One day at the poker table could change your entire life.
That day for Australian Poker Hall of Famer Billy ‘The Croc’ Argyros was back in 1989.
It was the first year he had travelled to Las Vegas for a little tournament called the World Series of Poker. Argyros was just an amateur back then, not much more than a home game hero.
“I only took $5,000 to Vegas with me,” Argyros said. “Which isn’t much if you plan on playing any poker!”
By the time the WSOP Main Event was set to begin Argyros had burnt through his roll. He had lost all the satellites he played and was looking at a long and lonely trip home with empty pockets.
Down and Nearly Out in Las Vegas
Then, on the last Sunday before the Main Event Argyros took his last few hundred dollars and played in a big 250-runner re-buy tournament on what was then ‘Ladies Night’ at the Las Vegas Hilton.
“I ended up busting around five minutes before the rebuy period ended,” Argyros said. “I only had $100 in my pocket and so I asked the dealer if I could wait until the break to rebuy and he said yes.”
“Then he dealt the next hand and the guy next to me tells me that I’m out of the tournament!”
What Argyros didn’t know, and apparently the dealer, is that you couldn’t wait until the break, you needed to decide straight away or your tournament was over.
“The Tournament Director gets called over and there is this big commotion,” Argyros said. “Eventually he decides to let me get my $100 out and rebuy.”
Argyros would then run that rebuy up to a big stack and ultimately go on to play heads-up against Brad Daugherty (two years before he won the Main Event in 1991) and cash for $14,800.
So now instead of being eliminated from the rebuy tournament, Argyros has turned his last $100 into $14,800 and is feeling a new enthusiasm for poker.
“I’m in that event with my last $100 already trying to work out how I’m going to ring my mum and dad and tell them to send me more money,” Argyros said.
“If the TD was tough on me and said I couldn’t rebuy, I don’t know what would have happened. I probably would have gone home and worked in my Dad’s milkbar and maybe never played poker.”
Heads-Up With Johnny Moss
Johnny Moss, long after his encounter with Billy The Croc
The story doesn’t end there though.
“That $14K was a lot of money to me, so I couldn’t sleep,” Argyros said. “I’m all excited running around so I go downstairs and there is a $1,000 satellite into the Main Event.”
“I decide to use some of the money I win to play and two and half hours later I’m heads-up with Johnny Moss for the seat!”
Not long after heads-up begins a big crowd gathers. They want to see who poker legend Johnny Moss is playing against.
“There’s this big rail and I’ve got about 60% of the chips and he’s got 40%,” Argyros said. “I ask Johnny if he wants to a deal. I want the cash, so I tell him I’ll take $5,000 and take 10% of his action in the Main Event.”
The story goes that Moss got up from his seat and conferred with who was likely his backer or perhaps just a friend. Eventually he returns to the table.
“Tell you what I’m gonna do for you boy,” Moss said. “You’re from Australia and I’m triple champion Johnny Moss. I’ll give you $4,000 cash and I’ll take the seat.”
“It’s a good deal for you boy!”
Moss extended his hand to shake Argyros’s.
“Deal?” Moss asked.
“Deal the cards!” Argyros snapped back.
“Who’s that guy just rejected Johnny Moss!” yelled someone on the rail.
Billy's crocodile plush sits by his stack at WSOP APAC
“That’s Crocodile Dundee from Australia!” someone shouted back.
Argyros heard the crocodile comment and it sat in the back of his mind while he continued playing heads-up against Johnny Moss.
Fifteen minutes later, he sent Moss to the rail and claimed the WSOP Main Event seat.
After the match, Moss asked Argyros what his name was.
“Billy the Crocodile,” Argyros responded.
Beginning of the Rest of Croc's Life
Argyros ended up playing the Main Event and ran up a stack before being eliminated during the last level of the night.
That didn’t matter to Argyros though because one day had already seen him turn his last $100 into enough to travel to the Greek Islands to play a Backgammon tournament, which he won for $9,000.
He then went over to London on the way back to Australia and played a £1,000 hold’em tournament. He cashed for £9,000.
All of a sudden, Argyros had a bankroll, a reputation and a new nick name.
“Funny things happen. You don’t know what will change your life,” Argyros reflects. “That was a life-changing situation. Because if that didn’t happen, I had nothing. I wouldn’t have played the Backgammon in Mykonos, I wouldn’t have gone to London.”
“And If I don’t win that satellite against Johnny Moss, I don’t get the nickname, I don’t get the crocodile paraphernalia and my whole life might be different.”