Gambling Greats: The “Unsinkable” Titanic Thompson

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Staff member
May 3, 2008
If you’ve been interested in gambling for any matter of time at all, you will want to familiarize
yourself with the name "
Titanic Thompson" - one of the slickest gamblers of all time.

Alvin Clarence Thompson was born in the unlikely foothills of an Ozarkian mountain range located in Missouri. Sources indicate that Thompson was the inspiration for the character of
Sky Masterson, the main character in the well-known musical “Guys and Dolls”, which premiered in the year 1950. His legend as a gambling great has lived on into the modern day era;
his story is truly a “rag to riches” tale of ups and downs. While he may not necessarily be a role model in many areas, we can say one thing for sure: this dark-eyed gambler was a master of his art.

An Unlikely Start

Thompson left home very early, at the age of 16. Without a dollar to his name and with very little education, Thompson hit the humid roads of the Ozarks in search of a place to fit in. He lead a very nomadic
lifestyle for some time, developing an odd set of skills: shooting and cards. Soon after World War I began in the year 1914, Thompson found a place to fit in: the United States military. Because of his intelligence
and quick wit, he quickly flew through the ranks until he achieved the rank of sergeant. His love of cards and interest in odds quickly infiltrated his military career. As sergeant he had the job of training new
cadets for the military. Thompson, of course, took it upon himself to also teach them the art of gambling. Supposedly, Thompson is rumored to have won over $50,000 dollars from gambling during his military
career - perhaps through less-than-on-the-level methods. Too slick for his twangy Ozarkian name, he quickly became known as Titanic Thompson - the man who could sink anybody anywhere in a gambling match.
Don’t let Thompson’s military-sergeant, thick-skinned, wily character fool you, though; you may be surprised to find out that he spent most of the $50,000 in cash to buy his mother a house in his hometown.

Creative Cheats

Usually, cheating is frowned upon. However, Titanic Thompson’s cheating was so creative and intelligent that his competitors ended matches impressed and in disbelief instead of angry. He was constantly on
the road, choosing to be a traveling gambler because he could avoid attention and enter a match with the upper hand. Thompson was well-known for winning in tricky but not quite illegal situations.

One of his favorite tricks involved a peanut. He would approach a crowd of gambling men and bet that he could launch the peanut clear over a rooftop on a building. Of course, he won the bet time and again.
He had lined the inside of the peanut with a heavy metal, probably lead, prior to proposing the bet. He is rumored to have gone through extensive efforts to stage his little tricks, such as walking five miles to
dig up a road sign and replant it in a nearer location. The next day, he would propose to others that the road sign was not five miles away as it indicated. The others would, of course, oppose his silly sounding
bet and find themselves penniless after the measurements were taken. Titanic Thompson had a hand in many games, including the gentleman’s game of golf. He was known for making bets to rich golf fanatics
and cleaning up house. One of his most famous golfing bets began when he boasted he could hit a normal golf ball to the 500 yard mark. This would have been impossible in Thompson’s day; even a pro golf
player would’ve struggled to hit the 200 yard mark. Thompson, of course, had thought of a clever way to fulfill his claim. He simply bided his time and waited for the winter months to set in. Once he knew the
ponds on the golf course were frozen, he drove the ball straight toward the ice. It slid and hopped the proposed yards on the slippery bed of ice - to the astonishment of his colleagues.

The Legend

While Titanic Thompson had a less-than-perfect background (five marriages and a supposed five murders), he is still beloved to gamblers today because of the signature genius twist he put on seemingly simple
and impossible bets. Using peanuts, golf balls, room keys, and all manner of peculiar props, Titanic Thompson made a fortune. The Ozarkian boy of 16 didn’t leave home resourceless after all - he had a quick wit
and intelligent mind, a mind that won and lost him millions of dollars throughout his lifetime.
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