By Sean Chaffin
One of the original WPT cowboys has jumped into the Baccarat Crystal WPT Tournament of Champions this week and making a deep run. Fans and players may remember Hoyt Corkins from the tour’s early days, his signature cowboy hat a big part of some big final table appearances.
While he’s gone with a visor look this weekend here at ARIA rather than his Stetson, Corkins is still raking pots like in the old days. A two-time WPT Champions Cup member, his first win came in Season II (2003) when he took down the World Poker Finals for $1.1 million. In Season VIII (2010) he won the WPT Southern Championship in Biloxi for $739,486.
A trip to a final table with a shot at another title after such a long absence would certainly make some news in the poker world.
Back in the Action
Beyond his two titles, Corkins has 19 WPT cashes for $3.5 million including six final table appearances. That includes two runner-up and two third-place finishes. In total, Corkins has amassed more than $6 million in live tournament winnings and that also includes two World Series of Poker bracelets.
In recent years, poker has been put on the back burner a bit for Corkins. He enjoys traveling the world and used some of his winnings for investments so that he doesn’t have to work or play as much. He only plays about 10 percent of what he played in the height of the poker boom.
“This is a big buy-in for me compared to what I’ve been playing,” he says. “I just got tired and exhausted. This poker is a grind, especially tournaments.”
It’s been seven years since Corkins, 59, last played in a WPT event and two years since his last major tournament cash. He’s enjoyed the Baccarat Crystal WPT Tournament of Champions so far, and especially likes the freezeout format and thinks the Action Clock is good for the game. Today’s players are making some different plays than what he might have seen a decade ago.
“I think players are gambling more,” he says. “It’s some good and some bad. I would say overall, the players are better for sure than they were 15 years ago. You just have gamble your way through it a lot.”
Fans may also remember Corkins has always been a bit of a gambler, and not afraid of his own unorthodox play. Sending Phil Hellmuth into orbit a couple of times is a WPT highlight.
“I’ve had good luck against Phil,” he says. “Sometimes you match up against a certain player and you can them well. It’s been that way with Phil, and I’ve hit a couple good cards against him.”
How did it make him feel getting under the Poker Brat’s skin?
“As long as they’re giving you money,” he says, “that’s a good thing.”
A Cowboy’s Poker Life
Growing on a farm and ranch in Glenwood, Alabama, Corkins knew hard work first-hand. His father and grandfather had both worked in farming in the area and he learned his fair share of the business.
But as Corkins approached his teenage years, big farms squeezed out smaller farmers including his family’s. His father quit farming in 1968, but raised cows and pigs and Corkins helped out. Around this time his father also taught him something that would change his life – the game of poker.
A regular Seven Card Stud player in the late-1960s, the older Corkins played generally for low stakes. Because of the seasonal nature of farming, games were prevalent in the fall when farmers were paid for their crops. An annual turkey shoot in the area also always had a nice game.
Corkins began playing in those games in his early teens, and poker took on a more important role in his life. He quickly realized he had a knack for the game. Attending college seemed the logical next step for Corkins, but poker consumed much of his time even in high school as his cash winnings piled up.
“A week after I graduated from high school, I had gotten in this game and I won a little over $2,000 I think,” he says. “That was enough to really excite me about the game.”
After graduation, Corkins attended Troy State University for a year and began playing cards in Birmingham, Mobile, Panama City, Florida, and throughout the Southeast. As his skills continued to improve, he sought bigger action and headed for the bright lights of Vegas.
At first, the 19-year-old Corkins attempted to continue his education at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. It was also the perfect spot to find a poker game in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Bringing His Game to Vegas
After landing in Sin City, Corkins jumped in the $15-30 and $50-100 limit games. Vegas didn’t have the number of poker rooms then as today, but had enough for a young rounder to fine-tune his craft. Playing cards daily at the Stardust, he soon left college behind.
“It was hard to go to school when you could make $600 or $800 a night,” he says. “That was good money back in 1980.”
Through the years he held a few jobs outside poker, but was always lured back to the green felt. He won his first WSOP bracelet in 1992 in a $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha event for $96,000.
In the mid-1990s, however, Corkins left major tournament poker behind. But when World Poker Tour debuted on the Travel Channel in 2003, the poker world blew up and Corkins returned to the action. That quickly paid big dividends, and Corkins took to the new poker boom with a vengeance – winning the WPT World Poker Finals at the Foxwoods in 2003.
“That sort of got me over-the-top because it was such a huge payout,” he says. “It was the biggest payout outside of Las Vegas at that time.”
This was also when WPT commentator Mike Sexton nicknamed him “Cowboy” for wearing cowboy hats at the table. Numerous top finishes and championships followed.
As play moved into the mid-afternoon in the ARIA tournament area, Corkins was among the chip leaders. A blast from the WPT past was looking for some deja vu. He hit some nice hands on Day 2, he said, after some swinging up and down.
Despite his success here so far, Corkins knew making it to the money would still be a struggle.
“There are some good players here,” he says. “Especially when you’re down to 30 players left. All these guys are good and all of them know how to gamble, so it’s not going to be easy.”
However, should he make the final table tomorrow at HyperX Esports Arena, look for one part of his game to return. He says: “I’ll bring the cowboy hat back.”
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.