Lan aced this one. The answer we were looking for was right there in the photograph holding his cigar.
Walter Clyde “Puggy” Pearson is a poker legend. He’s a former World Champion and a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. Puggy played in the first world championship at Binion’s and was the second living person inducted into the Hall of Fame (behind Johnny Moss.) He is one of the most famous poker players of all time and is indeed a “Poker Great”.
Puggy (who acquired his nickname because of his pug nose) played in the highest stakes poker games in Las Vegas for over 25 years. He is one of the few players in history who said, “Deal me in” (for the highest game in the room) as soon as he walked into a poker room – and this was without knowing what the game was or who was playing.
Puggy rose to the top of his profession on his own. He was born in a shack in the hills of Tennessee. He came from a large, poor family (nine brothers and sisters). As he says, “We were so poor that we had to move every time the rent came due.” He then adds, “I didn’t know what shoes were until I left home.”
Puggy dropped out of school in the fifth grade to work and help the family financially. He doesn’t have a formal education. His education in life consisted of the “school of hard knocks”. In this “school”, he was a fast learner and was always at the head of the class. Don’t confuse his lack of formal education with not being intelligent as Puggy is a brilliant man.
At 16 years of age, Puggy left home to join the Navy. He did three hitches in the Navy. It’s here that he recognized his talents as a gambler. Puggy is an expert at things people gamble on. In the Navy, this was cards and pool. He was a shark in a world of minnows. He knew then that gambling, scuffling, and hustling would be his career. Make no mistake about one thing – Puggy Pearson is one of the greatest “rounders” in history.
When Puggy discovered that there was big action in golf, he decided to learn how to play. (Golf is a hustler’s dream.) He practiced faithfully and became a scratch player. Like all great gamblers, the more Puggy bets, the better he plays. Having heard about how good Puggy played golf, a reporter once asked him, “Just how good do you play?” Puggy answered truthfully, “I shoot whatever it takes to get the money.” And he could.
Puggy’s golf stories are legendary. Once, a few years back, I was playing with Puggy, Tommy Fischer, and a professional player from the PGA Senior Tour. Puggy was getting four shots a side from the pro. Puggy hit only three greens in regulation that day but virtually got the ball up and down on every hole and shot a 75. He beat the pro for $7000. While writing out his check to Puggy in the snack bar after the round, the pro said, “Puggy, I’ve played golf with the greatest players in the world for 40 years and I promise you that none of them, including Nicklaus, Player, or anyone else, could ever chip and putt like you do.” Puggy reached across the table, picked up the check, wiggled that cigar of his, broke into a wide grin and said, “You should have seen me ten years ago.”
Once, during a high stakes poker game, the players were discussing golf and this question came up: “If you had to choose anyone in the world to putt a ten foot putt for your life (if they missed it, you would be killed), who would you choose to putt it?” The first guy said Nicklaus, the second guy Crenshaw, another said Tom Watson in his prime. When it came to Doyle Brunson, he said, “Puggy Pearson”. Everyone stared at him in somewhat disbelief and Doyle said emphatically, “That’s right. Puggy Pearson. He’s the greatest pressure putter I’ve ever seen.” Doyle quickly added, “I’ll tell you one thing about Puggy. He won’t dog it. He might not make it, but you’ll get a good roll for your life.”
Puggy likes to call himself a roving gambler. He owns a bus that he named the “Rovin’ Gambler”. On the side of the bus in large letters is his name and the quote, “I’ll play any man from any land any game he can name for any amount he can count” and then in very fine print it says, “Provided I like it.” That sums up Puggy pretty well.
Puggy’s skill as a gambler and talent as a poker player are remarkable. However, he also has a somewhat notorious reputation with dealers (and deservedly so). What many don’t see or know about Puggy, though, is that he has a heart of gold. For example, whenever a poker dealer is ill or someone in their family has died (or anyone in the poker community for that matter), Puggy is the first one there to help. He is also famous for helping out fellow gamblers down on their luck. (Amarillo Slim once said Puggy “was softer than butter on a hot stove”.)
I wrote a song about Puggy. It’s called, “Puggy Pearson, King of the Gambling World”. The song is about Puggy’s life from the hills of Tennesse to his induction into the Poker Hall of Fame. As it says in his song, “He is a gambler’s best friend”.
Puggy, along with many of the original WSOP players in the early 70’s, is a big reason for the success of poker today. These poker pioneers paved the way for all of us. They deserve our thanks and a tip of the hat.
In case you didn’t know, now you do – former World Champion and member of the Poker Hall of Fame Puggy Pearson is indeed a “Poker Great”.
By Mike Sexton
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