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In honor of our new Big Fish Casino Guide, we just can’t get enough on the history of gambling! There’s so much adventure and excitement. From the rise of millionaire moguls to the secrets of prohibition, from old traditions to new technologies emerging, from in-laws to outlaws, across the Atlantic and back -we have the stories of how it all got started.  Discover how it began with our Big Fish series on Casino Legends: The History of Gambling.

Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876. Home to many famous gamblers, including Poker Alice. Image via Wikipedia User: BlankFaze.
Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876. Home to many famous gamblers, including Poker Alice. Image via Wikipedia User: BlankFaze.

Poker Alice is one of the most famous women in gambling history. An independent character, she always walked her own path. Her intelligence, wit, and beauty made her an intimidating and unique opponent.

Alice’s Famous Showdown: Teaching Him a Lesson

Alice always prided herself on the fact that she never cheated, but she did one time work a lesson to quiet an obnoxious loudmouth while playing in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The man was riding a winning streak and talking up a storm. Alice described, “I never saw such luck. By actual count he had 27 sets of threes without me ever winning a hand.” Alice tired of the braggart and grabbed a cold deck. She dealt the loudmouth a flush and herself a full house. Knowing the man couldn’t resist, she took him for $900. True to her honest reputation, Alice offered to return the money, saying she had only wanted to make a point, but the man was too offended to admit he’d been outsmarted by a woman. Alice kept the money.

From Debutante to Dealer

Poker Alice early photo


Alice, pre-1900. Image Courtesy Wikimedia, Author Unknown.
Poker Alice was anything but the traditional female of the late 1800’s. Born Alice Ivers in Devonshire England in 1851, she moved to the United States as a small child. Trained in fancy boarding schools until her teenage years, Alice’s parents were determined to move up from their origin as poor Irish Immigrants. Her conservative school teacher father moved the family again, this time from Virginia to follow the Silver Rush in Leadville, Colorado while Alice was a teen.

Alice married young while in Colorado to a mining engineer named Duffield. The marriage was short-lived and her husband died while setting dynamite charges before she reached her 21st birthday. A widow with a pension, Alice had a few job prospects in the town of 35,000 – but none appealed to her. Whether it was boredom, mischief, or something else Alice preferred and chose to gamble for a living.

A Real Looker

While Alice gained fame as both a dealer and a skilled player she stood out for another reason – her beauty. The traditional woman found in the Old West style poker establishment was often referred to as a “soiled dove” but Alice was a real “lady”. She stood 5’4” with, “lush brown hair and blue eyes.” She was known for puffing on big fat cigars while sitting in the most fashionable and frilly dresses – a great draw for the crowds and welcome at any table.

Alice travelled around Colorado to cities including Alamosa, Central City, Georgetown, and Trinidad. In addition to her frilly dresses she also carried a .38 revolver. Known for her skill at playing, she used her looks to help distract the men and her reputation grew. While some older pictures may not show it, Poker Alice was considered a great beauty all through her 50’s with a character equally as strong.

Romance in Hills

Poker Alice Ivers
Alice Pre-1930. Image via Wikimedia from the South Dakota Historical Society.
By 1890, Alice had moved to the Deadwood in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Here she met her second husband Warren G Tubbs. The story is that their Romance began after a drunken miner attacked Tubbs with a knife, prompting Alice to threaten him with her .38. The two married and had four sons and three daughters together. In an effort to go “straight”, they left the tables to move to nearby Sturgis where Tubbs painted houses, but the paint likely contributed to his death by lung ailments in the winter of 1910.

At this point, money would seem to dictate many of Poker Alice’s choices. She pawned Tubbs wedding ring for money and headed back to the tables. When she met her third husband, George Huckert, she wouldn’t consent to marriage until he agreed to forgive $1008 in wages she owed him. She was widowed by Huckert in 1913.

“At my age I suppose I should be knitting. But  I would rather play poker with five or six ‘experts’ than eat.”

– Alice Ivers Tubbs; aka: Poker Alice

 

Poker Palace

As the fame of Poker Alice continued, so did Alice’s business ventures. In 1910 she opened the Poker Place in Fort Meade, SD. Although she proclaimed her morals wouldn’t allow her to operate on Sundays, the establishment was well known for gambling, liquor, and prostitution. Alice claimed she won over $25000 playing poker in her time, but held on to little in her later years.

She had some brushes with the law, but spent little time in jail. Her time in prison was spent smoking cigars and reading the bible until a pardon by the governor. Alice retired at the age 79 and died in 1930. She is buried in Sturgis, South Dakota and is memorialized in stories and films, including her title role being played by Elizabeth Taylor as Poker Alice.

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