Remembering Sailor Roberts (2012 Poker Hall of Fame Inductee)
Note: Melissa Hayden took this outstanding photograph of the late Sailor Roberts just before he passed away in 1995. It is believed to be the last photo of the 1975 world poker champion. Thanks to Melissa for providing this photo.
What follows are my remarks given at Sailor Roberts’ official induction ceremony, which took place on Ocober 30, 2012 at the Rio Las Vegas.
When I first heard that Bryan “Sailor” Roberts was to be inducted into this year’s Poker Hall of Fame, frankly – I was a bit surprised.
As someone who reveres our game’s rich and colorful history, I feared that Sailor’s window of opportunity had long since passed.
I was afraid that Sailor had become largely forgotten by history – destined for obscurity, a casualty in the new modern poker age of television cameras and Twitter.
To the contrary.
Sailor’s induction today reaffirms the notion that it’s never too late to recognize greatness. It’s never too late to honor and celebrate those who are most deserving. It’s never too late to do the right thing.
Bryan W. Roberts was born in Portland, Oregon in 1931. His family moved to the plains of Texas where he grew up in the town of San Angelo. At age 20, Roberts enlisted in the United States Navy, where he acquired the notable nickname that would stick with him throughout the rest of his life. Everyone started calling him “Sailor.”
After serving with distinction in the Korean War, Sailor returned to Texas where he joined what has been celebrated as the Mt. Rushmore of Poker – teaming up with Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim as they blazed a trail across the South and forever became known as poker’s first “rounders.”
Sailor sure led a colorful life.
Aside from poker, he was an exceptional contract bridge player. He also loved to bet on sports. Sailor also took a little action, you might say. During the mid-1960s, that creative business vocation led to a few years, where – let’s just say – Sailor was given “free room and board, courtesy of the federal government.”
Sailor survived in an era when the real challenge of playing in backroom poker games was – as Doyle once famously said – was not just winning the money, but somehow getting out of the door alive with it.
Well, Sailor did a lot more than just get the money, most of the time. He was one of the early pioneers who was a constant source of entertainment and amusement for those who were fortunate enough – or some might say foolish enough – to sit down in a poker game with him. What fool would sit down at a poker table and play against Sailor, you might ask?
Well, you’re looking at one.
I played poker with Sailor once. And you want to talk about being dumb – I didn’t even know who he was at the time. It was a private game run by the late Johnny Wheeler off of LBJ freeway in North Dallas. It was 1986, and I was just a punk kid who was in way over his head. Bill Smith from Dallas sat in that game. We all knew Bill, because he’d won the WSOP Main Event the year before. Then, there was also this tall man with curly hair that someone said used to be a pro football player. He went by his initials. “TJ,” I think they used to call him. Then, there was the chain smoking, hard-drinking crusty older man they used to call “Sailor,” who always had a joke or a great comeback to go along with his check raise. Needless to say, I lost my ass. Those three guys cut up my last $200 like vultures.
Well, if there’s such a thing as revenge for my stupidity, it’s standing before you now and being given the honor of celebrating the man who won two WSOP gold bracelets, including the 1975 world championship.
Sailor won several other poker events during his career, including events held that the Grand Prix of Poker and Super Bowl of Poker. But Sailor’s legacy was solidified as something that is much tougher to quantify – as a cash game player, where he not only thrived, but took the game to a new standard of excellence, all while telling jokes and flashing that smile that was so disarming, and yet so dangerous.
Sadly, Sailor Roberts passed away in 1995. Before Sailor’s induction was announced to the world, Doyle Brunson made the following statement about his good friend, Sailor. I think this quote really says it all:
Doyle said – “Outside of Chip Reese, Sailor was the best player in multiple games that I have ever seen. Sailor was truly and artist when it game to the game of Lowball, and has the best insight of any player I’ve ever played with – be it modern days or old-school days. He devised devious ways to win pots in the most unorthodox fashion.”
I’ve always believed you can judge a man by the friends he has and the company he keeps.
If the character of the man I am about to introduce to you is any indication of the kind of person he was, then Sailor was not just a prince, but a king among kings, and a giant among giants.
On behalf of the 15 members of the poker media who are entrusted with votes for the Poker Hall of Fame, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce the man who will be accepting this honor in Sailor’s memory. He made the WSOP Main Event final table seven times, more than any player in history. He finished second twice in the world championship, finishing as runner up to Johnny Moss in 1974 and Bobby Baldwin in 1978. He also won the very first WSOP-type event back in 1969, which was the predecessor to what we celebrate here today.He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame – Class of 2005.
He flew all the way from his home in San Antonio to accept this honor on behalf of Sailor – please welcome the great Crandell Addington.