I doubt if we will see the likes of Puggy Pearson again in our lifetimes. We've all heard stories about his behavior at the poker tables from the past, but there was another side to Puggy that most people never saw. He had a soft heart, especially for a gambler down and out, or a dealer that was sick, or a player's spouse that passed away. There are many times Puggy could be seen passing his hat around the poker room for someone in need, and Puggy himself would donate the most. He considered all gamblers to be family, and never missed a gambler's funeral. Unfortunately, we lost Puggy this past year, and he was one of my brother's very dear friends for 30 years. In fact, if it wasn't for Puggy, my brother might have been a salesman back in North Carolina instead of the "Poker Ambassador" he turned out to be. I'll address this in Part Two of this tale, but for now, let's go back in time 30 years ago to 1977. The first time Mike Sexton met Puggy Pearson in Las Vegas, was an absolute classic moment to remember, that I would like to share with you:
In 1977 my brother called me and said "Tom, I want you to meet me down on the Strip at a place called Rumors. It is a nightclub that has backgammon tables. I'm supposed to meet this gambler there to play backgammon for $100 per game."
I said, "Backgammon, you don't even know how to play that game." Mike said, "What's the difference? I might make a score. The problem is... I don't have any money and if I lose, there might be trouble. Chip (Reese) and Danny (Robison) told me to watch myself, as this guy is supposed to be one mean #*$!#&!!, and I will just feel better if you're with me, in case there is any trouble."
To that, I asked "What is this guy's name?"
And Mike said, "It is some guy named Puggy Pearson."
Well, when we got there I took a seat behind Mike and watched them play backgammon. It was quickly apparent that Puggy was much better at this game than my brother. At $100 per game, Puggy won the first five games in a row. Puggy's radar went up then, and he looked at Mike and said, "Sexton, I'll play you all night long, but why don't we settle up in $500 increments?"
Mike turned around to see if his big brother was near by, and then turned back around, "Puggy, I don't have a dime on me, but of course, you know, I'm good for this."
Puggy puffed on that cigar for almost a minute just glaring at Mike (it seemed like an hour), and said "Sexton, I didn't think anybody had the guts to try this on me in Las Vegas. Do you know who your dealing with here? I'm Puggy Pearson!"
Before Mike could say anything, all of a sudden Puggy began to laugh so hard, he almost fell out of his chair. Mike said, "What's so funny, Puggy?"
Puggy said, "Hell, I haven't got any money on me either... I'm shooting an air bullet here myself! I was hoping to win some off you." At that point everyone was laughing watching this scene unfold. Here they were, Mike and Puggy, the first time they met, trying to outhustle each other. When the laughter subsided, Puggy said, "I'd like to play you all night Sexton, but I've got to find someone who has some money."
This was the odd beginning to a friendship that lasted 30 years. Walter Clyde "Puggy" Pearson was a true gambling legend who won the WSOP in 1973, and was early elected into Poker's Hall Of Fame. He had a third-grade education, graduating instead from the school of hard knocks. Puggy was from a poor, large, Tennessee-hills family and would tell you, "We had to move every time the rent was due."
Once, on a radio show when asked for any good advice for someone pursuing a gambling career, Puggy said "The best advice I can give them is something that took me 35 years to learn, and that is that you'll never have nothin' until you learn to make a mule out of your money." ( In other words, you must learn to invest your winnings.) For someone known to be "the world's greatest scuffler," that is probably the most sophisticated advice one could ever give. We're going to miss you, Puggy.
The Cab is Parked,
Tom Sexton is a featured columnist for PokerNews.com. Tom attended the University of Oklahoma on a full gymnastic scholarship, where he was captain of the team four straight years, becoming the first NCAA All-American and Big Eight Champion in OU's gymnastics history in 1968. The Sexton family is well established in poker and includes Tom's brother Mike, the World Poker Tour commentator and poker's "First Ambassador", as voted by his peers. Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his articles. His e-mail is TSStarbuck1@aol.com.