Sailor Roberts: Poker Legend
Brian “Sailor” Roberts was one of the pioneers of Poker. He toured the USA in the 1950’s when poker was illegal and quite literally risked his life for the game. Quite often during the cash games he played in robbers would raid the game and at gunpoint or knifepoint, take all of the money from the game. This did not deter Sailor, Doyle and “Amarillo Slim” Thomas Preston from continuing to pursue the risky profession of poker. People close to Sailor said that he made enough money through poker to live fifteen lifetimes but he gave most of his money away before he died. He was famous for being a rounder with Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson. He lived a colourful life helping pave the way for poker as we know it today and it is important to remember the origins of poker and the players who risked it all, including their lives, so that the game would continue to remain active until it became legal in the 1970’s.
Brian Roberts was born in Texas on March 7th 1931 and was always surrounded with gambling from a young age. He used to hustle the rich kids playing Golf and shooting craps with the other Caddies when he was as young as 12. He joined the Navy when he was older during the Korean War and that is where he gained the nickname “Sailor” which stuck with him throughout his life, much like his love of the gamble. During his life, as well as being a top level professional poker player he also enjoyed much success at his other game of choice, contract bridge.
Because the 1950’s poker circuit was so rough with robbings and even killings not uncommon on the road he travelled with Amarillo Slim and Doyle Brunson so they could watch each others back and support one another. These three players used a joint bankroll, celebrating their wins and lamenting their losses together and became friends for life. It was quite the colourful lifestyle, in one particular cash game there was armed security on the roof in case local criminals tried to come and raid the game. The three players disbanded once they went to Las Vegas and went broke but all three went on to enjoy lots of success at the top of the game. Roberts was jailed in the 1960’s for one year in a minimum security jail for illegal bookmaking. The bookmaking venture was actually a pursuit that Roberts, Brunson and Slim did together on the side but the latter two gave it up after it became illegal to pass sports information across state lines. Roberts continued and subsequently got into trouble for it.
During the 1970’s he was thrust into the mainstream poker scene when the game became legal. He won his first bracelet in Deuce to 7 Draw for $35,850 in the 1974 World Series and followed up that win becoming the main event champion one year later in 1975. He also managed an 8th place finish in the 1982 main event. Sailor remained active in the game until he died in 1995 from Schlerosis caused by Hepatitis. According to Amarillo Slim Roberts got rich and went broke over ten times. He was very generous with his money often loaning it to other players when they were down on their luck and sometimes partnering with other players to help them stay in the action. A quote from Amarillo Slim regarding Roberts says “Money came and went; it really never seemed to bother Sailor”.
His running mates in the 1950’s Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim continue to be actively involved in poker to this day and always speaking fondly of Sailor Roberts when giving interviews about their past lives and history of the game. Despite his stature in the game, Sailor was never inducted into the Hall of Fame.