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"Puggy" Pearson, Poker Hall of Famer, Has Died

World Champ and Father of Tournament Played Against the Game's Greatest Players


Walter Clyde "Puggy" Pearson died yesterday (April 12, 2006) at the age of 77.

Pearson played in the first World Series of Poker in 1970 and won the $10,000 world championship event in 1973. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1987.

He beat two-time WSOP champ Johnny Moss heads-up for his title. His final hand was Aspade 7spade.

Pearson can be considered the father of tournament poker because he is credited with creating the freezeout form of tournament poker. After two years of awarding the WSOP champion by vote, Benny Binion implemented Pearson's freezeout structure in 1972 and it's been used ever since.

Pearson, who earned the nickname "Puggy" thanks to a childhood accident that gave him a pug nose, was born in Kentucky in 1929, but was raised in rural Tennessee. He was one of 10 children and, according to Mike Sexton, was forced to quit school in fifth grade to help support his family.

A natural gambler, Pearson won mountains of dollars playing poker and pool as a young adult while in the Navy, and that success continued for many years while living and playing in the highest games in Las Vegas. Pearson was also a scratch golfer who often played matches against professionals for high sums of money.

About his golf game, Sexton once wrote: "Pearson's a legend both at the poker table and on the golf course. A reporter once asked Puggy, 'I hear you play a pretty good game of golf. Just how good do you play?' Puggy broke into a grin and said, 'I shoot whatever it takes to get the money.' And he could!"

Pearson was known as a man who would always seek out the biggest game in town, whether it was in the poker room or on the golf links. He even owned a van he called the "Roving' Gambler," with this painted on the side: "I'll play any man from any land any game he can name for any amount he can count, provided I like it."

As a poker professional, Pearson was known for his fearlessly aggressive style. During the '60s and '70s, Pearson played for many pots against some of the greatest poker players who ever lived, including Moss, Amarillo Slim, Doyle Brunson, Nick "the Greek" Dandolos, and Sailor Roberts. His strongest game was considered seven-card stud, and in 1973 won the $4,000 buy-in limit seven-card stud event at the WSOP.

Larry Grossman, long-time gambling analysis and former radio host of "You Can Bet on It," says Pearson was one of the most compelling people he met during his years in Las Vegas.

"He was a colorful character, there's no question," Grossman says. "I enjoyed his company, I really thought he was a breath of fresh air. He loved poker, he loved the game, he loved the camaraderie."

At last year's WSOP's main event, as the final table was boiling down, Pearson took center stage briefly after he was introduced to the crowd by Nollan Dalla. To the crowd's delight, Pearson started to sing his "I'm a Rovin' Gambler" song, and went on until tourney officials asked him to stop. But the crowd wanted more, said Grossman, and started to chant "We want Puggy, we want Puggy." Pearson happily obliged and stole the spotlight once again.

In his later years, Pearson would show up on the first day of the WSOP's main event dressed in character. One year he came as a Viking, another year, an Arab Oil Sheik. The year Pearson showed up dressed in a full American Indian costume, complete with war paint and headdress, Grossman wanted to know why he choose it.

"He said 'This is my tribe and I'm the chief,'" Grossman says. "He meant it. Like this is what I am, and this is where I belong, and these are my people."

Pearson's memorial service will be held Monday, April 17th, at 11:00am in the Bellagio's Da Vinci 2 - 3 - 4 rooms.