Quote: If after ten minutes at the poker table you do not know who the patsy is - you are the patsy

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 9 21:14:56 UTC 2011

Dan Goncharoff wrote:
> The line is often attributed to Amarillo Slim, but with sucker instead of
> patsy.
> His 1973 book, Play Poker to Win, may be the source. It's not in GB.

Thanks for your response, Dan. Amarillo Slim is a plausible candidate
for the originator of this saying, and I did perform searches
attempting to find evidence that he used the phrase in the 1970s or
earlier. Slim is listed as a possibility in my blog post: "Warren
Buffett? Michael Wolff? Amarillo Slim? Poker Proverb? Whispering


Before I began my exploration Barry Popik had already investigated
some similar phrases, and there is a link to his work in my blog post.
Here is the entry title and a link:

Entry at Barry Popik's website from September 04, 2009
"Whenever you don’t know who the loser is in a transaction, then the
loser is you"
Short link: http://goo.gl/D4UaN

The Amarillo Slim variant typically uses the term "sucker" as you
note. There are other possibilities such as: patsy, sucker, fool, sap,
and chump. I searched for these terms and also performed wildcard
searches in my initial exploration.

The earliest instance of an attribution to Slim is in the 2000s. The
following text has now been added to the blog post to discuss this

In 2005 Amarillo Slim published a revised version of his 1973 work
"Play Poker to Win". This new edition included the saying, but Slim
did not credit himself with the aphorism; instead, he cited Warren
Buffett and a group of anonymous others [ASPF]:

If you want to make money playing poker, selecting the right game is
the most important factor. As Warren Buffett and a million other
fellows have said, "If you can't find the sucker at the table, you're

Slim also, included the phrase in a list of the "Top Ten Keys To Poker
Success". Here are the first two [ASPF]:

(1) Play the players more than you play the cards.
(2) Choose the right opponents. If you don't see a sucker at the
table, you're it.

Slim noted that he was inspired to create such a list by watching the
talk-show host David Letterman. A regular segment featuring a top-ten
list was initiated in the 1980s during Letterman's NBC show Late
Night. This is after the 1979 instances of the adage.

I think that Amarillo Slim probably did not craft this saying, but he
has used it multiple times.

[ASPF] 2005, Amarillo Slim's Play Poker to Win: Million Dollar
Strategies from the Legendary World Series of Poker Winner by Amarillo
Slim, [Revised version of 1973 edition], Page xvi and 10,
HarperCollins, New York. [Warren Buffett's use of the adage is
mentioned in the Introduction on page xvi; The Top-Ten List is on page
10.] (Google Books preview)


Thanks, Garson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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