Considered a pioneering great among the giants of poker, Walter Clyde "Puggy" Pearson spent more than 30 years making his living as a professional poker player and gambler.
Born in Kentucky in 1929 he was one of nine kids; his dad was a sharecropper and whisky bootlegger who eventually quit the bootlegging business when Puggy was six after a competitor shot off his pinky.
The family eventually moved to Jackson County, Tenn., where Pearson quit school in the fifth grade to help support his large family. It didn't take him long to find a good source of income and his true calling as a pool hustler.
From Walter to Puggy
It was during that time Pearson also ended up with his nickname. In a classic display of his showmanship, Puggy was walking on his hands to impress some girls at a church function.
He missed a board and ended up falling face first, flattening his nose permanently. After that, when he was out hustling people would call him "Pug."
A few years later Puggy joined the Navy, where he supplemented his income with pool games against his fellow servicemen, picking up the game of poker to earn a little more. After serving three tours with the Navy he was about $20,000 richer from poker and he traveled around the U.S. playing in back rooms or wherever he could find a big game.
With his ever-present cigar, Pearson was a staple in Las Vegas poker rooms in the 1970s and 1980s. He's also the only person reported to have been at every World Series of Poker from its inception in 1970 to 2005.
He won his first event, Limit Seven-Card Stud, in 1971 and his first Main Event in 1973, where he also placed first in the $1,000 No-Limit Hold'em and $4,000 Limit Seven-Card Stud events.
Pearson was the first player in WSOP history to win 3 events in a single year.
Puggy Pearson, Roving Gambler
But poker wasn't the only moneymaker for Puggy. He bought a tour bus, on which he wrote in large letters:
- Puggy Pearson - Roving Gambler
- I'll play any man from any land any game he can name for any amount he can count … provided I like it
A bona fide gambler to the core, if people would place bets on it, Pearson was in. So when he heard there was big action in golf he learned how to play.
He became a scratch player and when asked by a reporter how good he was, he replied, "I shoot whatever it takes to get the money."
He once even beat a PGA Senior Tour pro for a $7,000 bet.
Inventor of the Freezeout
Always looking for a way to increase the payouts, Pearson, who was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame at Binion's Horseshoe in 1987, is credited with starting the "freezeout" format of tournament poker.
Up until the 50's poker was played only in cash game format where a player could pick up their chips and leave at any time.
In case you're unfamiliar, players in a freezeout tournament pay a specific buy-in and start with the same amount of chips. All the money is collected into the prize pool and they play until one player owns all the chips.
Thinking it would help generate cash-game side action as well, Pearson eventually brought the idea to WSOP founder Benny Binion in Vegas and the format was incorporated into the World Series of Poker. It then became a standard format for all other major poker tournaments.
Pearson Says Goodbye
During the last few years of his life Puggy gave up tournament play because of his health but continued to play in the shorter high-stakes cash games that were his main source of income when he was a road gambler.
That didn't stop him from attending the WSOP, though, and at the final table of the 2005 Main Event he sang his self-written song, "The Roving Gambler," to the WSOP audience for the last time.
Puggy Pearson died on April 12, 2006.