Meet Our Instructors
"If you want to keep playing poker, then you either have to win or lose a marginal amount. You can’t just keep losing all the time and losing all your money. So the game itself forces you to be better. I think the love of the game is what makes you good."
- Two WPT Main Event titles
- Two World Series of Poker bracelets
- More than $5 million in tournament winnings
Hoyt Corkins has been playing poker for his entire adult life. With his two WSOP bracelets and his two WPT Main Event titles, he is one of the most accomplished and respected players in the game. In his trademark black hat, black shirt, and cowboy boots, the man known as “Alabama Cowboy” has created an intimidating presence at the tournament table, where opponents fear his aggressive style, even while describing him as “laid-back, soft-spoken, and humble”. Phil Hellmuth, famously frustrated by how effectively Hoyt’s big-bet strategy can disarm his own small-ball style of poker, has referred to him as “Mr. Move All-In”. Others have simply called him “Nightmare”.
Hoyt has a well-worked out system for playing short and medium stacks, relying on aggression, position, and a champion’s ability to take advantage of his opponents’ weakness. And yet, Hoyt says, after 34 years of professional poker, he’s changing up his game, adapting to what he sees as a new aggression and perhaps a new sophistication in the poker world.
“There’s really nobody out there that’s just giving away their money,” he says. “They’ve all got a way to beat you.”
In Hoyt’s view, a poker player who wants to keep being successful can never simply rest on his laurels. As a result, Hoyt spends three or four hours each week reading postings on the Internet and watching training videos. He does a demanding bikram yoga workout twice a week to improve his focus and stamina. And most important of all, he spends three or four hours after every tournament reviewing his play and thinking about where he went wrong.
“If I only make one mistake, I’m happy,” says the man who has been playing poker successfully for more than three decades. “And not a huge mistake. I’m talking about a small mistake!”
Knowing that mistakes are inevitable and a relentless commitment to excellence are at the heart of Hoyt’s poker success. But also, he says, he’s simply in love with the game.
The Alabama Cowboy Learns to Play
“I started playing poker right out of high school,” Hoyt recalls. “My dad played poker. And so I would watch the game sometimes, you know, when I was a teenager. I started playing when I was eighteen. Then, in Las Vegas, I sort of snuck in the casino. I was only 19 years old but I never got checked for it.”
Hoyt played at the old Stardust and Dunes casinos for years, but his focus shifted somewhat when he got married and then again when he got divorced. During that time, he dropped out of the Vegas poker scene, either playing in the newly legal Mississippi casinos or raising cattle in Alabama.
“It felt good to be back in the South,” he says a bit wistfully. “I’m a country guy, so I love the South. But I love this West Coast living now, so I don’t think I could go back.”
Now Hoyt is on the circuit several weeks out of the year, playing the major WPT championships and other $10,000 events. But he looks back fondly on his early days as a Vegas grinder.
“When I was first started playing, I was in love with poker,” he explains. “That’s what I wanted to do—play poker—and I was playing 60-80 hours a week.”
But, says Hoyt, nobody can play that many hours and remain a losing player—it just gets too expensive.
“If you want to keep playing poker, then you have to learn to win,” he says. “You can’t just keep losing all the time and losing all your money. So the game itself forces you to be better. I think the love of the game is what makes you good.”
Sending His Soldiers Into Battle
When you ask Hoyt what he loves about poker, he has to think about it for a minute.
“It’s sort of like a football team or a baseball team–all of these chips are my soldiers,” he says finally. “And it is a fascinating game.”
Certainly, Hoyt has known more than his share of battles. He won his first WSOP bracelet in 1992—but he won his second bracelet in 2007, when fields were larger and, by all accounts, much tougher. He won his first WPT championship in 2003, for what was then a record-breaking $1,089,200 at the World Poker Finals—but he won his second championship in 2010, at the Beau Rivage casino in Biloxi, against a field that included lots of the top young Internet players. Hoyt is one of very few players to have succeeded at the highest levels before the poker boom who continues to succeed in the tougher modern era against highly-skilled online opponents. His ongoing success is a tribute to the way he is constantly studying the game and adjusting his play. As a result, even though Hoyt is facing ever-tougher competition, he continues to turn out impressive results.
Yet these results come only as a consequence of enormous effort. Tournaments are an especially difficult form of poker because, as Hoyt explains, they’re “streaky”. To spend a year on the circuit, he needs at least $250,000 to pay for buy-ins, travel, and other expenses. Since he has no backer, these costs have to come out of his own winnings. And since the big scores are few and far between, he has to make sure to rack up enough little victories—smaller cashes and maybe some final tables—to keep his income flowing.
“It’s a rough ride, so it’s hard to make it, the tournament is,” Hoyt says.
The costs are psychological as well as financial. “You can get all your chips in as a big favorite or in a good spot, but then when the cards go in the air, it’s not always gonna go your way,” he says. “And that sort of stings you when you get down there to the final table.”
As a result, Hoyt says, “It’s all about the times you make your big score. Basically, you’re just trying to break even until you hit that nice win. You have to cash somewhat consistently and survive until a big win, and many people can’t do that."
A Long, Impressive History in the Game
At the table, Hoyt is known for his impassive presence and his impenetrable demeanor, aided by his black cowboy hat and his ever-present sunglasses. He became a fan of Blue Shark Optics and began a business relationship with the company. Far and away, though, his main business is tournament poker. He’s struck by how many people can’t sustain the rigors of the tournament player’s life.
In tournament poker, he says, you’ll see an 80 percent turnover every five years: “You go to these tournaments and look at the list they had five years ago, and then look at the list they got now. And it’ll be a different bunch.”
Hoyt, though, has outlasted the turnover, and looks to be able to keep on doing so. What gives him his edge?
Hoyt believes it's how he manages his money.
“I think the money management is the key, if you want to play cards,” he says. “You have to set your goals, and you have to stick to ‘em."
In fact, money management is so important to Hoyt that whenever he teaches a WPT Boot Camp, this is one of the main pieces of advice he wants to share with students.
“It’s very important,” he insists. “Because a lot of people who are good enough to win, or good enough to break even and continue to enjoy the game, might not be able to do that if they don’t have good money management.”
Hoyt himself follows a rigorous formula. Every time he scores a big payday, he puts half of it immediately back into his bankroll and allows himself to spend only the other half. Small cashes go to cover expenses. He’s always looking to protect himself against those long dry spells with which every tournament player is all too familiar.
Yet, despite all the ups and downs, Hoyt always returns to one simple truth: “I do love poker.” It is a love that has sustained him for his entire adult life. And after more than three decades, that love continues to sustain the soft-spoken “Alabama Cowboy”—still one of the most respected players in the game.