The Sailor and the Owl

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Doyle, Slim, Sailor, and Johnny were the big names in poker when I was playing on the road, fading the white line on the Southern poker circuit from Dallas to Shreveport and points in between. Sailor Roberts was a famous player who did more for down-and-out players than anybody else. If a guy was down on his luck, it was nothing for Sailor to give him a bankroll at any time. Just ask Bobby Hoff, Carl McKelvey, Steve Lott, and all the other guys who played with him how many people Sailor helped out during his lifetime. He helped Bill Smith a thousand times if he helped him once, because there was one thing about Bill — he could never stay in money.

Sailor could do more with a 5-4 than any man alive. He would show you that 5-4 three or four times, and the next time he raised, you would think that he had it again — and then he would show you those two eyeballs! And, boy, did Sailor love the girls and the parties. I remember one time when he was older and drove to San Angelo, Texas, to play poker. Over about a three-month period of time, Sailor beat the game out of $85,000 — and it wasn’t a big game, just a small pot-limit hold’em game with $5-$10 blinds. But by the time he left town, he had less money than he had brought to town with him — that’s how much he liked to party with the girls. I mean, he was a party animal. He loved three things: playing golf, playing poker, and going out with the girls. And I’m here to tell you that the good times took him for every dime he had. I liked the girls, too, but I wasn’t into “ladies of the night” or anything like that, whereas Sailor liked all kinds of girls. While he was a take-off specialist in poker at the ladies were taking him off. And Sailor knew it but he didn’t care — he just wanted to live life to the fullest. In 1975 he went to Vegas for the World Series of Poker and won the championship. Sailor was a great guy, and I looked up to him with respect.


At our games in Dallas, we also played with Bobby Baldwin, who played mostly in Oklahoma but occasionally came down to Texas to play. Even as a kid, Bobby was a good player. We called him “The Owl” for just one reason — he could read hands better than anybody else. And you know how an owl is supposed to be very wise? Well, Bobby Hoff used to say that Baldwin was a 15 percent better poker player than any man alive, and that’s quite a compliment. If someone is even 1 percent better, that’s something, so 15 percent better is pretty strong. He even taught a course in poker one year at Tulsa University, an elective class presented by “Professor” Bobby Baldwin.

Maybe I’ve told some of you about the time Bobby was playing Mike Akins heads up in no-limit hold’em. On fifth street Mike had about $5,000 or $6,000 left in his stack. He was just starting to bet it all when Bobby said to him, “Mike, don’t bet it. I’ve got a queen high, no pair, and I’m gonna call you if you bet.” Mike shoved it in anyway, and Bobby shoved it in. Bobby then showed him queen high, and Bobby took the pot.

That happened back in the old days when Bobby was still called “The Owl.” He won the World Series championship in 1978 against Crandall Addington, and came in seventh three years later when Stuey Ungar won it for the second time in a row. Of course, Bobby is a major casino executive today and doesn’t play much poker anymore, but when he was playing full time and was in his prime, he was the best in the world at putting a man on a hand. Bobby Baldwin was a great player. diamonds


Editor’s note: T.J. Cloutier, the all-time leading money winner at the World Series of Poker, is the co-author (with Tom McEvoy) of Championship Hold’em, Championship No-Limit & Pot-Limit Hold’em, and Championship Omaha. All of his books are available through Card Player. For more details, visit Cloutier may be reached via E-mail at