A Hall of Famer’s Lifelong Path through Vegas Poker Rooms

by , Nov 17, 2012 | 10:00 am

Photo: IMPDI / WSOP.com

Eric Drache had one thought when then-Golden Nugget executive Bobby Baldwin suggested he manage the Fremont Street casino’s poker room in the early 1980s.

How long could he last working for Steve Wynn?

Baldwin, the 1978 World Series of Poker champion, thought Drache, who was the annual tournament’s director, could give Wynn’s poker facility a much needed lift.

Drache was perplexed. He was an expert seven-card stud player and had managed the old Silver Bird Casino poker room. But this was big time.

“Are you kidding?” Drache recalled saying. “Steve will fire us within 10 minutes.”

Baldwin and Drache recalled that story last month during a ceremony at the Rio celebrating Drache’s induction into the Poker Hall of Fame.

Drache, 69, joined the late Brian “Sailor” Roberts as the 43rd and 44th members of the Hall of Fame, which is managed by the World Series of Poker.

Drache may not be familiar to today’s poker standouts, but his 15 years as the World Series of Poker tournament director established some of the groundwork for the annual event’s stellar growth.

His induction before the final day of play in this year’s Main Event brought the likes of Hall of Famers Doyle Brunson, Crandell Addington, Jack Binion and Baldwin to the Rio.

Drache served as the World Series of Poker’s tournament director from 1973 to 1988 and came up with the concept of satellite events, which are a series of smaller buy-in games that instead of awarding money, award seats into larger buy-in events.

Satellites helped expand the tournament’s field.

“Little did I know,” Drache said. “I thought we could grow the field to at least 100 players.”

This year’s World Series of Poker drew a record 74,766 entries, including 6,598 players to the Main Event.

“Obviously, the Internet and television have done a lot to increase the popularity of poker,” Drache said. “You look in the poker rooms now and it seems like the average age of the players is 22. Poker is only going to get bigger.”

Drache is still involved in the game. He serves as a consultant on numerous televised poker productions. As a player, Drache reached five World Series of Poker final tables in seven-card stud events, finishing in the top three every time.

He and Binion came up with the idea of the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979, although he never thought of himself as a potential honoree.

“We wanted to celebrate the history of poker,” Drache said. “That’s why we put ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok in that first group because of the aces and eights dead man’s hand. I was both surprised and honored to be selected.”

Drache and Roberts were nominated by the public and voted in by a 36-person panel made up of the living Poker Hall of Famers and members of the media.

After running the Golden Nugget poker room, Drache followed Wynn and Baldwin to the Strip in 1989 when The Mirage opened. He stayed on for several years before retiring. Baldwin joined MGM Resorts International in 1999 and is currently chief executive officer of CityCenter.

Baldwin, who was placed into the Hall of Fame in 2003, shared several stories about Drache during the induction ceremonies, including the times they put a little of their own money into the poker drop boxes so that Wynn would believe the rake was more lucrative.

“Eric truly is a Hall of Fame member,” Baldwin said.

Roberts, who died in 1995, won the World Series of Poker’s $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em World Championship in 1975. However, he was best known as a member of poker’s old guard of “Texas Road Gamblers,” along with fellow Hall of Famers Brunson and the late Amarillo Slim.

“I’m particularly happy for the family of Sailor Roberts,” Drache said. “Sailor, by everyone’s account, including my own personal observations, was a great player and played many games very well.”

Addington, who went into the Hall of Fame in 2005, accepted the induction on behalf of Roberts’ family.

“At a time in which professional poker players were viewed as outlaws and poker was illegal, he formed a partnership with Doyle and Slim and they traveled across the country from poker game to poker game,” Addington said. “They deployed advanced strategies unknown at the time that featured playing their opponents’ hands on many occasions rather than their own hands. More often than not, they got the money.”

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at [email protected] or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.
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