WSOP Champions: Where Are They Now, Part 1

Gallery of Champions
The Wall of Champions at Binion's

This is the first in a 10-part series taking a look at World Series of Poker Champions, from the first to the current, and what they've done in the world of poker.

In the glorious 38-year history of the World Series of Poker, 32 men have been able to take down the most desired prize in poker: the $10,000 Championship Event.

The stories of these men after they won the championship are almost as interesting as how they won the event in the first place.

Over the next few weeks as we come up to this year's World Series we'll look back in the history books to see what became of some of the greatest players in the game.

Unfortunately, eight of the men who have won the WSOP championship and been recognized as World Champion are no longer with us.

Today we'll take a look at four of these players.

Johnny Moss (1970-71, 1974)

Already a legendary player before he was elected the first champion at the World Series of Poker in 1970,

Moss came back the next year and won it outright on the felt. He was at the final table the next two years but didn't win.

In 1974, though, he made it back to the final table once again and took his third title, becoming the first man to win three Main Events at the World Series.

With his background and education in the gambling world of Texas, Moss was better known for his Draw game skills.

Of his nine World Series bracelets, six of them were in draw games such as Lowball and Seven-Card Stud.

The nine bracelets he earned place him fourth on the all-time list behind contemporary players Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan and one of Moss' contemporaries, Doyle Brunson.

Moss played at the World Series from its inception in 1970 to 1995, becoming the oldest bracelet winner when he won his final bracelet in 1988 at 80 (a feat that was topped by Paul McKinney at 81 in 2005).

In total, Moss cashed in 23 World Series events and was one of the inaugural inductees into the Poker Hall of Fame when it started in 1979.

When he passed away on December 16, 1997, poker lost its "Grand Old Man," one of the true legends of the early years of the World Series and of the game in general.

Walter Clyde "Puggy" Pearson (1973)

Born in the mountains of Tennessee, Puggy Pearson concentrated more on gambling than schooling.

He dropped out of school after fifth grade, but more than made up for his lack of book learning with an education in the school of hard knocks.

At 17, he entered the U.S. Navy and earned more money gambling than through service, setting him up for a lifetime of exploits both on and off the poker tables.

It is popularly believed that Pearson was the inspiration behind tournament poker and the World Series.

Puggy suggested to Benny Binion, the originator of the World Series of Poker, that there should be a high-buy-in, No-Limit Texas Hold'em freezeout event to determine who would be the World Champion and that it should come at the end of a schedule of events consisting of assorted poker variants.

It was, therefore, partly through Puggy's efforts that the WSOP Championship Event became what it is today.

Pearson kept Johnny Moss from winning another Main Event title in 1973 (Puggy's third WSOP bracelet that year).

However, that proved to be the last of the four WSOP bracelets he would win.

Undaunted, he continued to play at the World Series of Poker until 2005, racking up three more final tables and five cashes along the way.

He passed away shortly before the start of the 2006 World Series but will always be remembered as one of the forefathers of the game of poker.

Brian "Sailor" Roberts (1975)

Brian "Sailor" Roberts is a sometimes-overlooked legend of the game.

In the early years of the development of poker, he was the third component of the Amarillo Slim/Doyle Brunson triumvirate that toured the Southeastern United States pursuing the game for a living.

After the threesome disbanded in the '60s, Roberts actually served time in prison for wire fraud. When he was released from jail, he headed for Las Vegas to legally pursue his vocation.

"Sailor" (so called because of a stint in the Navy during the Korean War) surprisingly had limited success at the tournament poker tables.

Although he took down two bracelets (including his 1975 world championship victory), he was only able to cash one more time after that in a World Series event, when he reached the final table of the Main Event in 1982 and finished eighth.

Obviously, Roberts' cash game skills were what kept him in poker.

Roberts was also one of the friendliest players in the game of poker. It wasn't uncommon for Roberts, after hearing fellow poker players lament their bad beats, to infuse their bankrolls with a healthy dose of cash.

When he passed away from sclerosis caused by hepatitis in the '80s, poker lost one of the pioneers of the game, proof that the adage "nice guys finish last" doesn't always apply.

Hal Fowler (1979)

One of the most mysterious men to have won the WSOP Championship Event has to be Hal Fowler.

Considered the first "amateur" to win the Main Event, Fowler was nearly down to the felt during the 1979 tournament.

In what many consider the greatest upset in World Series history, he was able to fight back admirably and defeat a final table that also consisted of Chip Reese, Johnny Moss and runner-up finisher Bobby Hoff. (Admittedly, Fowler committed an amateur mistake by chasing a gut-shot straight draw heads-up that came home against Hoff's pocket aces.)

After that victory, Fowler wouldn't make another World Series final table.

Although he wouldn't cash in another WSOP event, he did make three final tables in tournaments during the 1980s: once at Amarillo Slim's Super Bowl of Poker and twice, including a win, at the 1984 Grand Prix of Poker at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.

Afflicted with diabetes that damaged his eyesight and legs and eventually took his life, Fowler never could recapture the glory of 1979 and his time as a World Champion.

These now-deceased men who became synonymous with poker excellence had varying degrees of success in the game after their WSOP triumphs.

In the next installment of our look back at World Series Main Event champions, we'll remember the other four champions who are no longer with us.

Related Articles:

Best Poker Sites - Editor`s Pick

Latest Blogs »