From the Poker Old School: Tales From Tony Shelton

Published On: 16 April 2008 / Modified: 29 June 2018
Created By: Nolan Dalla
Tony "The Walrus" Shelton

Serious poker players need no introduction to Tony Shelton. The barrel-chested man with the gray handlebar mustache has been a fixture in Las Vegas poker rooms for nearly 40 years.

Affectionately known as "The Walrus," if something happened in Las Vegas poker circles from 1970 onward, Tony was either a part of it or knew about it.

He's one of a privileged few who has actually witnessed poker history firsthand. Many poker players love to exchange great stories. Poker writers often repeat these stories. But Tony Shelton was there.

Tony Shelton: 30 Years at WSOP

Tony grew up in Kentucky. He was a world-class chef and maitre'd before turning to poker as a career choice. He had dealt to nearly every famous name in the game before jumping out of the box to become a floorman and later a shift supervisor.

Tony ran the graveyard shift for many years at various cardrooms scattered around Las Vegas. One of my favorite Tony Shelton stories (I have many) was the time I witnessed him take down a loudmouth drunk half his age who tried to punch out a dealer following a bad beat.

Poker Hall of Fame
He may not have made his name as player, but Tony Shelton is a true poker hall-of-famer.

The drunk had his arm twisted in a lock behind his head held firmly in place by Tony and was left slobbering on the yummy Binion's Horseshoe carpet. As Horseshoe security officers curtly escorted the drunkard out of the poker room, Tony tugged his tweed jacket, slapped his palms together and announced "another satisfied customer."

Tony has worked on the World Series of Poker for more than 30 years, perhaps as long as any man still alive (I think dealer/floorman Joe Bartholdi may actually own the record for WSOP longevity). Tony's forte has always been "high-limit" poker.

When the big game at the back of the old Horseshoe was dealt, Tony was usually there patrolling the game. He made rulings that resulted in six-figure swings, yet still commands the respect of everyone who knows him.

Now in his 70s, Tony is semi-retired today. But he recently launched a new poker venture, which is a school for poker dealers. The "Tony Shelton Dealing School" recently opened for business in downtown Las Vegas.

I've asked Tony to share a few of his fondest poker memories on occasion with the readers here at

He was gracious enough to accept my offer and will reward us from time to time with some of his most memorable true tales from poker's glorious past:

Don't Touch My Hat!

Back during the mid-1970s, the Golden Nugget poker room used to host some of the biggest games in the world. One night, the regulars were sitting together playing No-Limit Hold'em with $10/$25 blinds. There was at least a million dollars in cash and chips on the table. Remember, this was back in the '70s when a million dollars really meant something.

The big game usually took place in the back on the right-hand side of the poker room. There was a rail around the poker table about three feet high to keep the sweaters and railbirds off the backs of the players.

Amarillo Slim
Seriously. Don't touch the hat.

Those I can remember playing that night were Doyle Brunson, "Sailor" Roberts, "Amarillo Slim" Preston and a few others. Big and tall Slim was sitting in the five seat, with his back against the rail and facing away from the spectators.

A big hand with a huge pot came up and about 25-30 sweaters were positioned all around the rail. Slim had three large stacks of purple, some black chips, some greens, a few reds and a large bundle of cash behind his chips.

During the big hand one of the sweaters - who was unable to see the action - put his hands on the rail and leaned forward on his tiptoes so he could get a better look at the game. When he did that, he accidentally brushed against Slim's cowboy hat, which fell down over Slim's eyes.

Things like that happened a few more times and it was obvious Slim was not happy about it. I was standing right next to the game and saw what happened next. Unbeknownst to just about everyone and certainly way out of view of the sweaters, Slim kept a stack of 20 or so $1 chips which he used for tokes.

After getting his hat tilted yet gain, Slim reached down, picked up the entire stack of $1 chips and flung them high into the air, over his right shoulder, and yelled, "Here you are, boys!"

Well, pandemonium broke out. Two guys butted heads hard enough to knock one of them out. There was a fight and many of the sweaters went scurrying around on the floor on their hands and knees attempting to get at the stray chips.

Doyle saw all this and said to his fellow Texan, "Slim, what in the hell are you trying to do - start a riot?" Slim shot back, "That'll teach 'em to fool with my hat."

It was one of the funniest incidents I've ever seen.

Paper Chase
When there's a mountain of cash on the table, the rule is simple: If the man is dead, his hand is dead.

Dead Man's Hand

Another time, I was working the late shift. There was a very lively $10/$20 Limit Hold'em game with lots of red chips piled high around the table. An Asian gentleman was sitting in the one seat.

There was a huge pot in the middle of the table that you could have stuck a flag in. The Asian man called the last bet and then proceeded to fall face down on the table.


The man was gone. Seriously. The dealer called our other floorman over to the table and said, "What about this guy? He's dead."

The floorman, without any hesitation whatsoever, picked up the Asian man's cards, tossed them both into the muck and announced, "If the man is dead, his hand is dead."

Thanks Tony. More stories later.

-- Nolan Dalla


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Sarah 2011-11-04 20:46:43

I hate bad reviews of businesses I want to work with. anonymous says Tony's basically as asshole, Barb says he's not based on each of their views. I hope he's not because I'm really geering towards attending this school. If I was spoken to the way anonymous says Tony spoke to that female dealers (being a female myself) I'm not sure how I would react. I suppose I'd either break down and cry too, or I'd blow up on him for talking to me like that. Guess it would just depend on my state of mind at the time. In all honesty - there are quite a few players out there who act just like anonymous is stating Tony acted. It's not 'right' but it's a tough environment and if you're going to be in the business you have to toughen up!

anoymous 2011-06-24 23:09:47

wow, the Tony Shelton I witnessed walked into the Poker Dealer school named after him and cursed at a female student using the most abusive demonic tone I have ever witnessed. The student fled in tears. This is suppose to be a Nevada State licensed school so not knowing why behavior like this is allowed.

barb 2008-06-14 08:04:00

Whaa! Thats not the Tony I knew.

Dade Murphy 2008-04-16 20:56:00

Great stuff, Nolan. People tend to forget about poker's "colorful" past.



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