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Bobby Hoff: One Of The Greats

by Bob Ciaffone |  Published: Nov 13, 2013

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Bob CiaffoneAlthough Bobby Hoff came within one hand of becoming the 1979 World Series of Poker main event champion, he was an even better no-limit hold’em cash-game player than he was a tournament player. The reason is simple. The deeper the stacks, the better Bobby played. His death ended the career of a man who may well have been the most feared money-poker player of all time.

Let me give you an example from my own gambling with Bobby to show you why I say this. I remember — not fondly — a deal that I played against Bobby in a cash game down in Mississippi at the Gold Strike. Bobby and I were heads-up in a pot and he bet out at the river. I did not have anything, but I did not think he had a good hand, so I raised him nearly a grand. Bobby quickly put me all-in for the rest of my stack. After I folded, he showed me his hand. My “nothing” was actually the best hand! This is the only time I can ever remember losing a pot by someone bluffing me when I had raised on the end. The vast majority of the time when I raise on the end, my opponents put me on the nuts. I cannot say they are wrong to do so. Hoff is the only person who has ever tried to bluff me in that spot. There is no poker move he would fail to make if he thought that it would win the pot.

Here is an email that I received from Steve Lott, a good friend of Bobby Hoff’s and also a terrific no-limit cash-game player himself.

“In many games and sports, a great defense is a necessary ingredient for success. So it is with poker. Bobby Hoff had great defense in poker in his variety in preflop hand selection (that would include 6-3 offsuit in spots) and position (acting after the opponent, especially on his bad hands). After the flop, I never played with anyone more calculatingly aggressive. Not random or impulsive aggression; calculated. He attacked, attacked, and attacked, then attacked again. He could win more money with an overpair or break someone who held one for more money than anyone I ever saw play. He bluffed opponents so often they simply couldn’t release hands against him. His style of play had opponents remembering his big bluffs and forgetting the hands he held, and he kept the bluffs and good hands in perfect proportion. Opponents won many battles against Wiz — they won no wars!

“I can use the game of golf as an analogy to describe Hoff’s results and how they were achieved. (This is appropriate, as Bobby had been a University of Texas golf scholarship player.) When playing against tough opponents under lots of pressure on tough courses, you have bad holes — so what. No one was better at hitting the shot (playing the hand), accepting the consequences, and doing what was best with the next shot (hand). In poker, Wiz made bogeys, and sometimes doubles, but he was a birdie and eagle machine. It is your overall score that counts. When Bobby was in stroke, he would win mountains of money. And most of the time he was in stroke.

“If the game got to be shorthanded, like it can get at the end of a long session when only Bobby and the people who were stuck were left, Hoff crucified the game. If money were food, Bobby never had enough to be sated. They quit him; he never quit them. His best poker talent was shorthanded play.”

Here is an excerpt from an email I received from Phil “Doc” Earle, a friend of Bobby’s who had played a lot of hold’em with him down in Houston at Jesse Alto’s game.

“Bobby exuded a confidence in his own play and ability that was to me unnerving. When I got involved in a hand with him, it wasn’t like with other players, who never made me feel like I thought they knew what hand I had. Hoff would make me stop thinking about my hand and what I wanted to do with it and think about that he knows my hand and what am going to do now. He’d freeze me. I’d be trying not to show that to him, but he knew! I couldn’t do anything about it and I couldn’t outplay him, so I had to steer clear of him any time I played with him.

“We became good friends later, and spent some time together when playing out-of-town games. The talks we had were most interesting; he surprised me with the depth of his analytical thinking. He was a delightful human being who made a permanent impression on me.

“Years later at the WSOP, I was playing in a pot limit hold’em game with $10-$25 blinds and doing quite nicely, with about $10,000 built up from my $2,000 buy-in. A new seat opened. I looked up and there was Bobby taking the seat. We exchanged a smile and a handshake.

“Later, an A-K suited was dealt to me in the big blind. Bobby made a pot-sized bet and I reraised. After a slight hesitation, Bobby called. The flop, to my amazement, was A-K-K. I decided to lead into to him, looking like I got an ace. Bobby called. The turn was a blank, so now I thought since I had him in my trap with the flop bet, I’ll continue the same type of medium bet to keep him from folding. He called again. The river was a blank, and of course I want to get him to pay me off, so I made another medium-sized bet, praying for a call. After this bet the pot was about $5,500. I waited, and Bobby’s expression never wavered. This time he took a little longer before he reached for his chips and said, ‘I’m all-in.’ I straightened up in my chair and said, ‘What? Bobby, please don’t tell me you got two aces.’ He didn’t answer and showed no expression. I slowly, sickly, pushed the remaining $5,000 into the pot, pleading to him, ‘Don’t do it, Bobby.’ He said, ‘Sorry Doc, but that’s what I got; two aces.’ I turned up my kings-full like I wanted some pity, but I really know there is only self-pity in poker. I looked at him and said, ‘You knew what I had.’

“He said, ‘I was hoping you had an ace kicker on the turn, and on the river, I knew you did.’

“I said, ‘Well, nothing’s changed, except for one thing. I forgot to stay the hell away from you.’”

Bobby Hoff clearly belongs in the Poker Hall of Fame. ♠

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 bobciaffone@gmail.com. Free shipping in the lower 48 states to Card Player readers. All books autographed. Bob Ciaffone is available for poker lessons.