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Bobby Hoff: A Poker Legend Passes

by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: Oct 16, 2013


Bob CiaffoneBobby Hoff will be written about by a number of poker people. I will leave a description of his up and down personal life to others. I would like to write about how he was seen by his poker friends, and how he played the game of poker.

I knew Bobby Hoff, whose nickname was “the Wizard,” for a long time, and played in a fair amount of no-limit hold’em cash games where he was also playing. When we were both in the Los Angeles area, I got to know him quite well, since we hung out in the same circle of friends who enjoyed each other’s company. Our get-togethers for food and drink were often in the company of Dan Harrington and Steve Lott, two of the toughest cash-game players on the planet. I can tell you that for those of us who knew Bobby well, it was impossible to not like him. He was a quite intelligent and witty person who was always in a good mood when with his friends. Of course, he always had a plentiful supply of poker stories, many involving people who were members of the Poker Hall of Fame. I hope he will be joining that illustrious group soon, because he clearly deserves that high status in the poker world.

I first met Bobby in the late 70s, a year or two before he finished second in the 1979 World Series of Poker championship event. The Golden Nugget card room in Las Vegas was hosting a no-limit hold’em poker tournament. At this time, there was not a single no-limit casino money game in Las Vegas. I had gone up to Reno for a week to learn how to play no-limit, where the Reno Horseshoe had a regular no-limit game, the only one anywhere in Nevada. Bobby and I were two of the players that had made it to the last table.

Everyone in the tournament knew who Bobby was, and that he played a fine game of poker. Someone at the table suggested that we all whack up the prize fund according to chips, which would have been fine with me. Everyone agreed to split the money, except for one player — Bobby Hoff. Bobby had more chips than the next two players combined. He pointed out that the talent at the table was not equally divided, so to settle according to the chip count was not fair. He wanted to get paid some extra money to agree to the deal. I do not remember how much the extra bonus for Bobby was, but no one thought his request improper. So we all pitched in quite readily to pay Bobby his bonus. He had not asked for much, and we were happy to pay it.

Bobby had the respect of every player in the no-limit games he frequented. Here is what Phil “Doc” Earle, one of the regulars in the Houston poker scene, wrote about him.

“Bobby Hoff was the most polished and accomplished ring game player, whether the poker game was no-limit or pot-limit hold’em. He was a first class gentleman, with the mildest demeanor of any poker player I ever played with.”

Over the years, I played in quite a few no-limit cash games with Bobby. I always enjoyed playing in the same games with him, because he was not only a friend, but also one of those players who could really get the game stirred up.

If one were to try to describe how Hoff played no-limit, I would say that he played position more strongly than anyone I knew. When in the cutoff or button seat, the only thing he needed to raise the pot was two cards. A 7-6 offsuit made him feel that he was pretty lucky to pick up such a playable holding when in that spot, and was plenty enough hand to raise with. Doyle Brunson claimed that all he (Doyle) needed to beat a game was to have position. Bobby and Doyle used to run around together, so maybe that is where Bobby picked up on the idea that position was far more important than your hand. At any rate, Hoff made it work for himself. My opinion is that you have to be one hell of a poker player to play poker the way Bobby did. I was one of his admirers, but certainly not a Hoff disciple. In fact, I don’t think he had any disciples.

Another characteristic of Bobby was that he absolutely hated to show down a hand that had no chance to win. Maybe he had seen too many times where a small bet would have won the pot because the opponent had been on a draw and busted out. He would often make a play for the pot on the end with some type of bet rather than give up. As he told me, you only need to win about one pot out of five to break even doing this.

Here is an email sent to me from Carl McKelvey, one of the toughest players around in no-limit hold’em cash games, and a good friend of Bobby Hoff’s.

“In the Summer of 1995, Bobby and I traveled to London for the European Championship being held at the Victoria Club. We were interested in playing in the £5-£10 pound pot-limit hold’em game that they had just started playing at the Vic. There was quite a mix of players. At that time, the Brits were behind the American players playing hold’em, but advanced playing pot-limit Omaha. One thing going for them was they all played pot-limit no matter what the game, for there was not a limit game in the house.

I remember one player who was a distinguished British gentlemen, dressed very well, and playing extremely tight. His lovely wife sitting behind him. When dinner time came, he had run his chips up to make him big winner. As he was raking up his chips to go to dinner, he was dealt a hand in which he quickly raised the pot, and Bobby immediately called the raise (and I didn’t think Bobby really looked at his holecards). At that time, I knew the British gent was in serious trouble. The flop came, the gent bet, and Bobby called. After the turn, the gent bet again, and Bobby called, and on the river the gent bet again. Bobby, being the master he was, came over the top with a rack of chips.  The Brit studied the longest time, and said, “Dear will be late for dinner,” and mucked his hand. Later on, I asked the Wizard if he had ever looked at his holecards, and Bobby said on that hand he had no idea what he was holding.

After three weeks of play, Bobby had won £80,000. He was in dead stroke, every bluff worked, and when called, he showed them a hand. It was sight to witness, and I had a front row seat. All the Brits were saying, “I don’t know much about Doyle Brunson, but the Wizard has got to be the best player we’ve ever seen.” ♠

Bob Ciaffone’s new poker book, No-limit Holdem Poker, is now available. This is Bob’s fifth book on poker strategy. It can be ordered from Bob for $25 by emailing him at Free shipping in the lower 48 states to Card Player readers. All books autographed. Bob Ciaffone is available for poker lessons.