Deuce-to-Seven Draw is Billy Baxter’s favourite, but like many old-timers he’s learning the beauty of Hold’em
Billy Baxter is the picture of a successful gambler. At the age of 66, he’s snagged seven World Series of Poker bracelets, still operates as one of the world’s biggest-winning sports bettors, and is ballsy enough to have successfully sued the US government over issues related to taxation on poker winnings.
The syrupy-voiced southerner and his family live in a great house, in a pastoral Las Vegas neighbourhood, right near the legendary Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton’s domicile, and the place that used to be owned by Mike Tyson. Over the years Baxter has raked in millions of dollars and emerged as one of the classiest, savviest guys on the gambling scene.
You started playing World Series events back in 1975, when the fields were comparatively microscopic. What do you think of the massive numbers of people who now sign up to play?
I like it. One of the silliest things I’ve heard is that the entry fees should be raised because there are so many people playing. But I see those large fields as an opportunity. Create a bigger entry fee and you eliminate weak players. That knocks value out of the pool.
Back in the 1970s, before relocating to Las Vegas, you were arrested on gambling related offenses, convicted and sent to prison. But I understand that the sentence led to you winning $5,000…
When I left for prison I weighed 205lb. Jack Binion and Doyle Brunson bet me that I couldn’t get down to 165. I worked at it real hard. Then I got out and flew back to Vegas. We went to Binion’s Horseshoe and they put me on the meat scale. I weighed 162lb. So I got something out of the sentence.
You backed Stu Ungar when he famously won his fifth World Series of Poker bracelet in 1997. Did you first meet Stu after you got out of jail?
No. The first time I met Stu was right after my honeymoon in 1975. I was in the Dunes Hotel and his backers brought him to my room. They sat him on a Coca Cola crate so he could get up to the table and beat me out of $40,000 playing Gin Rummy.
And you were quite confident about your gin game.
I was a pretty good Gin player, but I couldn’t beat him.
Did that mark the end of you playing gin with Stu?
Actually I played him some other times and he never beat me again. I got him to the point where he would deal [which gives the other player an advantage], and we made all kinds of propositions. I figured out a way to make the game work for me.
Speaking of games, your speciality is no-limit Deuce-to- Seven Draw, a low-only game at which you’ve won five World Series bracelets. How did you get into playing it?
All the big action used to be around Deuce-to-Seven. That was where the money was. Being a person in the business of making money, I stuck with it and boycotted Hold’em. That comes under the heading ‘good business’.
What do you like about the game?
Deuce-to-Seven, in my opinion, is the ultimate bluffing game – and I’m good in that situation. There is not nearly as much bluffing in Hold’em. Play Deuce-to-Seven and you have only one draw. That lessens the likelihood of a guy improving his hand. So you have to bluff – and you have to read bluffs. In other games you have lots of streets in which to get a read on a guy. Here you have just one opportunity, and that makes the bluff more critical. Ultimately, if you’ve got 8-9, and you’re [sitting] pat with $40,000 of your cash in the pot, and someone bets $100,000, well, you’re put to the test. And that happens all the time in Deuce-to-Seven. So you need some balls.
How do you compare poker to sports betting in your personal pantheon of gambling?
I’m kind of worn out from sports. It’s a lot of work. Right now I enjoy poker a little more. But it’s not nearly as big as the sports. I bet $50,000 a game as opposed to chopping out $20,000 or $30,000 from a night of poker. But I get more satisfaction out of poker. It’s nice to be involved in the game rather than betting on somebody else’s performance. I’ve found Hold’em to be a fun game and a challenge and I’m making money in the tournaments. I figure I’ll learn it the way I’ve learned everything else – the hard way.
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