LAS VEGAS — The World Series of Poker kicks off again on Sunday. Last November, the event wrapped up its 42nd year with more than 8,600 players competing for the Main Event championship.
In the early years, the event only had dozens of entrants, and Tulsa native Bobby Baldwin has witnessed the transformation over the years with a poker career that has taken him from the Oklahoma and Texas poker backroom to the Las Vegas casino board
Baldwin is one of the biggest names in poker, taking part in the poker World Series in its early years and winning its Main Event in 1978 for $210,000. He was only 28 years old then, the youngest Main Event winner at that time.
Growing up in southeast Tulsa in the 1960s, Baldwin wasn't interested in much except playing pool and playing poker.
“I played pool at a place called Brookside Billiards,” he says. “They had a poker game in the back room. After some period of time I couldn't get a pool game anymore. I was a winning player at the time and just hung out at the pool hall, and then I became interested in the card game. When I was about 15 I joined in the game, and I lost every time I played.”
After graduating from Memorial High School in 1968, Baldwin studied business administration at Oklahoma State.
He continued to play poker in college, slowly improving his game and eventually quitting in his fourth year to pursue poker full-time, mostly in Texas and Oklahoma City.
In 1975, he began playing cards regularly in Vegas, culminating with his WSOP championship three years later.
“When you're 28 you think that you're going to win every time you play, but I was obviously happy to win the World Series of Poker. There were 43 players at that time — nowadays they have 8,000 players,” he said. “I didn't drink at the time, so there wasn't much celebrating. It was just packing up the money and trying to get it to the bank.”
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Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Rockwall, Texas, and editor of www.Poker