around athlete who would play pool, backgammon, golf,
tennis - any game as long as he thought he had an edge. He had a great
sense of his own skill, which he used to survive as a gambler."

In addition to capturing the World Series of Poker's premier event in 1973,
Pearson won the 1971 limit seven-card stud world title, the 1973 $1,000 buy
in, no-limit hold 'em crown and the 1973 $4,000 buy in limit seven-card stud
title.

Pearson last placed in the money in the World Series of Poker in 1989, when
he finished 35th and collected $7,500 - $2,500 less than he paid to enter the
event.

Born Jan. 29, 1929, in Adairville, Ky., and raised in the hills of Tennessee,
Pearson was one of nine children. He got his colorful nickname as a
youngster when he crushed his nose after falling on his face while attempting
to walk on his hands.

Pearson dropped out of school at age 11 and made money hustling pool. He
joined the Navy at age 17, was trained to be a frogman and toured the world.

In the service, he learned to play poker. He later traveled the United States
playing in back rooms or anywhere there was a big game.

Adept at all forms of poker, Pearson, in his prime, was regarded as one of the
game's most aggressive players. Seven-card stud was considered his best
game.

Pearson estimated that in his lifetime he won and lost millions of dollars at
pool and poker tables.

Pearson was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame at Binion's Horseshoe in
1987.

He is survived by his longtime companion, Simin Habibian of Las Vegas; one
son, Stephen Mark Pearson of Las Vegas; one daughter, Andrea Elaine
Phelan of Nashville, Tenn.; a brother, J.C. Pearson of Las Vegas; two sisters,
Bobbie Jean Bailey of Florida and Gladys Gracie Pearson of Clarksville, Tenn.;
and one grandson, Walter Frank Phelan of Nashville.

Ed Koch can be reached at 259-4090 or at koch@lasvegassun.com.
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