“Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers” Review

[LL] “Do you guys remember Byron Wolford?” Leroy the Lion queried.

[SS] “‘Cowboy’? Sure. He came in second in the 1984 World Series of Poker Main Event to Jack Keller”, Stan the Stat confirmed.

[LL] “And you know why he was called ‘Cowboy’?”

[SS] “I just assumed it was because he was from Texas and liked to wear a cowboy hat.”

[LL] “True, but Wolford was actually a real cowboy. In fact, he was a better calf roper than a poker player. His autobiography, Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers, which I just finished reading, has almost as many rodeo stories as poker stories. More than a few top poker pros excelled at a sport before turning to poker,1 but Wolford is one of the few who reached the very top of his sport. He started doing exhibitions when he was only six years old, turned pro at fifteen, and set records at several major venues, including Madison Square Garden. At 21, he won the Champion Roper title, the equivalent of winning the National Finals today. He won the championship at the Calgary Stampede twice and was elected to the now-defunct National Rodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame. But for all that success, Wolford found the other cowboys to be easy marks and often left town having won more playing poker than roping calves.”

[SS] “And poker was probably a lot easier on his body, too.”

[LL] “Absolutely, although at least he wasn’s a bronc rider. Still, as he got older, he had a fairly easy decision to turn to poker full time. He’d already been running poker games in his hotel room and was the best poker-playing cowboy in the world. Wolford even notes how similar the early days of rodeo were to playing poker: ‘Rodeos in the old days were something like poker tournaments in that we all traveled from town to town entering the competitions, paying our own expenses, and not being guaranteed a quarter. The rodeos had five to seven events and today’s big tournaments might have ten to twenty or more events, including two or three limit hold ’em events with various entry fees. In both sports you can pick how many events you want to enter. And you can choose your own schedule, living wherever you want, working as much as you need, and traveling whenever you please.’2 Both competitions have an entry free, prizes, and a large luck component (e.g., which calf you get and what cards you get dealt), but the skill component is the most important in the long run.”

[SS] “So, did you like the book?”

[LL] “All in all, yes, although Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers is a better movie script than a poker primer. I wish there were more poker, but if you sit back and enjoy the vicarious thrill of the old, untamed days of rodeo and poker, you’ll be entertained.”

Title Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers: The True Adventures of a Rodeo Champion and Poker Legend
Author Byron Wolford and Dana Smith
Year 2002 (updated 2005)
Skill Level Any
Pros Very entertaining. The early days of rodeo and the early days of poker were equally wild, and Wolford was very adventurous.
Cons Too much rodeo and not enough poker. A little repetitious, as if the individual articles were published individually.
Rating 2.5


  1. For example, Doyle Brunson would probably have played in the NBA if he hadn’t injured his knee, T.J. Cloutier played in the Canadian Football League, and Mike Sexton earned a gymnastics scholarship to college.
  2. Page 286.

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