Julius Oral Popwell 1913-1966

A born gambler, Popwell
hustled his whole life, but cut
a popular figure at the table

It’s testament to the skill and popularity of Julius Popwell that despite dying before the WSOP was even conceived, ‘Little Man’ is still regarded as one of the greatest poker players ever.

Like many of the legendary poker players, Popwell was a born gambler, travelling the country in search of a game. And the game he specialised in was 5-Card Stud, playing in the company of other rounders like Johnny Moss and Henry Green.

Even as a teenager Popwell had the hustler instinct in him. He was an exceptional billiards player and would regularly beat men twice his age, which is how he got his nickname ‘Little Man’. After all, it couldn’t have been for his size – the man was obese, tipping the scales at more than 300lbs, despite being only 5’6” tall.

Given his love for games and cards, it was no surprise that back at his home near Birmingham, Alabama, Powell opened his own games club from the basement of his house. However, he constantly suffered raids by the Birmingham police who tried to put a stop to the lotteries, craps and cardroom action. And he was eventually fined and sentenced to 366 days in prison in 1954 for the illegal operations and tax evasion.

But despite his trouble with the law, Popwell was well liked and considered one of the most honourable gamblers around. He always made good on his bets and according to former WSOP tournament director Jim Albrecht was ‘generous to a fault’, once allowing the owner of a toy business to pay his debts in toys, which Popwell distributed to poor children in the hills near their home.

He died of cancer at just 53, but despite poor health pursued his passion for gambling and card games until the end. Popwell was posthumously inducted into Binion’s Poker Hall of Fame in 1996.

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