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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now - Bill Boyd

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

Over 100 topics into the “Where Are They Now” series we have introduced some of the best and most innovative players the game of poker has ever seen.  We have not only met the best players, but we have also met the best directors and organizers that have made the game more enjoyable for anyone who has ever played it.  Then you have the select few people who would make the top of the list in both of those topics.  Bill Boyd was all these things combined and more.  With multiple World Series of Poker bracelets he would have made the Poker Hall of Fame, but he did so much more for the game, that he became one of the first, and most deserving, people to ever make the Hall of Fame.

William Walter Boyd was born in McNeil, Arkansas in 1906.  If Doyle Brunson, T.J. Cloutier, and Puggy Pearson are considered “godfathers of poker,” then Boyd could be considered the “grandfather of poker.”  Boyd had a healthy interest in gambling almost from the womb, but living in the south during this time period meant he didn’t have a lot of options if he wanted to try to make a living.  Also, with no rules, gambling wasn’t a very safe business to be in.  Much like the trio of poker players I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph who headed west a few years later, Boyd did too.  Boyd however would be getting his opportunity at the ground level as at this time this far away city called “Las Vegas” was still in development, and far away from what it would be in just a couple of decades.  Regardless, it was a wiser and safer choice for Boyd to pursue his gambling goals there instead of the deep south.

Boyd immediately felt like he belonged.  In 1946 the Golden Nugget opened, and Boyd was dealt the first hand of poker ever at the casino.  Boyd also became the first poker room manager of the casino, and by some regards the first poker room manager of any casino in Las Vegas.  For many people the job title could have just been a ceremonial title, but Boyd took the job much more seriously than that.  One of the most innovative things Boyd did was introduce “shills.” Shills are players that are staked by the casino and anything won is divided between the casino and the shill. 

Shills are rarely used in larger casinos now but a “propositional players” (prop) is very common in some areas.  A prop player or shill is a player that either helps get a new poker game started, or keeps one going.  The prop player is treated like a regular employee, receiving a $ per hour amount (a dollar an hour during when Boyd introduced it in 1946) and all employee benefits, but also gets to keep any money they may win during the games and in most cases is expected to play out of their own bankroll although they may get a daily dollar amount allocated for playing higher limit games.

In today’s poker world, especially online, a new player has tons of bonuses to sift through that will give them some free money to try a poker room.  Over 50 years earlier, Boyd had already figured that out.  When business was slow he’d go to the slot rooms or to other table games and hand a few people five dollars or so, and ask them to go try their luck at the poker room, free of charge.  With the same premise of today’s online bonuses , Boyd thought, or better yet knew, that more often than not when these people lost the five dollars Boyd had given them they would dig back into their pockets and pull out their own money.  During this time period these were both truly innovative ideas.  They kept poker games going, sometimes making them seem more popular than they were, and also introduced people to the game that would have never have even thought about the game otherwise. 

We’ve learned that Boyd was an exceptional businessman, but he was also one of the best poker players of his time, excelling in five-card stud.  When Boyd wasn’t managing his card room he was playing cash games in the Vegas area, taking money from some of the same tourists he had originally given five dollars to so they would start playing in the first place.  

Boyd also became interested in the new series of tournaments called the World Series of Poker, which first debuted in 1970.  The next year Boyd would win the inaugural Limit 5 Card Stud tournament at the second WSOP.  The next three years he would go on to win Five-Card Stud championships.  That string of four WSOP bracelets in four years has only been matched by Doyle Brunson .  The streak could have lasted longer, but the legend goes that after Boyd showed his dominance in the game four years in a row that nobody else dare challenge him and the event was dropped from the tournament schedule.

Boyd was replaced as poker room manager at the Golden Nugget in 1982  by another innovative person, Eric Drache.  However, Boyd remained on the staff of the Golden Nugget as Director of Poker Operations.
In his lifetime Boyd got to see many of his ideas come to fruition, but there is one that wouldn’t reach its height of popularity until after his death in 1997.  In 1983 a new poker game was introduced to Boyd by Robert “Chip Burner” Turner.  Turner didn’t create this game, but he thought it could become very popular, and up to that point nobody in Vegas was offering it.  Boyd liked the game, and after a while he thought it would catch on with the poker regulars.  Boyd accepted this game into the casino under the name of “Nugget Hold’em.”  Players were apprehensive of it at first, as many people are with new things, but the game eventually caught on in a big way, now enjoying its highest level of popularity.  This game is now known as Omaha.

Before Boyd even introduced the game of Omaha he was noticed for all the good he did in the poker world and for his poker successes, he was inducted in the Poker Hall of Fame in 1981.  As an acknowledgement to his good for the game, Boyd was dealt the first hand of poker ever at “The Mirage.”  Boyd died on November 21, 1997 at the age of 91 after retiring in the late 1980’s and spending the rest of his life in Las Vegas.

*Read Billy Monroe's Blog*

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