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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Doc Holliday: Dentist to Gambler

A gentleman asked me several days ago whether I was aware of Doc Holliday’s transition from a dentist to a professional poker player. Odd subject to bring up at  wedding, however the day before the wedding, the ladies and gents played a few games of online poker and table games at the casino 30 minutes from the hotel. I had struck up a conversation with a history professor, what a small world, and we were talking about the origins of poker and best players out west.

I informed him my father and I used to watch Old West movies years ago when I was younger, one of my favorite movies being Tombstone with Val Kilmer as Doc. Silly, I never realized or even questioned the nature of Holliday’s name, however I was young and didn’t appreciate the history as much I do now. Furthermore, I never understood why he transitioned from dentistry to gambling and gun slinging. My new friend told me a short story.

From Dentist to Gambler: The Transition

Doc Holliday was a Doctor of Dental Surgery, gaining his degree from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in 1872. He worked with Dr. Arthur C. Ford in Atlanta shortly after he graduated. Ford was a hot head, and one occasion, was rumored to shoot at some negro boys using his swimming hole. Doc, eager and excited at the site of the six-shooter, shot over the boys’ head. A preview of Doc’s gun fighting days perhaps?

Shortly thereafter, Doc Holliday started his own dental practice, yet his health start to deteriorate after he  was diagnosed with tuberculosis, making it increasingly difficult to work during dental procedures with his coughing spells. Holliday was forced to figure a way to make a living.

Doc was incredibly educated and refined. He was fluent in Latin, played the piano, was a stylish dressed figure, and was a Southern gentlemen, unless involved in a bar fight and he had the chance to use his six shooter.

He was natural gambler as his intelligence gained him the knowledge to read his opponents. He actively participated in games and watched as a spectator. He eventually became a skilled poker player and Faro dealer.

Holliday’s health was always at the back of his mind, however. His mood often created a volatile atmosphere after heavily drinking. He had no fear of death as he had accepted that it was inevitable. Gambling was dangerous during the Old West so he always had a six shooter and a long jagged knife fashioned at his side. Doc’s failing health and inept attitude and intelligence explained the life he ended up living.

Check out Legends of America for a full history of Doc Holiday’s life.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

There is a book by Mary Doria Russell called 'Doc' that is really amazing. And because he was born with a cleft palate, the author is setting up a donation matching fund to Help Smile Train (a charity that provides oral cleft surgery to children all over the world). She is matching up to %15,000! Great book. Great way to donate.

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