The 1972 winner of the World Series of Poker was a engaging character called Thomas Austin Preston Junior – better known as Amarillo Slim. A terrific player, and very well respected in the poker circles; plus an extremely forward thinking Texan, he spotted an opportunity and developed a rival to the World Series, by creating the Super Bowl of Poker (SBOP).
Slim saw the need for a second competition, but didn’t feel there was any necessity to change the format, but he did aim it at professionals and amateurs who were effectively semi pro’s, rather than allowing the general public the option. Popular with all his fellow poker players, the new tournament proved successful when launched in February 1979. There were certainly a fabulous assembly of some of the best poker players around; indeed 6 of the 30 who took part in the first event went onto gain a place on Pokers Hall of Fame, with Amarillo included.
The winner of the 1980 Super Bowl of Poker was a lively sort by the name of Stuart ‘Stu’ Unger. This was the first of 3 wins at the SBOP, something he matched at the World Series of Poker – the only man to achieve such a feat. That first win took place at the Sahara Hotel in Reno; the SBOP having been moved from the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas after just one year.
Over the next decade the tournament failed to nail down a permanent home. Lake Tohoe’s Sahara and Caesars hotels and casinos played host during the 80’s, before it moved back to Las Vagas and their own Caesars Hotel. Finally, in 1991 it was moved to the Flamingo Hilton in a place called Laughlin in Nevada. Slim sent invitations out advising players to fly in to Vegas and then hire a vehicle for the 125 mile drive to the venue. Not surprisingly this didn’t go down too well, but the turn out of only a dozen players was a huge disappointment and unfortunately there was no way back for the event – the damage had been done.
Another gripe amongst players of the Super Bowl of Poker was the distribution of prize money. Great if you won, or indeed made the top three, but very often nothing beyond. Compared to the World Series of Poker, where payments were made right down the line, the pull of the WSOB was not so great. One thing Slim did do was present the winner with a high value personalized gift, which would be different each year, but again that was no consolation to those who had travelled good distances for no reward.
48 year old Jack Keller was the last winner in 1991, but because of the very small turn out the prize pool was significantly light. However, this was no major problem for Keller as he had won the WSOP 7 years earlier; plus 3 further bracelets at subsequent tournaments and close to a million dollars in winnings. He died in 2003 having won over $3 million in prize money throughout his gambling career.