The poker world was saddened today by news of the death of Robert “Bobby” Hoff, a four-decade veteran of the professional poker scene and a part of the wave of famed Texas gamblers that helped put poker on the gambling map. Hoff’s sudden passing appeared unexpected among veterans of the game, who quickly offered condolences. The specific cause of Hoff’s passing has not yet been released.
Hoff, 73, was born in 1939 in Victoria, Texas, near Houston, and came into poker after abandoning his original pastime, golf. Hoff was a star high-school golfer who earned a scholarship to the University of Texas, though he soon caught the gambling bug deeper through college poker games, where he excelled. Hoff’s love of the game led him to gamble away his bankroll of several different occasions in his early gambling years, before he became part of a blackjack team that worked Nevada casinos in the ’60s and early ’70s.
When that team’s card-counting run ended after several years, Hoff returned to poker, where he learned from some of poker’s early legends including Sailor Roberts, a fellow Texan who often backed Hoff early on in Hoff’s career. Soon Hoff held his own, and though he was widely recognized as one of the best no-limit hold ’em cash-game players ever, his larger fame came from being involved in a legendary 12-hour, heads-up match against Hal Fowler for the 1979 World Series of Poker main event title.
The smart money backed Fowler in that showdown, who along with Fowler were the final survivors of a final table that included Johnny Moss, Bobby Baldwin and Crandall Addington. Fowler was the dead money of the group, an upstart player who enjoyed a nevere-nding run of made draws and other great cards that continued through the tourney’s conclusion.
The ’79 main event’s final hand became one of early tournament poker’s legendary moments, with an all-in Hoff a heavy favorite to double up with pocket aces against Fowler, who called a flop raise by Hoff (for nearly half of Hoff’s remaining stack) with nothing but a gutshot straight draw, which Fowler filled by spiking a four on the turn. By that point Hoff was long since committed to the pot, and stared on in quiet disbelief as Fowler revealed his made straight after the river card was dealt.
Hoff’s $108,000 runner-up cash would remain the largest of his tournament-poker career, though he made many times that at the cash tables. Hoff played a light tourney schedule for nearly four decades, amassing 13 WSOP cashes (Hoff’s Wiki page incorrectly lists him with 11, at last check), and over $460,000 in official tournament earnings. Hoff never won a WSOP bracelet, but finished second on two occasions (including the 1979 main event), and cashed in the main event on five separate occasions.
Hoff made occasional tournament appearances in his later years as well, including participating in 2005’s second season of the Poker SuperStars Invitational, which aired on Fox Sports Net in the US and on other cable networks worldwide.
Hoff suffered a stroke in 2010 and left the game for a short while to recuperate in Texas, though he was able to return to poker in 2011 and remained an active player until his death. In his later years, Hoff resided most often in Palm Springs, California, east of Los Angeles.
No official arrangements have been announced regarding Hoff’s passing. Among the pros offering their brief condolences on social media were Erik Seidel, Doyle Brunson, Mike Sexton, Phil Hellmuth, Todd Brunson, Melissa Hayden and others. Wrote Seidel, “Sad to hear about Bobby Hoff. He was a true NL artist + a pleasure to [see] at + away from table.”
Sexton referred to him as a “poker legend,” while numerous younger players who befriended Hoff in later years, including Brett Richey and Christian Harder, offered similar sentiments.