Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.
Bobby Baldwin is unique in a world full of unique poker players. What separates him from the rest of the bunch is that he made his mark in the world of poker before making his mark in the world of business. In other words, most poker players bring their already established “business bankroll” with them to their first big poker game. Baldwin earned his money the old fashion way like most of the old school gamblers – from gambling. I know that sounds like a novel concept, but there aren’t many people out there that can say that they climbed their way to the top in the same fashion that Bobby Baldwin did.
Baldwin was born in 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Unlike many of the earlier players we have revisited in our “Where Are They Now” series, Baldwin grew up relatively well off. His parents were able to provide enough opportunities for him as a youth that if he would have so chosen, he would never have had to gamble in an attempt to make a better lot for himself. Still, at age 12 he began his descent into gambling. One thing that he does have in common with other gamblers is that the first time he gambled he felt a rush that was unmatched to anything else he had ever experienced. Regardless of losing his meager pre-teen bankroll to his friends in a variety of card games, he knew he was hooked.
Despite being a fan of poker, he fell in love with pool shortly after his first foray into gambling. Another aspect that set Baldwin apart from other gamblers is that he never had a desire to “hustle” other players. He always believed in playing his best game all of the time, a trait that no doubt helped him succeed in being the person he is today. Baldwin has been quoted as saying, “I don't believe in hustling, in the old-school idea of misrepresenting your talent and then taking advantage of your opponent's misguided idea that they are better than you.” Imagine if he would have told that to such famous hustlers as Slim Preston and Puggy Pearson. They would have laughed him all the way back to Tulsa.
While attending college at Oklahoma State University in 1970, Baldwin and a group of gambling buddies took their entire $5,000 dollar bankroll that they had earned playing pool and poker, and decided to take a trip to Las Vegas. Within hours of touching down in Vegas, Baldwin and the gang proceeded to lose it all. Baldwin was able to talk The Aladdin casino into giving him $500 dollars in credit. Within a few chips of that being gone, Baldwin went on a winning streak that included winning $180,000 before heading back to Tulsa.
Baldwin tried his best to take care of his new found bankroll, but that was a task that was easier said than done. Baldwin was hooked on the idea of sports betting, primarily the NFL, and spent the majority of the rest of his time in college trying to beat it. In a tumultuous three months, between poker, pool, and sports betting, he had lost it all. In that time he had married his high school sweetheart as well, but in less than a year they got a divorce. The future was no longer looking bright for Baldwin.
With a new wife in tow who accepted his lifestyle more than his first, he once again attempted to revive his bankroll, this time focusing primarily on cards. He vowed to give up sports betting for good after the debacle, and has stayed true to his word. He hit the southern poker circuit, and for the first time began taking notes on what other players were doing, especially winning players like Preston and Pearson, who he ran into quite a bit along the road. Doyle Brunson was also among the players Baldwin met, and through word of mouth he had heard Baldwin was probably just getting lucky and wanted to have a shot at him. Brunson has said of that initial meeting, “I couldn’t wait to get this new kid, Bobby Baldwin, across the table from me, but before I knew what was happening in our first meeting, I was stuck $40,000.”
In the next few years, from 1977 to 1979, Baldwin went on a tear in the World Series of Poker circuit that cemented his place in the Poker Hall of Fame. In 1977 he won two of his four bracelets in the Seven Card Stud and Deuce to Seven Draw events. Brunson was so impressed with the performance that he asked Baldwin to pen a few chapters in his book, “Super System.” His varying array of skills at every card game definitely got the attention of the “Godfather of Poker.” However, Baldwin wasn’t done. In the following year he won the main event and followed that up in 1979 with a second victory in the Deuce to Seven Draw event. Four major tournament victories in three years, he was surely on the path to a long profitable career in poker, right? Wrong.
Shortly after winning the last of his four bracelets, he announced that he would be pursuing a career in the gambling industry. Poker friends thought he was just going to try to use his name to make a few extra bucks at the casino, but Baldwin had no desire to do that. He really wanted to be a real part of it, not just a marketing device. In 1982 he began his second career when he accepted a job as a consultant at the Golden Nugget casino and became friends with Steve Wynn.
In the same way he showed his desire to excel at the poker table, he rolled over the corporate world, becoming president of the Golden Nugget in just three years. In the following years he would become president at both the Mirage and Bellagio. In 2000 he received his biggest score in his entire life when he signed on as President and CEO of Steve Wynn’s Mandalay Resort group. With that came a seven million dollar contract, dwarfing anything he had ever made at the poker table. In 2005 he added CEO and president to his resume when he moved to head Project City Center.
During 1994, Baldwin played a lot of late night poker at the Mirage. This was during the time period that Archie Karras went on his miraculous winning streak and the late night, high limit action was on. Eventually Baldwin stopped playing live poker in any of the casinos that he was affiliated with until 2007 when he played in Bobby’s Room – a private, high limit, poker salon inside Bellagio’s poker room. Baldwin plays tournaments from time to time. During the time period that he didn’t play in casinos he was affiliated with, he met Chip Reese, Doyle Brunson, Chau Giang, and others at small casinos around Las Vegas, including Sam’s Town. Doug Dalton, Bellagio’s poker room manager, was known to meet the poker playing group and spend time with them when they frequented other rooms in Vegas. Bobby is still considered by many, including Brunson, to be one of the greatest living poker players. His weakness at the table seems to stem more from a lack of practice than a lack of skill.
In 2003 Baldwin was elected to the Poker Hall of Fame.
Baldwin’s natural smarts and his work ethic got him to the top in two totally different jobs, and that should be in inspiration to both poker players and business executives in the making.
*Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled here are obviously deceased.*