Player Profile - Johnny Moss
A fashionable poker question to ask seems to be “Just how good was Johnny Moss?”
For those who played with him in his prime, few doubt that he was the very best of players. But those who saw him in his later years – he played poker right up until he died in 1997 at the age of 89 – seem determined to re-write the legend of Mr. Moss.
That seems unfair. His record is impeccable – Moss won three World Series of Poker championships – and finished second in a fourth. Never mind that the first series winner was elected by his fellow peers – in fact, the person who other pro players select as the best in the world is far more likely to meet that criteria than someone who wins a one-off tourney. He is, to date, the only player ever to have a World Series of Poker event re-scheduled because he had played a very late side game the night before and was in bed at the intended start time.
And his fellow pros, who faced him at the tables from backrooms in Texas, usually found that at the end of the game he was the one with the money. He was, in short, the player that all the other players most wanted to beat. No wonder he was known as the ‘Grand Old Man of Poker’.
Moss is perhaps most famed for his famous poker game with Nick "The Greek" Dandolos, one of America’s other great legendary gamblers. Dandolos, who had won an estimated $60 million in card games across the United States, came to Vegas in 1949 to find the biggest game in town. Casino owner Benny Binion arranged the game, on the condition it could be played in public, against Johnny Moss. They played for five months, breaking for sleep rarely, and enormous amounts changed hands. The game ended when Dandolos has lost an estimated $2 million (despite winning a single pot of $500,000) after which he uttered the memorable (and now infamous) line: "Mr. Moss, I have to let you go."
In his later years, it is true that Moss’ game declined markedly. For the last 20-odd years of his life, he was playing far from his best game. He pretty much lived at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in downtown Las Vegas, a guest of owner Benny Binion and, later, his son Jack, who could recognize a poker legend when they saw one. However, his legendary status is so great that in 2005 Irish bookies Paddy Power quoted him at 66/1 to make the final table of the 2005 World Series of Poker - a feat surely beyond even him!
Perhaps the final word should go to Doyle Brunson who should know a good player when he sees one. In Super/System (the 1978 original version) he wrote of Moss:
"I've always been an apostle of John's at No-Limit. I used to observe and watch him in each poker game I went to...The truth was, John was usually the big winner in the games...with myself a close second. As the years passed, the margin between us got closer and closer because I was watching and picking up his favorite plays as any young apprentice might watch and learn from the master in his field...I have much more respect for Johnny than a lot of younger players do. In his prime, he was the best No-limit player I've ever seen, and a lot of people don't believe that because they're too young to have Johnny play at his best. They fail to take into account the fact that he's some 70 years old now and that is 20 years past the point at which most men's play begins to deteriorate."