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.
Some people unfortunately go their entire lives without really ever finding out what their true passion or calling was. Sure, they are interested in things from time to time, but they never really discover the satisfaction of becoming associated with something they can put their passion and excitement into it, fully devoted. In our “Where Are They Now,” series this certainly isn’t the case with most of our subjects, who realized early on that they were going to be a card player, particularly poker, and that’s just the way it was going to be. Then there are others who take playing games to a new level, focusing their entire life on the entire subject of game playing, as opposed to just one particular game. Bob Ciaffone fits that description well, having made a life out of playing, teaching, and writing about games, games, and more games. Although there is really no category for such a thing, it’s possible that Ciaffone is one of the best game players in the world, while also being a proponent of how to make those games better, particularly poker. Ciaffone’s story doesn’t read like many of the other stories in our series, but it is surely just as interesting.
Robert Ciaffone was born in Brooklyn, New York on December 10, 1940. When he was just three years old his family moved to Saginaw, Michigan, the town Ciaffone calls home today. When most children were playing with action figures, Ciaffone was already learning the intricacies of chess at only four years old. A local chess champion in his youth, he began to expand his game playing by the age of nine, when he first started playing poker. While still concentrating on his chess career he didn’t devote much time to poker, but that’s something that would change in just a few short years. Finally Ciaffone’s other love, of which there were many, came at the age of 15 when he started to play Bridge.
Despite his early love affair with all of these games he, along with his parents, agreed that a proper education should come first. Ciaffone was also a smart student, enrolling to the University of Notre Dame. At Notre Dame Ciaffone was at the top of his class as a freshman, but yet another game had garnered his attention. Ciaffone discovered pool and that he was good at it. Throughout his first year in college the call of the pool hall, and the subsequent money that came from hustling pool that came with it, was too much for the young Ciaffone. He had never seen that type of money before, and it was hard to focus on getting an education for a job when he was seemingly already making all the money he would need. Ciaffone eventually got a part-time job teaching, but for the most part, his years as a young adult were supported by his pool playing.
“The Coach” earned that nickname when he took a job coaching a Bridge Team around 1970. Ciaffone also founded the “Cavendish North Bridge and Backgammon Club” which existed from 1975 to 1980. While coaching this team he learned of himself that he had an innate ability to teach games to people, and kept this in the back of his head as he got older.
While coaching Bridge, Ciaffone also dropped the pool stick for a Backgammon board. Much like Dan Harrington in the same era, Ciaffone began supporting himself in this game by challenging local players in cash games and playing, and usually winning, high stakes tournaments. Also, much like Harrington, when these games started to dry out in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Ciaffone was forced with finding a new way to make money from games.
This is when Ciaffone turned towards poker. He began a new career making money from poker, but instead of just playing it this time, he also started writing poker books and teaching others how to play the game, a practice he continues today. Proving that the teacher knows what he is talking about, Ciaffone finished third in the 1987 World Series of Poker Main Event, netting him $125,000. All said, Ciaffone has placed in the money in five WSOP events.
Despite his high finish in the No Limit Hold’em Main Event that year, Ciaffone considers his best game Omaha, a subject on which he has written a book that is a must read for beginners of the game “Omaha Hold’em Poker.” A distinction Ciaffone seems to take as much pride in as finishing third in the “big one” is when in the 1980’s a magazine labeled Ciaffone the third best Omaha player in the world.
Also during this time, particularly 1984, Ciaffone authored the book “Robert’s Rules of Poker,” which became the authority of rules of all variations of poker. His rules have been implemented in many of the top casino’s since the mid 80’s, including the Las Vegas Hilton, and The Mirage. The book goes into great detail, spending chapters on “Proper Behavior,” and “House Policies.”
Ciaffone is also widely regarded as the authority when it comes to state laws in poker. One of his main goals regarding state laws is to get them changed to be more up to date. He has pointed out that many of the laws surrounding poker were made in the 1800’s when the game had much different connotations surrounding it. However, because these rules have never been explored since their inception, many states have rules that don’t even appear to make sense in the modern day of poker. Ciaffone’s “Fair Laws of Poker,” can be visited at FairLawsofPoker.org.
Ciaffone is a solo author of five poker books, and has contributed to over a dozen other gaming books. Ciaffone is also a regular contributed to CardPlayer magazine. Ciaffone also enjoys writing in general, often writing short stories, and has published two fiction stories and also enjoys writing poetry. Ciaffone also has stayed close to his first love of chess, writing two books on the subject, even becoming the president of the Michigan Chess Association in the year 2003.
Now in his mid 60’s Ciaffone shows no signs of slowing down. He keeps a full slate daily, contributing to the magazine, updating his website and continuing to write books. More about “The Coach” can be viewed at Bob Ciaffone’s personal website.