Titanic Thompson 1892-1974

The unsinkable Titanic Thompson is one of the most famous gamblers of all time, and mean poker player to boot

Legendary gambler and poker player, ‘Ti’ was the original hustler The night Alvin Clarence Thomas was conceived in a tiny town in Arkansas, his Dad was playing in a poker game. For the baby Titanic who would go on to become arguably the greatest gambler of all time, clearly the betting bug ran in the family.

At 16 Ti left home in search of his father, who had left when he was a baby, in the hope of finding him and becoming a professional gambler. He travelled from Missouri to Memphis – working in the day, while playing cards, craps and getting an instruction in the art of bluffing, odds and gambling by night.

Poker became a big part of his life, and one particular game resulted in him being implicated in the murder of mega-rich gambler, businessman and crime kingpin Albert Rothstein. George McManus, a shady New York character, set up a three-day poker game in which Ti and five others agreed to take Rothstein for as much as they could.

In the end the rigged game cost Rothstein nearly $500,000 but after refusing to pay he was shot and the murder attributed to McManus (although he was later acquitted). When Ti was questioned as to his involvement, wily as ever he said: ‘Why would I shoot a guy who owed me a quarter of a mill?’ He ended up being a witness for the prosecution.

But he’s best remembered for the stories and legend which are brought to life in the book, The Unsinkable Titanic Thompson. In particular the amazing tales of his golfing exploits where he wagered he could hit a golf ball 500 yards (across a frozen lake), or shoot a round left-handed (he was ambidextrous).

Just a couple of years before his death he went to the second annual WSOP at the Horseshoe Casino in 1971 and watched his old golf pal Johnny Moss take down a fortune in Vegas, and on his return remarked to his wife, ‘I wish I could’a sat in with ‘em. I ain’t seen that kind of money on a table in a long time.’ It’s a shame he’s not around to see the cash on offer now.

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