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"Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers" Review

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TitleCowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers: The True Adventures of a Rodeo Champion and Poker Legend
AuthorByron Wolford and Dana Smith
Year2002 (updated 2005)
Skill LevelAny
ProsVery entertaining. The early days of rodeo and the early days of poker were equally wild, and Wolford was very adventurous.
ConsToo much rodeo and not enough poker. A little repetitious, as if the individual articles were published individually.

Table of Contents
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15Prologue by Dana Smith
20Gettin' Started on Big Indian1
46Rodeoin' and Hustlin' at the Garden2
70A Roper Ain't Nothin' Without a Good Horse3
87Ropin' and Gamblin' at Calgary4
100Ropin' with the Champions5
117Cowboy Celebrities & Other Famous Folks6
132Road Gamblers7
167A Titanic Proposition8
186Texas Gamblers9
203Trouble in River City10
233Benny and the Boys in Las Vegas11
246Rebel and Mr. Lucky12
252Vintage Las Vegas13
285The Luck of the Draw14
297The Cowboy's Poetry

Note: actual contents go one level deeper but with no page numbers.

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Byron "Cowboy" Wolford, who came in second to Jack Keller in the 1984 World Series of Poker Main Event, could have earned his poker nickname just for being from Texas, but he was actually a real cowboy. In fact, he was a better calf roper than a poker player, and his autobiography, Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers, has almost as many rodeo stories as poker stories.

More than a few top poker pros excelled at a sport before turning to poker,1 but Wolford is one of the few who reached the very top of his sport. He started doing exhibitions when he was only six years old, turned pro at fifteen, and set records at several major venues, including Madison Square Garden. At 21, he won the Champion Roper title, the equivalent of winning the National Finals today. He won the championship at the Calgary Stampede twice and was elected to the now-defunct National Rodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame. But for all that success, Wolford found the other cowboys to be easy marks and often left town having won more money playing poker than roping calves.

As he got older, he had a fairly easy decision to turn to poker full time. He'd already been running poker games in his hotel rooms and was the best poker-playing cowboy in the world. Wolford even notes the similarities between his two vocations: "Rodeos in the old days were something like poker tournaments in that we all traveled from town to town entering the competitions, paying our own expenses, and not being guaranteed a quarter. The rodeos had five to seven events and today's big tournaments might have ten to twenty or more events, including two or three limit hold 'em events with various entry fees. In both sports you can pick how many events you want to enter. And you can choose your own schedule, living wherever you want, working as much as you need, and traveling whenever you please."2

Both competitions have an entry free, prizes, and a large luck component (e.g., which calf you get and what cards you get dealt), but the skill component is the most important in the long run.

Cowboys, Gamblers and Hustlers makes a better movie script than a poker primer, but it's worth reading for the vicarious thrills of the old, untamed days of rodeo and poker.

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