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A cigar-chewing, legendary poker player, Puggy Pearson owned a $200,000, 38-foot diesel Imperial Holiday Rambler motor home dubbed the "Rovin' Gambler," painted with the challenge: "I'll play any man from any land any game that he can name for any amount that I can count."
Then came the kicker, in smaller letters: "providing I like it."
It was a fitting motto for the 1973 World Series of Poker champion and member of the Poker Hall of Fame, a fifth-grade dropout from Tennessee who played in the highest-stakes poker games in Las Vegas for more than 25 years. Pearson, one of the game's most colorful ambassadors, died Wednesday in Las Vegas. He was 77. The results of an autopsy are pending, but Pearson's family told the Las Vegas Sun that he had oral surgery Tuesday and apparently hit his head Wednesday, possibly after suffering a heart attack. He is credited with introducing Las Vegas to the "freeze-out" style of playing tournament poker, in which everyone starts with the same amount of chips and, as players are eliminated, the winner winds up with them all. The format has been incorporated into the World Series of Poker and all other major poker tournaments.
In 1973, Pearson took home $130,000 from a field of 13 players in the $10,000 buy-in, No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em World Championship -- the first time the event was recorded for television.
Last year, there were more than 5,600 entries, and the winner, Joseph Hachem, walked away with $7.5 million.
Pearson was one of the more colorful characters in a world that has spawned its share of colorful characters.
Mike Sexton, a columnist for Card Player magazine, wrote that Pearson was "one of the few players in history who said, 'Deal me in' (for the highest game in the room) as soon as he walked into a poker room -- and this was without knowing what the game was or who was playing."
Pearson also was known to show up at major poker tournaments in the 1970s and '80s in full Viking regalia, or costumed as a cowboy or an American Indian, complete with headdress and war paint.
"He was a charming, talented rogue," Howard Schwartz, owner of the Gambler's Book Shop in Las Vegas, told The Times on Friday.