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Old 08-27-2013, 02:06 AM   #1
Mason Malmuth
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Interview with Bobby Hoff

Hi Everyone:

In our book, Harrington on Cash Games, Volume II: How to Play No-Limit Hold 'em Cash Games by Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie, Dan and Bill finish the book with an interview with the late Bobby Hoff. I only knew Bobby slightly, but my understanding is that he was a great person and a terrific no-limit hold 'em player. The interview is repeated below.

Best wishes,

An Interview with Bobby Hoff


Bobby Hoff, known in the poker circles as ďThe Wizard,Ē is one of the best and most respected no-limit hold íem cash game players in the world. Hailing from Victoria, Texas, he learned his poker forty years ago playing in hold íem games with the other great Texas road gamblers, men like Doyle Brunson, Sailor Roberts, and Jack Strauss. Today he is regularly found playing, and winning, in the toughest no-limit cash games around.

While heís long been a cash game specialist, Bobby has occasionally ventured into the tournament arena. His best result in the World Series of Poker was runner-up to Hal Fowler in 1979. Although on three different occasions he had Fowler all-in with the worse hand, each time Fowler was able to draw out and survive. In the end, after a marathon heads-up session, Fowler managed to crack Bobbyís pocket aces by hitting an inside straight on the turn.

Today, among the poker cognoscenti, itís fair to say that Bobby Hoff is our Chuck Yeager. While others seek out the cameras and the limelight of the big tournaments, Bobby exercises his considerable skills quietly, mostly at the Commerce Club in Commerce, California.

Unlike many of the other poker players of his generation, Bobby is trim, fit, alert, and alive. While he rarely talks about the game, he joins us now for a discussion of the poker scene and big-stack cash game strategy.

The Interview

When did you start playing no-limit? How long ago, and who was involved?

Well, I started a really long time ago. I started playing in 1960, in my home town, Victoria, Texas, but didnít really learn much. I just learned to be a break-even player in a small local game.

After Ed Thorpe published his book, Beat the Dealer, I realized blackjack could be beaten, so I played a lot of blackjack in the 1960s. I eventually formed one of the early blackjack teams, and we did well for awhile. But I got barred, finally, from all the casinos, and by 1969 that game was pretty well burned up everywhere. So I started playing no-limit hold íem again.

In Texas and Louisiana, there were only two games that were played for serious money. No-limit hold íem and deuce-to-seven lowball, also no-limit. There was one place in Texas that played wheel lowball, and sometimes youíd find a game of pot-limit hold íem. But no-limit hold íem was always the big game.

Was there anyone special that taught you?

The biggest influence on my game was a man named James Roy. His nickname was ĎLong Goody.í He played all over Texas and Louisiana, and eventually Las Vegas. He was one of the best players who ever lived. A super player. I really learned the game from watching him play and then playing against him in 1971 and 1972. He was a real nice guy, besides being a great player. He retired from playing in 1980.

Did they ever have any limit hold íem in Texas?

Very little. In Victoria they had all kinds of small games, and other places too. But very little limit.

Limit really became popular in Vegas at the Golden Nugget. Thatís where they started playing, around 1970. And from there it spread across the town and to Reno and Tahoe, then eventually to California.

Who started spreading no-limit cash games in Vegas?

They started at the Golden Nugget as well. Corky got the game going. His real name was Felton McCorquodale, but everyone knew him as Corky.

I never played with him, never even met him, but he was a legend, a hell of a player. A complete master at no-limit hold íem. In the South, no one could beat him. They even cheated him, and they still couldnít overcome him!

Scary. If you canít cheat a guy and beat him Ö

McCorquodale told a great story about playing 5-card stud ó he was a fine stud player too ó in southern Louisiana. After awhile, he suspected that he might get cheated. He thought they were setting him up for one big hand where heíd lose all his money.

Right away the hand came up. With one card to come, he had a king in the hole and a king on board, and the other guy had garbage showing, no pair, no straight, no flush. All the money was in, and the only way he could lose was if the guy had an ace in the hole and hit an ace on the river.

Now McCorquodale got a strong suspicion that the hand would play out exactly that way, so he said ďIíd like to cut the cards.Ē (In the places we played, where everybody dealt for themselves, it was common practice to be allowed to cut the cards off in the middle of the deal.)

But they said, ďNo, we donít allow any cuts.Ē
Then he said, ďWell, what about insurance?Ē
ďNo, we donít allow any insurance.Ē
He said, ďWell, can we split the pot?Ē
ďNo, we donít allow any split pots.Ē
He said, ďWell, what about cab fare home? Can I get cab fare?Ē
He got the cab fare.

So just how far back does no-limit hold íem go? Iíve heard all kinds of guesses, as far back as the early 1900s.

In the South, the progression of the big no-limit games went like this ó first 5-card stud, then lowball, then hold íem, and finally pot-limit Omaha. Since 5-card stud was popular in the 1920s and 1930s, hold íem probably appeared in the late 1940s, maybe the early 1950s. It was a great invention, really unbelievable, when you see how complex the game really is.

Iíd like your impression of a couple of players from that era. First, Johnny Moss.

Johnny Moss, when I started playing with him, 1970, 1971, had the reputation of being the best player in the world. But I didnít see that. It might have been just age or fatigue, but heíd definitely lost a step. And everyone else felt this way too. He would have ó maybe an hour at a time he would just play brilliantly. Then something would happen and he would start playing poorly again. But he had flashes of brilliance. Still he was fairly advanced in age when I started playing with him. He was still a good player, donít get me wrong, but he wasnít like he was. He wasnít like Doyle described, by far the best player. By far. At his peak, he was probably as good as they said he was. He could have played even with McCorquodale.

The other thing about Moss, at that time he was playing a lot of games where he really wasnít very good. Games like seven-stud and seven-stud hi-lo split and some other games where he was very bad. The other players built the games around him, they beat him out of millions. And he was not a good limit player at all. But Doyle said he was by far the best no-limit deuce-to-seven player in his day, by far the best player. Probably true.

How about Buck Buchanan?

Buck Buchanan was a good friend of mine and a great player. He played so well after the flop that he just didnít throw his hand away on the button. He felt that with position he could outplay anybody, so when he was on the button, he just made up his mind to play the hand.

He was a super-tight player, but he made his living stealing. I mean, there was just no way to call him. I remember one session in particular, we played for eight hours, and he showed just two hands. One was two aces, and the other was two kings, and you realized, the other eight hours, we never saw his hand. He won $2,800, and he showed his hand twice in eight hours. We didnít know what he had. But you couldnít call him.

And heíd do things like call twice to take the pot away at the river.

He was really tough to beat. His nickname was ďDouble-T.Ē Hereís how he got it. They charged this game we played in a lot ó 5 percent commission on the chips. When you bought chips they charged 5 percent, thatís where they got the rake. So if you bought $1,000, they gave you $950 in chips.

There was no cash in the game, so they had a record of all the chips everybody bought, and all the chips everybody cashed out. Buck won 5 percent of the chips out. They called him Double-T, double take-off. He was the other half of the rake.

Thatís an amazing win rate.

Now he had another gear, a looser gear where heíd play sometimes. Where he would raise the pot. But when he got into his tight mode, heíd only raise the pot with aces, kings, or ace-king, and even then only in the back.

He really thought a lot of position. He thought position was everything, and he didnít want anybody to know what he had. When he limped in he could have two queens, when he was up front he could have anything. He could have a lot of hands, a wide variety of hands. He just didnít raise the pot before the flop. So it was almost impossible to put him on a hand.

What about Stuey Ungar? Did you ever play with him?

Yes I did. He was the last guy in the world you wanted to play heads-up. But if you could book him in a cheap 9-handed game, or 10-handed, he would have no chance. He would literally be the worst player in the game. But playing really high and really short, heíd be fantastic.

The first time he played no-limit hold íem, he played in my room at the Horseshoe in 1979 or thereabouts. He played Jack Strauss heads-up. They played a stack of hold íem for $2,000, and then they played gin to 150 points for $2,000, and I think they played 5 or 10 of each. Jack won all 10 of the hold íem sessions, and Stuey won about two-thirds of the gin. Jack, who was a good gin player, said when he was done that he had no chance against Stuey at gin, and coming from him that was quite an admission.

He was a terrific player shorthanded and high, but at a cheap full table he was hopeless. Just hopeless.

What was his big problem?

Just too loose. Heíd overplay his cards, over and over again. I remember Stuey once, we were playing with me, Buck Buchanan, Jesse Alto, Mike Cox, and four or five guys like that, tough, tight, tight players, and Stuey would raise the pot, and it would come seven-five-five or something, and theyíd check, and heíd bet, and theyíd raise, and he put them on a bluff and call with ace-high or something. They had trips, you know?

Or it would come king-seven-seven, and heíd raise it with two eights. Theyíd check and heíd bet with the eights, and theyíd move in on him. He would put them on a draw, and sometimes theyíd be drawing, but often not. Just hopeless.

But if it was heads-up or three-handed, I wouldnít get in a game with him. There he was deadly.

Do you like playing no limit hold íem better than any other form of poker?

I like pot limit hold íem better. Itís quite a bit better.


Well, if I were going to make a perfect game for myself, Iíd play pot-limit before the flop and no-limit after the flop. What hurts no-limit hold íem, even in deep-stack cash games, is the big reraise before the flop. You get a shutout. And often the first reraise, from the big blind, is a shutout raise. You just canít make that play in pot-limit. In pot-limit, if the chips get really deep, that second raise still leaves your opponents with big implied odds.

At no-limit, you can cut their implied odds way down. It takes away from a good player. But with that minor variation, itís the best. Thereís just more skill, more opportunities than in any other form of poker. So many situations come up where everybody misses their hand. I do well in those spots where everybody misses. If the cards will just stay ice-cold, Iíll do fine.

So when did you feel that you were a good hold íem player, you could pretty much sit in any game you wanted to?

By 1971. Up through 1969, I had played a lot of twenty-one. But that game dried up, so I took my twenty-one money, I had a goodly sum, and I lost it all, in the last part of 1969 and the first part of 1970. But I got to play with some good players. See, in Victoria there was only one good player, but when I started playing at the Horseshoe and the Nugget I got to play with Goody and Doyle and Sailor and Bill Smith, those guys, and I got to be a pretty good player by the time I got broke.

What was the usual limit in those days?

We played $5-$10 blinds, or $5-$10-$25 blinds, $5 on the button. That was a big game back in 1970. So Sailor started staking me in the $5-$10-$25 game. He had confidence in my play. And I remember one day, I was making plays in my head, and every play would have worked. And I said ó you know what? Iím going to go in today, and every time I see a play, Iím going to make every play I see. I eventually won $80,000 over a period of a few months in that poker game. I just killed it. I went overboard. I literally made every play I saw and destroyed that game.

You played without fear.

I totally played without fear. Every time I saw a play, a chance to take the pot, I took it. And I took so many of them I couldnít believe it.

Of course, the cards have to hit you too. But if they do hit, oh my God.

When Santa Ana took the Alamo, the Mexican army blew a song called the Digueo. Itís a mournful song, it means take no prisoners. So sometimes in my mind I play the Digueo, and I attack every pot. But only if I have a good image ó only if the cards have been running my way.
Compared to the 1970s, how has your game evolved?

Iím playing tighter more often than before. Let me tell you what my main problem was. I would drive players right into the corner. And then I would just stay right on them. You take anybody, and you keep beating on them, and beating on them, theyíre going to go crazy and attack you. You take a little dog and beat on him and heís going to growl at you and bite you. So the art to poker is to beat on somebody until just before they play back at you, with the ten-five offsuit, and then you give them one.

Doyle encouraged that in his book and thatís really the art of the game. How far can you push your guy before youíre making him play back at you with nothing? Before, in effect, youíve made him a better player. So you push him just as far as you can, and then you stop. I think I do that better now than I did. And also I think Iím more aware of my image now. But the rest of itís very much the same.

I do play a little differently now because I played in much tougher games then, in general. The games I played in Texas were really tough games. Iíll give you an idea ó you know I played Bill Smith. Bill was a very tight player. He was a really tight player and a really good tight player. We played 10-handed in Dallas and heís under the gun with ace-king offsuit and he discards it. ďIím not going to play it.Ē No good for him. When he had the ace-king, they knew what he had. So if he got action, it was no good. It was just as good to be representing the ace-king when it came as to actually have it. Or better, maybe. So he just threw the ace-king away under the gun.

Dallas was one of those kind of games where around in back ó I didnít like to have a weak hand because it was too obvious you had a weak hand. Against good players, Iíd need to have a good hand. Iíd probably have a hand you could easily raise with. Thatís against very good players.

But itís all different now. I mean, the game I play at the Commerce, if Iím in the middle of the pack, I donít hesitate to limp in with the ace-jack offsuit. In Dallas, I wouldnít consider it. At least I didnít play it. In Dallas, I might have to be in the cutoff or the button before I played that hand.

I mean, I might raise with the five-four suited, even in Dallas, but around in back I didnít limp with it because the players were too good. There were too many good players who knew what a limp like that meant.

Do you play online at all? It sounds like your style is more ideally suited to live games.

I prefer to play online because of the sheer convenience, but I canít afford it. I feel like I have twice the advantage in a live game as I do online. Iím not totally sure why, but I can see some reasons. Iíve thought about this a lot. I played online for about 18 months. The main reason, I think is the depth of the chips. The ratio between the chips and the blinds. Itís so much higher in the game I play at the Commerce Club than it is online. Itís just ridiculously high. And thatís a big help to a skilled player.

A second reason is that people donít play for as long as they do in a live game. Chips donít build up the same way. They didnít have to drive from Pomona to the Commerce Club to play. You wouldnít drive 30 miles to stay an hour and then drive home, so you stay. And the chips build up.

And also, of course, you get to read the players much better. For instance, youíre playing live, youíre playing a stranger, Iím going to have a really good idea of how he plays in just a few minutes. I can watch him handle his chips. I can see the way heís dressed. I can see his age. Iíll have a good idea.

Online, I have no idea. He might be a great player. He might be a total donkey. Itíll be a while figuring it out. You might be playing against a grandmother instead of some young hotshot kid. Or your opponentís drunk and you donít know it. Youíre playing with him every day and all of a sudden ó I know there were people online that were drugged and doing drugs, I know there were. You can just tell. But in the casino you know instantly. As soon as they slur their first word you know theyíve been drinking. Online it may cost you a lot of money before you figure it out.

Do you like the structure of the online cash games?

The games are a little too conducive to playing tight. Iíd like to see that changed. Thereís a structure Iíve been talking up, but I havenít gotten anyone to try it yet. A three-unit ante, and a one, two, and three-unit blind in front of that. It would be nothing but action, action, action. People would love this game, but so far I havenít gotten anyone to try it.

Since 2003, the number of people willing to play no-limit cash games, live or online, has exploded. Have you noticed the live cash game players at the Commerce Club getting better? Theyíve certainly improved online.

Iíve thought about it a lot, but no, I donít think so. For awhile, I was alarmed because I thought ó Iíve never seen so many good players in all my life, Iíve just never seen so many good players. Theyíre everywhere. There are all these kids, theyíve got a million-dollar bankroll and they all play good! This is incredible.

But you know what? Iíve also never seen this many bad players before! Thatís what it is. I donít think the percentage of good players has changed.

There are more players of all kinds. There are a lot more good players now than there ever were. Than have ever lived, probably. There are more good players alive right now than have ever played the game. But, there are more bad players by far than there ever were. And more come every day to the Commerce Club. Incredible.

The $20-$40 blind game is really a pretty big poker game if you think about it. They take $200 an hour, thatís to start. Thatís just for collections. Than thereís tokes to everyone. Then thereís winning players. You add all that up, youíre talking millions. And the game goes around the clock for a couple of years. The money thatís been lost in that poker game is incredible. And itís more active now than it was a couple of years ago. That means thereís a tremendously big pool of players out there.

Obviously you see a lot of young players coming in the club, they want to be a pro. Thatís why theyíre there. This is their dream. If a guy like that came to you and said, ďWhat are the most common mistakes that Iím likely to make here?Ē what would your answer be?

I would say the danger for these young players in the way they play their hands is the fact that most of them have never gone bad before. So what youíre looking at when you see these young players, these young Internet guys, youíre seeing people who donít know what itís like to lose for a month. Itís never happened to them. Youíre looking at hundreds or thousands of players who started and this is a handful that the cards ran over. Now they may have talent ó some of them have a lot of talent, theyíre very good players, but they donít have any experience on the downside. You donít really get to improve your game until you go bad. It changes you.

Right. As far as you know, this is just the way itís supposed to be. You play, you win, you play, you win.

What can you do when you just go win, win, win, win? You donít know how to change it. You donít start thinking about it until youíre losing. Ray Zee made a famous statement. Right on that point. ďYou show me a guy thatís been lucky at poker for a year, and Iíll show you someone that canít be playing well.Ē Thereís a lot of truth to that. A lot of truth.

The biggest mistake they make. Is that what you want?

Yes. Could be more than one. But do they come in with any characteristic thing that, if you were a mentor to these guys, youíd say, ďLook, this is what you have to work on?Ē

My good-playing opponents, my good-playing young opponents, the mistake that I see them make most? They call the reraise too much. I see it over and over and over again.

You learn by watching somebody who did it. I mean, if I raise with ace-king and I get reraised, I think the reraise is legitimate, I donít even think about it. When I say I donít think about it, I mean seriously I donít even think if Iím throwing a good hand away. I just put it right in the muck, like this. Thatís how fast I put it in there.

Now Iím talking about somebody who has a big stack. If they have a short stack, I may reraise and race with them. But if weíre playing $20-$40 blinds and Iíve opened for $200, I get two callers, and then someone in late position calls the $200 and raises $1,100, and weíve both got $12,000 or $15,000 left, I donít even consider it. I mean, you have to hope theyíre bluffing before you touch that call. I mean, do they have ace-queen? Maybe, maybe, but not likely. Youíve got an ace in your hand, they probably donít.

What do you hope they have? Two queens? They probably have something like two queens. So, itís 2-to-1 against you that you catch the ace or the king after you call the reraise, and even then you donít get action unless youíre buried. So ó I just muck it. Now if Iíve got seven-five suited, I can think about it, especially if Iím in position. But ace-king? And ace-queen offsuit? Thatís really a bad hand to call a reraise.

I think another mistake they make is not paying enough attention to the trouble hands before the flop. Hands weíre talking about like ace-queen, king-queen, ace-jack. Two big unsuited cards. Theyíre very troublesome hands. I really like limping with these hands or making very small raises.

The mini-raise?

Thatís the Internet play. I see a lot of good Internet players making that play, and thatís fine.

How about the buy-in? If you were playing in a cash game and there was no limit on the buy-in, letís say itís a $20-$40 game and most people were buying in for $4,000, but some people were buying in for $12,000 to $15,000, would you want to buy in for the biggest stack that you could?

Not necessarily. Thereís a couple of considerations. One is a bankroll consideration. And the other one is ó I like to be able to draw. So sometimes, even with a $6,000, $7,000, or $8,000 stack, youíll have a short stack against two big stacks. Youíve got the advantage. Because I can move in, drawing to my flush. And they canít. Because the other guyís got them for $15,000.

Sometimes you get in a situation where a big stack, but not a huge stack, may be some kind of advantage. On the other hand, if youíre a really good player, and youíre playing guys who make lots of mistakes, you may get to win the whole $15,000. I suppose if bankroll were no consideration, I would probably prefer the $15,000 to $20,000 stack to the $7,000 to $8,000 stack.

So when you go to play at the Commerce Club in the afternoon, do you sort of look at the table and say ó this table, these players, Iíd like to buy in for this much. Or do you have a constant figure that works pretty well?

Usually Iíll just sit down and buy-in for $10,000. Thatís 250 big blinds (in the $20-$40 game). Somewhere in that neighborhood. Itís all right to buy 500 big blinds too. Iíd be comfortable either way.

What about 100 big blinds, you donít feel like thatís enough to work with?

Yeah, barely. Now sometimes Iíd rather have it. Sometimes itís clearly better to not have a big stack. For instance, when you have someone thatís raising way too many pots. You know youíre going to have to play with him, and you want to reraise him before the flop and then get comfortably in on the flop.

So, in other words, youíve got ace-king, and you can limp in, have him raise the pot, get several callers, and reraise, and have enough to move all-in on the flop. Whereas if you have $20,000 in front of you, reraising here is not such a good idea because youíre not going to be able to move that huge stack in on the flop comfortably.

Another example. Say youíre playing $20-$40 no-limit and youíve bought in for $15,000, a nice deep stack. Now what do you do against a player like me? I raise the pot, youíve got two nines, it comes seven-five-deuce, I bet, you call, the turn is a deuce, I bet and you call, and now you have to think ó this crazy SOB might bet me all three times. Youíre talking about putting your whole stack into this pot to defend your nines. Itís not just call $600 on the flop and raise $1,200 all-in. Youíd like to do that with your nines, youíd love it. But you canít!

A short stack would have a big edge here because their downside is so limited. You canít move the short stacks out in that situation. Itís difficult to bluff a short stack. So as the stacks get really deep, the bluffs get really strong.

Would you characterize your play as more aggressive than most people, or just selectively aggressive in particular spots that you see and you like?

Iím sort of aggressive, absolutely. But, there are certainly players that play more aggressively than I do.

I play two ways. I have two games. I play one game when my image is really good and the chips are really deep. And then I have another game I play when my image is not good and the chips are not deep. Youíre forced to play a different game when the ratio between the stacks and the money in the pot before the flop changes; the higher the stacks, the more aggressive you can be.

Now whereís the cutoff? When do you see a game change from tight/aggressive to loose/aggressive? Do you want it to be 100 times the big blind or ó

Thatís very good. Thatís exactly right. Put it this way. I donít think itís right to start raising with smaller cards, smaller hands, until almost everyone at the table has 100 times the big blind or more. Now you can get by with just one player with a short stack. Maybe you can get by with two short stacks. But youíre spotting them an edge ó if theyíre good players, youíre going to lose to those guys. That may be okay because youíll more than make up for it against some of the others. For instance, I can think of a couple of players at the Commerce who, if they were sitting on my right, would limp in almost every pot, and call the raise 80 to 90 percent of the time. Those guys, if I have a king and a queen, I love my hand.

Now I got two guys sitting over here on my left with short stacks, theyíre going to kill me. Iím giving them money when I raise with king-queen, but Iíll more than make up for it because the guy that limps in front of me, heíll be limping with a queen and an eight, and heíll call the raise. Iím going to have him in terrible shape. So the short stacks behind make money from me in the long run in this spot. But I make up for it because of this guy that limps and calls the raise.

If the chips are really deep, and you have a good image, I donít see anything wrong with raising in the dark. Sometimes Iíve had players tell me they knew what I had and I hadnít looked at my hand yet!

Talk a little bit about table image. What changes your image from good to bad and back again? It would seem to a lot of players that if you play a lot of poker, and you must see a lot of the same players day after day, your image would be a pretty constant thing.

Your bluffs just work more often when you show over the best hand. And if you show over enough of them, itís really, really hard for them to call you. Even in limit poker, when a bluffing situation comes up, if you have a good image, you should bluff. If you have a bad image, theyíre going to study and study and study and call you. If you have a good image, theyíre going to study and study and throw their hand away. Itís just that simple. Even at limit poker, you can really see the difference. At no-limit, itís a very, very big difference.

So just remembering all the cards youíve had to show down since the session started is a huge edge.

It comes down to a simple question ó did you show the winning hand? Thatís what counts. Did you win the pot?

If you take an ace-king and beat two aces, that counts. If you take the seven-four offsuit and beat the two aces, thatís great for your image. Theyíre scared of you because you showed only the best hand at the end. If you keep showing the best hand, if every time you show your hand you take the pot, itís just hell to call you.

I remember the time, it was on TV, when Tommy Franklin had a pair of eights and I had ace-nine and had made a big raise on him, and he just studied and studied and said ďYou know, I know youíre making a move in this situation, and I saw you make the move before, and you hit the hand, I ainít going to go for it anymore,Ē and he threw the hand away.

There you are. Thatís it exactly. He was right. Your image is just what you showed over. And it can even carryover when youíre playing with the same people a lot. It carries over. So when youíve been on a run, it still counts, although your image in general doesnít really last too long. Itís the next hand or two that either maintains it or destroys it.

That switch can happen very quickly, canít it? Youíve been running well at the table, pushing people around, and then a couple of bad beats or whatever and you suddenly have to say ďOkay, my image has changed. Theyíre looking at me differently, I now have to play differently.Ē

You bluffed, you got caught, and that changes everything. I play tighter after that.

That puts you in contrast to some of the younger players that you see at the table. When they get caught bluffing, they figure theyíd better step up the bluffs now. It becomes a point of pride.

Well, you know, against a particular opponent, it depends what heís thinking. But in general, I donít like that. Your image is created by winning pots and showing the best hand. Or by winning a lot of pots.

How do you feel about raise sizes? Thereís a trend these days towards the mini-raise in early position, just raising to twice the big blind.

Well, I donít like that play. If I have aces, Iíll raise ó generally, I always raise the size of the pot. If Iím first in the pot, that means a raise to three and one-half big blinds. Iíll do that with two aces, or with a five-four type hand, either one. What you hope for, with two aces, is to get in the third bet before the flop. With the deep stacks now, the second raise isnít that big. You really want to make the third raise. Thatís why, with the deep stacks, I want to make the third raise with the two aces.

You raise in early position, you get reraised by somebody behind you, and you want to make the third raise.

Right, and see if they can get away from their hand. See if they can get away from two kings.

How do you go about sizing up new players? Guy sits down at your table in the Commerce Club, youíve never seen him before, what are the first couple of things you look at? What do you start to pick up first?

I look at his age, the way he handles his chips, the way heís dressed ó

Whatís his age likely to tell you about him? How is a young player different from an older player, typically?

Heís not likely to be an old player and be a very good player. Odds are. A young player, you donít know. Could be a really good Internet player. Could be a big donkey. But if itís an older guy, and heís well dressed, and he doesnít know how to cut his chips, heís a turkey. You can lay 10-to-1 on it. Heís just not going to be a good player.

So you know heís not good, but you donít know exactly yet how heís not good. That youíre going to have to see a few hands.

Sure, absolutely. But in general, you know what bad players do. They check their good hands. They trap with good hands. They lead off and bet their mediocre hands to find out ďwhere theyíre at.Ē Boy, I love that. You want to bet to find out where youíre at? Okay, Iíll tell you, youíre in big trouble.

Question about Doyle. Do you think Doyleís game has changed over the years? It seems like no matter how far the game has come, Doyleís stayed near the top. And heís perfectly comfortable playing tournaments or cash or whatever. Do you think heís a player whoís sort of steadily progressed in his approach? I donít get the sense watching him that he plays the way he described in Super/System years ago.

Thereís two things about that. First, he doesnít play no-limit hold íem in the big cash games. That just isnít played anymore in the Big Game at the Bellagio which is where he mostly plays now. I can tell you for sure how he played in the 1970s, but how he plays now, well, I wouldnít think it has changed very much. Iím sure it has not. But Super System was a pretty accurate description of how he played at the time.

Observing his play, it looks like he plays tighter than he did then.

It was probably because the game he described in Super/System is really a big stack game. He didnít emphasize stack sizes in the book because all the games at the time were deep stack games, with people buying in for 400 big blinds.

Now, when they do play a little no-limit at the Bellagio, itís a capped game. It has $1,000 and $2,000 blinds and a $75,000 cap on the pot because theyíve got huge stacks on the table, and they donít want to get a million in the pot on one hand. And most of the players there donít play the game. Theyíre not comfortable playing no-limit hold íem.

Now seven-six is no good! You canít play the seven-six in that game. Except perhaps every great once in a while to show you donít always have big cards, I donít know. Probably you donít ever bother to play two little cards in that game. Itís just too much like a limit game.

But Doyleís got a good thing going in the High Stakes Poker show. He said it was the best game he ever played in. It does look like a very good game.

I know you object to the way a lot of the players on that show handle the trouble hands. What are your thoughts on playing these ace-queen or king-jack type hands?

I remember one play that was so bad it was just beyond belief, at least for me. Daniel Negreanu raises a pot with the ace-queen offsuit. Okay, weíll put a question mark there. In my mind, put a question mark by that play. Maybe itís okay. Thatís a three-way hand for me. I donít mind raising with it. I donít mind calling with it. I donít mind throwing it away. How do you like that? Itís just okay. Now Todd Brunson reraises and Daniel calls!

Now if my choice was to call with the ace-queen, or to take two cards, not out of the deck, but out of the muck, that the other players had mucked, give me the two out of the muck. Now I hope I catch a seven and a four, you know. And at least I donít have an ace in my hand.

The way this hand made TV, it came queen-high, and Daniel won a nice pot. And Todd did have ace-king. But not Gabe or anyone mentioned what a horrible play that was, the call of that reraise.

Theyíre calling decent raises from early position with king-jack in late position.

Thatís another example. Iíd rather throw the king-jack away and pick two cards from the discards. If I get 63, thatís fine.

So if youíre playing against a guy raising from early position, and for whatever reason you think he doesnít have a pair, your main goal is to make sure youíre not dominated.

Well, letís say one of your main goals is to stay out of a bind. If I have a six and a trey, itís hard to get in a real bind. If I have a king and a jack, and I make a pair, itís really hard to play, itís a really tough spot to be in. What do you want to do with the king-jack? You want to make a straight, or trips, or two pair. You donít want to make one pair because itís hard to make one pair and make any money. Itís a terrible spot to be in. Itís a trouble hand. You want to stay out of it. Stay out of trouble. Thatís why they call them trouble hands. Good players have trouble playing them, and bad players will lose a fortune.

So with the 63, you want the hearts to come, or two pair or a straight to come.

For me, itís okay if a good flop for the king-jack comes. Itís just as good. Itís just as good to have a six-high as to have two kings with a jack kicker, almost. Thereís not a lot of difference in the two hands. I know Iíll make some money with the 6-high. With the other hand, I might make some or lose a lot, but over time Iíll show a little profit as well. Thatís the thing.

Elaborate on what you just said because Iím sure a lot of readers will be surprised by that comment.

Okay, look at it this way. Think of a couple of hands where you make a raise in early position and you get a caller. In the first hand you have six-trey offsuit and in the second hand you have king-jack. Now in both hands the flop comes king-seven-deuce, three suits. You bet out on the flop.

Now look at the six-trey hand first. When they fold you take the pot. When they call, you know youíre beat. Youíre done with the hand. They fold more than they call, so you make a little money.

Now look what happens when you hold king-jack. When they fold, you win the pot like before. But when they call, what did they call you with? Maybe it was AK, KQ, 77, or 22. Those hands are bad news. Youíre hoping they called you with KT, K-9, or K-8, but most guys who can play a lick donít call with those hands before the flop. Maybe they called you with nine-eight suited and they donít want to throw away middle pair just yet.

The point is, you donít know. Youíre out of position, and you donít know whatís going on, and thatís a bad way to try and make some money. I donít know that you show much of a profit with king-jack once you get called here. I donít think you do. Thatís why Iím pretty much just as happy with six-trey as king-jack when that flop hits.

So the problems you see with the guys on High Stakes Poker are not so much that theyíre playing middling cards or even low cards that are suited, as that theyíre playing higher cards that could be easily dominated by still better combinations.

Thatís part of it. I also see them limp in with weak hands. I donít like that.

Youíd rather raise or fold with those hands?

Either. I might call. But I just donít call with a weak hand. Not out front. And if I was playing in Dallas, in the games I used to play in, where there were so many good players in the game, I donít even like limping around back with a weak hand. Because they know what youíve got when you limp. If youíve got a weak hand and they put you on a weak hand, what are you going to do?

Do you ever fold kings pre-flop?

Well, I can tell you what Sailor Roberts said. If your opponent raises, and you reraise, and your opponent puts in the third raise, and you have two kings, youíre a huge underdog to most everyone. Youíd probably rather have two queens against a lot of players than have two kings, or you might want to have two queens, putting it better, because if that third raise is either aces, kings, or ace-king, your two queens might be the best hand. But if youíve got two kings, and theyíre only reraising with those three hands, youíre obviously close to a 4-to-1 underdog, whatever it works out to be.

But for the third significant raise, and itís against the same person, and youíve got two kings, they are big trouble. The most difficult hand in no-limit hold íem, without doubt, is two kings. I have no idea what to do.

And itís not just a question of being all-in before the flop. What happens in this case? Youíve got $20-$40 blinds, youíre playing a really good, aggressive player. Make it ó make it anyone, make it Antonio Esfandiari. Several players will limp in the pot, and he makes a raise, and youíre in the little blind. And itís ó letís say itís $300 or $400 to you, and heís got $20,000. Youíve got two kings. Whatís your play?

I donít have a clue what to do. I mean, I just donít have any idea what to do. Nothing feels good to me. I can make a case for making a mini-raise, I can make a case for calling, I can make a case for making a big raise. I donít like any of them.

But youíre not making a case for folding!

No, see thatís the problem. You canít fold. You cannot fold. You probably have the best hand. In fact, youíre a big favorite to have the best hand. But thatís not the problem.

If we just run five cards from here after calling the raise, weíre in great shape, but thatís not whatís going to happen. Youíre going to reraise. And now we have all this money left over. Now what flop do you want that doesnít have a king on it? Canít have a king. If you donít catch a king, what do you want? Thereís nothing that looks good. Suppose itís jack-seven-deuce, three suits. You bet. They call. Now what? Thatís a nightmare flop. Iíd rather have just about anything there. Iíd rather have two queens for sure. Much rather have two queens. Maybe thatís sick, but thatís how I feel. Because itís going to be easier to let go of two queens later on in the hand than it is the kings.

But I hate two kings. Iíve thrown them away many times before the flop. Against certain players, itís easy. Theyíve got aces, and thatís all theyíve got. Iíve thrown them away against Bob Brooks. I raised. He reraised. I threw my hand away because I knew he didnít reraise with queens. He would never reraise with two queens.

So he either had two kings, two aces, or a bluff. And he very seldom bluffed. He showed me the two aces. But not many players play as tight as Bob did.

Buck Buchanan was another player like that. You couldnít call Buck in that situation. Buck had a tight game where he never raised before the flop ó except with aces, kings, or ace-king, in position. Otherwise, he didnít raise the pot before the flop. He called. Steve Lott plays something like that. He doesnít raise before the flop. He just calls. So you donít know what heís got when he calls. He could have two connectors or he could have a big pair, you donít know. Buck was like that. I think a legitimate way to play preflop.

I remember once with Junior B. I bet. He raised. I looked down at ace-king and said to myself, ďYou know what, he has queens, Iím going to make him lay them down,Ē I came over the top, and he looked at me for awhile, showed me the kings, and then threw them away!

But a short stack game is a different story.

Oh Lord yes. Two kings are a beautiful hand in a short stack spot, almost the nuts.

But in a deep stack game, itís very different. Now two kings are a hand you canít fall in love with. If you told me I had two kings, but for some reason I couldnít make three kings, I would say, ďJust give the kings to someone else.Ē It wouldnít surprise me if in those deep stack situations I was talking about, if you were only a small winner in the pots where you started with two kings but didnít make three kings. The problem is, you lose the big pots, and when you win, you win a small pot. Thatís why the possibility of making a set is so important. Take the other two kings out of the deck, and letís see how a pocket pair of kings really stand in a situation where each side started with several hundred big blinds. The pots you lose are pretty big. The ones you win are small.

Now back in the 70s, did you run into any trouble playing in fixed games? Did you have any trouble avoiding them? Or were they generally well known among the players?

The way you got cheated in those days was in the country clubs. I didnít get to play in the country clubs. Games I played in, there were a lot of tough players. They were very hard to cheat. Very hard to cheat. Plus, you knew all the players. Itís very difficult for a stranger to come through and be a cheat. And especially hard to do it for any length of time. He just stood out. Especially if he couldnít play. Cheats just never lasted very long.

They told me about one guy that came through Dallas in the old days. He was one of these lowball cheats. He never played no-limit hold íem. He was a hold out guy. He had a machine. You know, the machine?

One of those things up your sleeve?

He had a machine. Bob Brooks, who was in the game, said that he played so bad that they let this guy play even though they knew he cheated. After a couple of days, they had him stuck about $8,000. That was a lot of money in those days. Finally, one of the suckers in the game wanted to count the cards down. The deck felt light to him. So Bob picked up the cards and he said he counted to about 48 and he said ďOh, thatís close enough,Ē and he threw the cards in the trash can! But they asked the guy not to play anymore after that.

Lowball players in general didnít play hold íem well. They had a tendency to think that two aces was like a wheel. Theyíd get a few hundred dollars in before the flop and $3,200 afterwards. But when that happens, a lot of time two aces are no good, especially when folks know what you have.

Present company excepted, give us a list of your 10 or 12 top no-limit cash game players.

Here goes. These are guys Iíd hate to see sit down in my game. In no particular order: Doyle Brunson, TJ Cloutier, Gabe Thaler, Barry Greenstein, Carl McKelvie, Steve Lott, Ben Roberts, Bobby Baldwin, Eric Seidel, Scott Lungren, Prahlad Friedman, and Kenny Tran.

Iíll add something about one name on that list. Bobby Baldwin was the best player I ever played with in my life, by far.

Thatís high praise.

He was the best no-limit hold íem player I ever saw. He was frightening. When I looked at my hand, I was afraid he knew what I had. As soon as I looked at my cards, I thought he knew somehow. He was a wonderful player. A fine nine-handed player, and a great two-handed player. You donít often see that combination together. Even Doyle said so.

I would sit next to him and he would call peopleís hands. He was 26 years old, and it just made me sick he was so much better than I was. Thatís the only person I ever felt that way about.

Letís talk about some specific tactical situations. How do you feel about bluffing out of the small blind against some limpers?

I think bluffing out of the small blind before the flop is a good place to bluff. Itís a feel thing. It depends on how often the back players limp in and how likely players are to call the raise no matter what. But if theyíre trying to win and playing fairly tight, a big raise out of the small blind before the flop, when you had some back limpers, can be very effective.

Now, in a really tough game, everybody knows that play. So itís just a question of ó they know and you know that they know that you know. So weíre into multi-level thinking here. And then itís a question of ó do they have the courage to do anything about it?

On High Stakes Poker they call that the Barry Greenstein play. He does that all the time. And give Ted Forrest full credit. Barry Greenstein did it the first time, and then the next time around he raised again from the small blind, and Ted said ďNo way, heís got something this time,Ē and he did have something.

Well, a strong play is like what Bobby Baldwin showed me years ago. He bluffed me, and a few deals later, he bluffs me again, and he shows me, and says ďThe second bluff against a good player is the good one.Ē He bluffed me twice in a row.

What do you think about playing very low cards in late position ó hands like three-two or four-two?

I would always limp on the button with those sorts of hands if the stacks were deep.

I saw you win a huge pot in the $25-$50 game online with trey-deuce. Flop came ace-five-four, and you hit someone with three aces.

Thatís exactly what that hand is designed for. Itís the wheel. The wheelís got the record pots at hold-em.

Your thoughts on playing the flop after you hit a little piece of it.

When I was so much more aggressive, in the early 1970s, I just didnít bet the flop when I caught a piece because I had people playing back at me. So in that spot, when I had something, I took a card. Because, whoopee, Iíve got something. But if I didnít have anything, and they played back at me, so what? But if youíve got something, and they play back at you, you might have to throw away the best hand.

But I overdid it. I had them playing back at me quite often. Itís a great way to learn how to play, however. If I was going to recommend a way of learning how to play, it would be a great way to learn.

Youíve got a little reputation for jabbing at pots on the river with very small bets. Whatís your thinking there?

Iíll do it in a lot of different situations. If the minimum bet is $10, I might make a $10 value bet on the end, or a stone bluff. You have to be careful because they might take it away from you. But after you bet $10 a bunch of times, they might not take it away from you. I might call them when they raise me.

Thatís another one of those plays where theyíre thinking about what youíre thinking about what theyíre thinking. But Iíve won those pots a lot where I make those little bets at the river and sometimes call a big reraise.

But if you do it very much ó Iím one of the few players who does it ó you also have to do it occasionally, when you play all the same players all the time, with the cold nuts.


Youíre really giving someone with nothing a chance to bluff his money off twice! Say youíve got a board where a jack is the nuts, filling an inside straight. And youíve got a jack. Now your opponent bets, and heís bluffing at you. The right play in that spot is to make the minimum raise. Make the $10 raise or whatever it is. You canít lose, and you give them a chance to bluff again, if theyíre bluffing.

I remember once Bob Ciaffone said in that situation, ďI would be in favor of making the minimum bet, $5 or whatever, except that I donít know when to do it.Ē So I told him when.

But in my life, I have stolen a number of pots for one chip. Completely stolen. I have done that several times. The thing is, they get sick of paying you off. They just get sick of it. So they let you have a pot for one chip. Sounds incredible, but it happens.

Weíre seeing a lot more people at the tables who are willing to go beyond a single continuation bet on the flop. If they get called, theyíll fire a second barrel on the turn. How do you defend against that?

The question is, how to play against strangers? If youíre playing against strangers, I like to get a feel for the situation. Does he just fire one barrel or does he continue with his continuation bets?

How about ó such a rare person, the three-barrel guy? He just fires and keeps coming!

Scratch those off the list. I donít like the three-barrel guys unless theyíre completely crazy.

Exactly. How do you defend against them?

Iím a three-barrel guy, so I know itís hard to play against me. My friend Carl [McKelvie], heís been in with me a lot, he hates it when I fire three barrels. But I would bet my life Iím winner on the third barrel.

And, I know it does good things for your game. Now it makes that first bet on the flop much harder to call.

Letís say you sit down at a table where you know most of the players, and you have a choice of seats. What do you look for in picking your seat?

One thing I really like is to have a limper on my right. Thatís so important for a lot of different hands. When I pick up that ace-x suited, I want the player on my right to limp. Then you can get a whole cascade of limpers.

Thatís why position is so important. If you get a limper on your right, itís just huge for all kinds of things like that. Small pairs, ace-x suited, those kinds of hands, itís so much easier to get the shape of the pot that you want before the flop.

The other thing I like to see are players that are really easy to read. There are some players that are just incredible. Every time they make a little bet, they have a little hand. Every time they make a bigger bet, they have a bigger hand. They just tell you exactly what they have. Itís like cheating!

Bobby, thanks for your time.

A pleasure. Hey, letís find a game!
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Old 08-27-2013, 02:23 AM   #2
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Thanks for posting, and again RIP to Mr. Hoff.
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Old 08-27-2013, 03:04 AM   #3
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

good read
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Old 08-27-2013, 07:53 AM   #4
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Very good read, thanks for posting... and RIP Bobby Hoff
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Old 08-27-2013, 08:32 AM   #5
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

What a legend, reading this made me want to play live poker for the first time in a really long time. RIP
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Old 08-27-2013, 09:53 AM   #6
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Last edited by burnJa; 08-27-2013 at 09:54 AM. Reason: never met Bobby. Hopefully this is the right guy.
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:00 AM   #7
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Live poker is indeed a different game .
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Old 08-27-2013, 02:57 PM   #8
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Posting to remind myself to read this as I don't have time right now.
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:03 PM   #9
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Originally Posted by that_pope View Post
Posting to remind myself to read this as I don't have time right now.
Same here. Very much a TLDR...FN (too long, didn't read... for now). Looks interesting.
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Old 08-27-2013, 10:16 PM   #10
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This was obviously a poker genius, great read, long but worth it
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Old 08-28-2013, 01:19 AM   #11
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

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Old 08-28-2013, 01:29 AM   #12
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Originally Posted by AllBlackDan View Post
This was obviously a poker genius, great read, long but worth it
Hi Dan:

It's a great interview and shows not only what a good player Bobby Hoff was, but that he was also a good guy.

Best wishes,
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Old 08-28-2013, 02:11 AM   #13
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Awesome read. The Stu Ungar part should be posted in every thread where clueless fanboys try to call him the GOAT.

The part about how he lost HU in the main event was absolutely sickening.
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Old 08-28-2013, 02:27 AM   #14
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Thanks for posting that Mason!
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Old 08-28-2013, 02:30 AM   #15
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Never heard of this man before his sad passing but after reading this and listening to old interviews it's obvious the man was a great player and a good guy who was well respected by his peers.Rip Bobby.
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Old 08-28-2013, 02:40 AM   #16
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Great read. Like how he ripped Negreanu but gave praise to Esfiandri, Spirit Rock, Seidel. Very informative and entertaining interview. Remember a lot of this stuff from his appearance on cash plays (or deuce plays, can't remember which one) with Bart Hanson.

And Gabe Thaler! Dude was a big fixture in those Commerce games of the late 90's/early 00's. Remember listening to his Cash Plays (Or Deuce Plays) with Bart Hanson like 10+ times.
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Old 08-28-2013, 03:53 AM   #17
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Here is the 1979 WSOP in its entirety. Heads up begins at the 30 minute mark.

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Old 08-28-2013, 06:11 AM   #18
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Really interesting read, thanks for posting it.
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Old 08-28-2013, 06:20 AM   #19
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Sidenote: Bobby seemed to have the most nl respect for Antonio Esfandiari (from the few times I sat next to him and he just offered up wisdom/thoughts unprovoked). I always thought that was interesting/telling.
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Old 08-28-2013, 11:46 AM   #20
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Originally Posted by themistocles khan View Post
Here is the 1979 WSOP in its entirety. Heads up begins at the 30 minute mark.

Quite the interesting watch and read.

I don't know, but in an odd way I found that more enjoyable than some of the coverage today. I liked when they played with the exact amount of the buy-in, as it made the whole thing seem much more "real" than the astronomical amounts you see nowadays.
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Old 08-28-2013, 01:46 PM   #21
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Awesome post.

RIP Wizard
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Old 09-12-2013, 12:25 AM   #22
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Awesome read!
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Old 09-12-2013, 01:01 AM   #23
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Being from Texas I had heard a many stories about this man though I can't confirm or deny any of em. I just watched the intro to the 1979 and I loved it. I remember well the 1st time I drove into Binions circle valet by the poker room and taking the elevator upstairs to the tournament area.
Looking fwd to watching this video
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Old 09-12-2013, 03:01 AM   #24
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

The interview is IMO by far the most valuable section of Harrington's books. It's worth reading over and over again.
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Old 09-12-2013, 03:05 AM   #25
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Re: Interview with Bobby Hoff

Originally Posted by abracadabrab View Post
Great read. Like how he ripped Negreanu but gave praise to Esfiandri, Spirit Rock, Seidel. Very informative and entertaining interview. Remember a lot of this stuff from his appearance on cash plays (or deuce plays, can't remember which one) with Bart Hanson.

And Gabe Thaler! Dude was a big fixture in those Commerce games of the late 90's/early 00's. Remember listening to his Cash Plays (Or Deuce Plays) with Bart Hanson like 10+ times.
Have played many a time with Daniel, Magician and Eric. The latter two can really play. Daniel has improved greatly over the years to where he's almost as good as Antonio or Eric. He's always been a B to B+ talent in my eyes, but he gets a lot of points for having the passion to keep working hard on his game.

Only played tourney a couple of times with Gabe when he was starting out in LA. If Bobby liked his game., that's good enough for me.
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