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"Bobby Baldwin's Winning Poker Secrets" Review

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TitleBobby Baldwin's Winning Poker Secrets
AuthorMike Caro
Year1979 (republished in 2004)
Skill LevelAny (stories)/Beginner (strategy)
ProsVery entertaining stories alternating with very concise advice on how to play several poker variants.
ConsAdvice is a good starting point for beginners only.
Rating3.5 (stories)/2.0 (strategy)

Table of Contents
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18Taking Chances
18Mistakes to Avoid
21The End of the Road1
21Binion's Horseshoe Club -- Las Vegas (May 19, 1978)
25Bobby's Poker Debut2
25Mark's House -- Tulsa, Oklahoma
32Freeze Out
33More Money
34The End of Mark
37Five-Card Stud3
37Common Mistakes
39Final Formula
41A New Hobby4
42A Major Bust
45An Enlightenment
46The Cue Center
51Return to Doc's
57A Gold Rush6
64Hollywood, California -- A Serious Game
69Ace-to-Five Lowball7
69Common Mistakes
71Final Formula
76Common Mistakes
78Final Formula
81The Aladdin Hotel9
81Las Vegas (1970)
89Ominous Tidings10
93Seven-Stud Lowball11
93Common Mistakes
94Final Formula
97From Bad to Worse12
98The IRS Was the Least of His Concerns
99Meeting the Next Day
100A Talk with Mom and Dad
103Where's Bobby?13
111Five-Card Draw14
111Wichita, Kansas
113Common Mistakes
114Final Formula
117A Gamblers Woman15
121Obvious Tell
125High Stakes16
125Stillwater, Oklahoma
129Jose's Club
133The Biggest Loss17
133Sunday, December 16, 1973
141Hold 'Em18
141Common Mistakes
143Final Formula
145On the Road19
145Lubbock, Texas
146George's Club -- March, 1974
150Trinidad, Colorado
150Plainview, Texas
150Shreveport, Louisiana
151A Major Opportunity
155Deuce-to-Seven Low20
155Common Mistakes
156Final Formula
159Your Bankroll21
161Common Mistakes
163Final Formula
167Emergence of a Superstar22
171A Labor of Love23
177High-Low Split24
177Common Mistakes
179Final Formula
187Unsorted Secrets25
188Mixing It Up
189Be Comfortable
190Name Players
191Destructive Impulses
192More Tips
195On the Road Again26
199Whatever It Takes27

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Bobby Baldwin was at the height of his fame, having recently won the 1978 World Series of Poker Main Event, when Mike Caro interviewed him for a combination biography and strategy book called Bobby Baldwin's Winning Poker Secrets. Like most of the great poker players of his era, Baldwin's life story would make a great movie. As hazardous as poker could be to your bankroll, it was much more dangerous to your physical well-being. Baldwin went to jail at least twice, once for playing pool before he turned 16 and once for dealing an illegal poker game. But those incidents paled in comparison to the time two criminals intent on kidnapping him for ransom instead robbed everyone in the casino, fatally shooting one customer who had perhaps not-so-cleverly given them a fake wallet with only five dollars in it.

The mob controlled Las Vegas before Del Webb began transforming it into a "Wall Street town" by buying the Sahara Hotel in 1961,1 but he had always been less likely to get robbed in a casino than in a home game, which is where Baldwin had played most of his poker. He knew he could be "hijacked" by criminals who broke into the house, cheated by the people running the game, or stiffed by the losing players. But being a kidnapping target just wasn't something he expected.

The good news is that the police shot both of the crooks when then tried to get away. The bad news is that Baldwin quickly lost all the money he'd won anyway.

The book has a chapter called "Your Bankroll" that you can safely skip. Baldwin "got broke" several times, at one point being $70,000 in the red on sports bets. The chapter doesn't bother to warn you against sports wagers, where the vig will get you, or table games like craps, where you can't overcome the house's edge in the long run. In fact, the rest of the book holds more lessons in what not to do than this chapter does on what to do.

The stories, which are by far the best part of the book, also cover his low-key courtship of his second wife, Shirley. That thread is probably more educational than the bankroll chapter.

Intermingled with the story chapters are strategy chapters, each covering the basics of a poker variant he's playing. He concisely lists the four to twelve most "Common Mistakes" players make and follows with a somewhat overlapping "Final Formula" for playing the game well. These chapters are exactly what you'd want to read if you had only five minutes to learn a game you were about to play for the first time, as they're each only a few pages long. The games begin with Five-Card Stud, which was the first poker variation Baldwin played, losing his entire fortune of $6.35 at a friend's house, and go on to Ace-to-Five Lowball, Seven-Stud, Seven-Stud Lowball, Five-Card Draw, Hold 'Em, Deuce-to-Seven Draw, and High-Low Split.

Some of his best advice is tucked away at the very end of the book in the "Unsorted Secrets" chapter. For example, "You should try to specialize in one or two kinds of poker. But it pays -- it pays heavily -- to be an all-round card master."2

He also talks about mixing up your style with quick shifts, handling unknown players, dealing with very loose players, and knowing the various times when it's good or bad to bluff.

Overall, this was a quick and easy read that has aged well. The romantic era where poker was a very dangerous occupation will never be repeated, so all we can do is sit back and enjoy the show. As for the strategy parts of the book, I suspect Caro and Baldwin went out of their way not to step on Doyle Brunson's toes, since they had both just contributed to his Super System.

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