“Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Poker Secrets” Review

[LL] “Bobby Baldwin was at the height of his fame, having recently won the 1978 World Series of Poker Main Event,” Leroy the Lion began, “when Mike Caro interviewed him for a combination biography and strategy book called Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Poker Secrets. Like most of the great poker players of his era, Baldwin’s life story would make a great movie. As hazardous as poker could be to your bankroll, it’s much more dangerous to your physical well-being. Baldwin went to jail at least twice, once for playing pool before he turned 16 and once for dealing an illegal poker game. But those incidents paled in comparison to the time two criminals intent on kidnapping him for ransom instead robbed everyone in the casino, fatally shooting one customer who had perhaps not-so-cleverly given them a fake wallet with only five dollars in it.”

[RR] “How did he know they were after him?” Roderick the Rock wondered.

[LL] “One of the crooks yelled that Bobby had gotten away, which he had, running out the back door. Also, Baldwin had already left town knowing they were after him. They’d tracked him down, but he was foolish enough to return to his home casino.”

[RR] “Yet another poker pro who was brilliant at the poker table and not so smart away from it.”

[LL] “Exactly. He knew the occupational hazards of his job, but he made the big mistake of letting his first huge win in Las Vegas become well known. It was even reported in newspapers!”

[FF] “Like a ‘Kick Me’ sign on his back”, Figaro the Fish suggested.

[LL] “It’s true that the mob controlled Las Vegas before Del Webb began transforming it into a ‘Wall Street town’ by buying the Sahara Hotel in 1961,1 but he was always been less likely to get robbed in a casino than in a home game, which is where Baldwin had played most of his poker. He knew he could be ‘hijacked’ by criminals who broke into the house, cheated by the people running the game, or stiffed by the losing players. But being a kidnapping target just wasn’t something he expected.

The good news is that the police shot both of the crooks when then tried to get away. The bad news is that Baldwin quickly lost all the money he’d won anyway.”

[RR] “Yet another poker player who didn’t understand the concept of bankroll management, I suppose?”

[LL] “Yep. And still the book has a chapter called ‘Your Bankroll’. You can safely skip it. Baldwin ‘got broke’ several times, at one point being $70,000 in the red on sports bets. The chapter doesn’t bother to warn you against sports wagers, where the vig will get you, or table games like craps, where you can’t overcome the house’s edge in the long run. In fact, the rest of the book holds more lessons in what not to do than this chapter does on what to do.

The stories, which are by far the best part of the book, also cover his low-key courtship of his second wife, Shirley. That thread is probably more educational than the bankroll chapter.”

[RR] “What happened to his first wife?”

[LL] “Oh, that’s another what-not-to-do section. A poker player shouldn’t marry a person who doesn’t like gambling. She wanted him to take a steady job, and he chose poker over her.

Intermingled with the story chapters are strategy chapters, each covering the basics of a poker variant he’s playing. He concisely lists the four to twelve most ‘Common Mistakes’ players make and follows with a somewhat overlapping ‘Final Formula’ for playing the game well. These chapters are exactly what you’d want to read if you had only five minutes to learn a game you were about to play for the first time, as they’re each only a few pages long. The games begin with Five-Card Stud, which was the first poker variation Baldwin played, losing his entire fortune of $6.35 at a friend’s house, and go on to Ace-to-Five Lowball, Seven-Stud, Seven-Stud Lowball, Five-Card Draw, Hold ‘Em, Deuce-to-Seven Draw, and High-Low Split.

Some of his best advice actually appears at the very end of the book in a chapter called ‘Unsorted Secrets’. For example, ‘You should try to specialize in one or two kinds of poker. But it pays — it pays heavily — to be an all-round card master.’2 He also talks about mixing up your style with quick shifts, handling unknown players, dealing with very loose players, and various times when it’s good or bad to bluff.

Overall, this was a quick and easy read that has aged well. The romantic era where poker was a very dangerous occupation will never be repeated, so all we can do is sit back and enjoy the show. As for the strategy parts of the book, I suspect Caro and Baldwin went out of their way not to step on Doyle Brunson’s toes, since they had both just contributed to his Super System.”

Title Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Poker Secrets
Author Mike Caro
Year 1979 (republished in 2004)
Skill Level Any (stories)/Beginner (poker)
Pros Very entertaining stories alternating with very concise advice on how to play several poker variants.
Cons Advice is a good starting point for beginners only.
Rating 3.5 (stories)/2.0 (poker)

Footnotes:

  1. From Amarillo Slim Preston’s book, Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People, page 203.
  2. Page 187.
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