This is the third article in a 10-part series taking a look at the World Series of Poker champions from the very first to the most recent and at what they've done since in the world of poker.
We've looked at the eight champions who have died since becoming poker's world champion, but there are plenty of winners left who continue to make a mark on the poker world.
This week explores the earliest living winners who took down the Main Event in the '70s, including Bobby Baldwin.
WSOP Champs: Where Are They Now?
Amarillo Slim Preston (1972)
There have been many champions over the years and many "characters" in the game of poker, but Amarillo Slim was one of the first to get noticed by the mainstream public.
The self-proclaimed best gambler who ever lived won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 1972, taking out Puggy Pearson in heads-up play. The top prize was a now-paltry $80,000, but Slim managed to parlay his win into fame and popularity.
He turned his reputation as a golden-tongued gambler into lucrative sponsorship deals following his win. He also made appearances on national television shows such as 60 Minutes and Good Morning America.
It was rare in those days for someone involved in such a shady occupation as playing poker to be welcomed by the mainstream media as Preston was. In that way, he played a big part in bringing the early years of the WSOP to the attention of the average public.
Some of the results of his fame included the introduction of his own "Super Bowl of Poker" tournament that ran for years at a few locations in Nevada, plus the release of his book Play Poker to Win in 1973. He also made a cameo appearance in Robert Altman's film California Split.
After years of being a prominent figure in the game of poker, which includes winning four WSOP bracelets, Preston has been quieter on the poker scene in more recent years.
In 1992 he was inducted into the WSOP Hall of Fame, but he continued to cash in WSOP events and other tournaments around the world. In 2002 he nearly made the final table of two different Omaha events, hitting the rail in 16th and 17th place. It wasn't until 2007 that he made his mark at the WSOP once again with a cash in the Seniors event.
He may not be the face of the game that he once was, but Amarillo Slim continues to play the game that made him famous. According to an interview at the 2007 WSOP, Preston has played in nearly all the championship events of the WSOP since it began. Even if there were good odds given, it's probably not safe to bet against Amarillo Slim being at the 2008 WSOP as well.
Doyle Brunson (1976, 1977)
If you polled the poker players of the world, there's probably not much doubt whom they'd list as the top living legend of the game. Doyle Brunson has lived and breathed poker for pretty much his entire adult life, and winning back-to-back WSOP championships in 1976 and 1977 was just the start of an amazing tournament career for him.
Only two other players have been able to duplicate his back-to-back wins - Stu Ungar and Johnny Chan - which just goes to show the caliber of play it takes to achieve such a triumph. His mark on the World Series extends way beyond the double championship win, however.
Doyle is also a 10-bracelet winner, a record he shares with Johnny Chan, which is only surpassed by Phil Hellmuth. What's really impressive is that he's won bracelets both pre- and post-poker boom.
His first six bracelets were all picked up within four years. The two years he won the championship, he also won another event each year, giving him four, and he followed that up in 1978 and 1979 with a win each year.
He won two more bracelets in the 1990s, and then the poker boom hit with Chris Moneymaker winning the WSOP Main Event in 2003. That same year, Brunson picked up his ninth bracelet and could very easily have retired from tournament play a legend at that point, thereby avoiding the increased pressure of larger player fields and younger players.
Retirement, Brunson says, will come when he quits winning. In 2005, he proved that his game could evolve and compete among the growing playing fields by winning his 10th WSOP bracelet.
His success at the World Series and other tournaments around the world isn't the only mark Brunson has made on the poker world. The Texas Dolly has also penned a few poker books over the years. The first, Super/System, published in 1979, is considered a must-have for any serious poker player.
Since then he's published Super/System 2 as well as a book of memoirs and a book about the greatest hands he's ever seen.
Brunson's interests have also expanded from live poker and the publishing world into the Internet realm. He owns and endorses an online gaming site, DoylesRoom.com, where he and some of the other top players of the game play on a regular basis.
Brunson has proved that an old dog can learn new tricks, as he's managed to stay relevant and influential in the poker industry. However, he once told PokerListings.com in an interview, "I don't consider myself to be anything besides a poker player. I'm just fortunate that I've been able to survive all this time and seen it all evolve to this point, and I just feel very grateful."
Bobby Baldwin (1978)
A shrewd poker player, Bobby Baldwin knew how to play his cards right both at and away from the poker table.
In the late 1970s he took the tournament poker world by storm. He'd been on the Vegas cash game scene for a few years, taking on some of the biggest names in poker. Brunson once joked that he couldn't wait to get Baldwin across the table from him, but after their first meeting he was stuck $40,000.
His appreciation for the young player grew, and Brunson asked Baldwin to write the Limit Hold'em section of Super/System. By the time the book came out in 1979, Baldwin had picked up two WSOP bracelets in 1977 and won the 1978 Main Event.
Winning three events in two years and authoring a section of a poker legend's book is quite an accomplishment for a 26-year-old. And Baldwin didn't stop there.
In 1979 he picked up a fourth bracelet at the World Series of Poker and cashed in six more WSOP events by the end of the 1982 series before surprising his poker peers by taking a job with Steve Wynn at the Golden Nugget.
There he influenced the world of poker from a different angle with the shaping of casinos. He started out his new job by revamping the casino's cardroom and then took on other projects from there. In 1984 he was promoted to president and CEO of the Golden Nugget.
In 1989 he was given even more responsibility with the design, development and operation of three major properties on the Las Vegas Strip: The Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio. He held that position until May 2005.
Baldwin was also appointed president and CEO of Mirage Resorts Inc. when Steve Wynn sold his holdings in the company to Kirk Kirkorian in 2000. It's been reported that Baldwin's bonus for signing a contract to stay with the company once Kirkorian took over was more than $7 million.
The casinos under Baldwin's purview as the president of Mirage Resorts are Bellagio, The Mirage, Treasure Island, New York-New York, Monte Carlo, Circus Circus, Slots-A-Fun and Boardwalk Hotel and Casino, all in Las Vegas; Circus-Circus and Silver Legacy in Reno, and Gold Strike and Beau Rivage in Mississippi.
Baldwin was also appointed to the MGM Mirage board of directors in 2000, where he continues to serve as a board member.
One of Baldwin's current projects at MGM is overseeing the creation of Project CityCenter, a multibillion-dollar, mixed-use urban development project under way on the central Las Vegas Strip.
Project CityCenter is the largest privately funded development in U.S. history, according to MGM Mirage, and will create a mini-city with a casino resort and high-rise residential areas, with its own fire station, on-site power plant and lots of pedestrian space.
It is a project that could revolutionize the city of Las Vegas, and Baldwin is the man at the wheel who can make it happen.
You would think all his work for MGM would have left him with very little time for poker. However, he did continue his tournament play for several years and met with a fair amount of success. Between 1986 and 1995 he had six more cashes at the World Series of Poker.
He was inducted into the WSOP Hall of Fame in 2003, and though he may not always be at the tournament felt, you can occasionally find Baldwin playing some cash games at the Bellagio where he takes a seat with Brunson in his namesake poker room, Bobby's Room, to play in the "Big Game."
The early days of the WSOP produced many players who would be considered legends now. Next week, we'll take a look at the impact Tom McEvoy, Berry Johnston and Johnny Chan have had on the poker world since attaining champion status.
- WSOP Champions: Where Are They Now, Part 1
- WSOP Champions: Where Are They Now, Part 2
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 4
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 5
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 6
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 7
- WSOP champions: Where are they now, Part 9
- WSOP Champions: Where are they now, Part 10