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From the Poker Vaults: Crandell Addington, Part II

From the Poker Vaults: Crandell Addington, Part II 0001

Editor's Note: To read part one of this tale, click here.

In addition to fattening his bankroll, Crandell Addington's decision to move west with Tom Moore in 1967 would have an even greater impact on his poker career, for it was his connection with Moore that secured him an invitation to the Annual Gaming Fraternity Convention. Held at Moore's Holiday Hotel in Reno in 1969, the Convention was a marketing ploy dreamed up by casino insider Vic Vickrey to attract high rollers to Moore's hotel during a slow time of year. Some of the greatest poker players of that era played cash games around the clock for a week straight.

After the Convention had ended, Moore took Addington aside and asked for his advice. "I'm going to sell the hotel. Benny and Jack [Binion] want to buy the poker tournament from me, but I just told them, 'You can take it.' What do you think?"

"I think that's a good idea. We're all down there in Vegas anyway."

With Moore's approval Benny Binion moved the event to his Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas the following year, and in his usual grandiose style renamed it the World Series of Poker. Like a shark following a school of fish, Addington migrated with it. A trip to Canada prevented him from attending the 1971 World Series of Poker, but he didn't miss another one for the rest of the decade. He became a fixture at the final table of the main event, appearing there an amazing seven times during the 1970s, although, like most of his peers, he really didn't care all that much about winning the thing. In its original incarnation the tournament served merely as a way for the top players to attract lesser ones to the cash games that cropped up in the tournament's wake and as a way for Benny Binion to attract gamblers to his casino.

"Benny was a savant about advertising and promotion," said Addington, "and he realized if he got some press in there we could get some live action in there, what we called the seals or mullets. There were several great white sharks, and we needed seals to maintain ourselves. No-limit poker games can only go on so long if they are played by and among all top players. You have to have producers in the game."

Back when he was a great white shark, Addington would do almost anything to attract players with more money than skill to his poker table, including agreeing to play the part of an amateur for the television cameras. He looked very much like the professional he was, however, when he nearly beat Johnny Moss for the world championship in 1974. They played a grueling heads-up match for four hours before Moss finally won the title. Despite the loss, Addington deemed his showing a success because he knew the sight of an "amateur" nearly beating the Grand Old Man of Poker was sure to attract swarms of fish to the event the following year, and he was right. "Businessmen from around the country said, 'Hell, we got one of them out there who can compete with these guys. We'll go out and try it too.'"

In 1978, Addington nearly won the championship once again when he got heads-up with Bobby Baldwin. At one point he enjoyed a $275,000-to-$145,000 lead over his opponent, but during the dinner break Baldwin retreated to his room to change his clothes as well as his attitude.

"I decided if Crandell was going to win the other $145,000, he was going to have to call some money," he said.

Upon his return Baldwin succeeded in pulling off one of the greatest bluffs in World Series history, purporting to have made a diamond flush on the turn when in fact he had nothing. Addington's fold sealed his fate; he finished second but was hardly dismayed.

"These guys today place a lot more value on winning the tournament then we did then," he said recently. "The only reason we ever had that kind of gathering at all was to try to attract some live money for the big cash games. The tournament itself was just a sideshow."

With the tournament growing bigger every year, it started to displace those big cash games, a circumstance that severely tested Addington's allegiance to the event. He did his best to adapt, but in the end two pivotal events proved irreconcilable. First, the Binions changed the payout structure from winner-take-all to paying the top five places in 1978.

The change dismayed Addington. "I was the one who always wanted it to be winner-take-all. I said, 'What are you doing this for?'"

Most of his peers argued in favor of the change for financial reasons. "Aw, you got more money than we do."

"Well, if you went out and won some more, I wouldn't," Addington replied.

While he could joke about the modification to the payout structure, he viewed the next great change to the tournament's organization as a threat to his very livelihood. "I guess the thing that started me on the road to retirement from poker was the satellite tournaments," he said. "As the satellite tournaments began to run, they took up more and more space, and it crowded out the cash games. I squealed about that of course because that was the only reason we ever had the tournament. You know, it was to have fodder for the cash games."

"No, no, this is good," the other players argued.

"Why should we have any qualifiers?" countered Addington. "They don't have any qualifiers in the Masters."

Addington turned to Doyle Brunson for counsel, for despite his two world championships Brunson had always shared Addington's view that the World Series was just a way of attracting seals and mullets to the cash games. "This is over for us out here," he told Brunson.

"No, it ain't."

"Yeah, look what they've done. They've shut down all the no-limit games. There's nothing left. The satellites are crowding us out."

"It's going to be okay," Brunson assured him.

"No, it won't. Besides, I've found a bigger game I can play in."

This got Brunson's attention. "Where's that? I'll go with you."

"You might not want to go to this game. You can play everyday. You can play as high as you want to."

"That sounds just right to me."

"No, it's not poker. It's wildcatting."

In the early 1980s Addington abruptly retired from the world of high-stakes poker in order to focus all his attention on oil and gas exploration. The gamble paid off as his new occupation proved to be even more lucrative than his old one. The relative brevity of his poker career did not tarnish his reputation for being one of the finest no-limit hold'em players to ever play the game. In 2005, he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

Editor's Note: Storms Reback co-wrote All In: The (Almost) Entirely True Story of the World Series of Poker, and collaborated with Sam Farha on Farha on Omaha: Expert Strategy for Beating Cash Games and Tournaments. His column on some of the bright moments in poker history appears weekly at

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