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Men Of Action -- Bill Boyd

The First Modern Poker Room Manager


Bill Boyd could handle the other teens swaying back and forth to the motion of the boxcar. It was the hobos and the desperate drunk WWI vets who made everyone sleep with one eye open. Boyd was a watchdog during those years, eyes on eyes, eyes on hands. Riding the rails was romantic for about a day, and then a hobo tries to steal your shoes.

Boyd was one of those kids in the 1920s who woke up one morning, saw the smoke billowing from the snout of a big steam engine, and said goodbye to all he knew.
Every one of them had a reason. Boyd’s had something to so with an extremely religious father and an incessant pang to see the west.

Sixty years later, Boyd would be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame for his mastery of five-card stud and contributions as a poker room manager to modern casino poker operations. The way poker is dealt in casinos is largely because Bill Boyd decided it was the best way.

At the age of 16, Boyd walked to the rail yard of McNeil, Ark. (pop. 622 in 2000), found an empty boxcar that could’ve smelled of oil or hay, and climbed in. He left his religious family and a future running a general store in a small southern town.

A truly good life had started.

Bill BoydThe next few years took Boyd all over the America. He also did a stint in the National Guard in his late teens. He traveled with some of the most colorful people in American history. It was dangerous. There were thieves and murderers among the hobos, people hiding from society, people who were running from something. No college can offer an education as well rounded in human nature. It was on the road where he learned to survive.

He worked in factories and harvested wheat, worked in oil fields and built dams. The scenery changed, but poker under the bare electric light bulb was the constant.

On one leg of his trip during these vagabond years, he walked into a Montana saloon with his last $13. Hours later, he walked out with $1,300. From that point on, he was a man of poker.

Hall of Fame Manager

By the time Boyd was 24, he not only played, but managed poker rooms in San Francisco joints. He then followed a friend to Las Vegas and on Labor Day, 1946, he was dealt the first ceremonial hand at one of the four tables in the Golden Nugget’s first card room. It simply changed the history of poker.

From his 1997 obituary in the Las Vegas Sun:

“He was one of the most respected players and card room managers of all time — no one was more loved than Bill Boyd,” said Jim Albrecht, longtime director of the World Series of Poker and an employee of Boyd’s at the Golden Nugget in the late 1970s and early ’80s."

“From an organizational standpoint few, if any, have done more for poker than Bill. And I can’t count the number of his ex-employees who are now managing card rooms across the country.”

Although located in the Golden Nugget, it was his poker room. Boyd leased the space. He got 18 percent of the cut. He hired and fired the dealers. He set the rake. Johnny Moss ran one of the other games in town at the Dunes. Moss, a confirmed cheater, did little to stop tainted play in his room and the rake was whatever he wanted it to be. He believed it was part of the game. Boyd did not.

Boyd abhorred foul play and did all he could to keep it out of his room. He was the first manager to have dealers deal from the center position. Before that, players actually cut and dealt. A good mechanic in those games made more than some guy fixing Chevys.

From Godfather of Poker by Doyle Brunson:

“He hasn’t gotten enough credit for being one of the main contributors to poker; however, he’s largely responsible for keeping honest poker going in Las Vegas back in the early days before the WSOP. He made the rake reasonable so the poker players would get a fair shake.”

Also, add Bill Boyd to the list of Poker Hall of Fame members who shot a person in the line of duty.

According to Brunson:

“Though there was cheating in other card rooms when more began to open in Las Vegas, Bill didn’t put up with much foolishness. He was old school. In fact, he shot a guy, Nick Simpson, who controlled the cheating around town, mostly in casino games.

“At the time, there wasn’t any mob presence in the poker rooms. Nick tried to move on Bill’s poker games, but Bill Boyd ordered him to stay out of his card room. Nick didn’t do it, they argued, and Bill got a gun and shot him outside in the alley; he got him right in the rear end.

Boyd Looks On At World Series of Poker"I don’t know if that’s where he was aiming, but I reckon Nick got off easy. Bill probably wasn’t prosecuted in those days. Like Texas, many things were handled between people without too much outside interference.”

Boyd also was the first to use plastic coated gin cards and in 1963, was the first to spread Omaha. He called it Nugget Hold’em. Boyd would run the room, site of some of the biggest games in the history of poker, for the next 34 years. He was elected to the Poker Hall of Fame in 1981.

Mr. Boyd

Boyd may have been the best five-card stud player in the world. He spent decades playing in the stratosphere with the likes of Moss, Nick Dandolos, Sailor Roberts and Brunson (just to name a few). According to the Sun obituary, he won a $100,000 pot from Jimmy Casella with a pair of deuces in a no-limit 5-card stud game.

Al Alvarez wrote about Boyd in his Poker: Bluffs, Bets, and Bad Beats:

“At that time the great master of five-card stud was Bill Boyd, a courtly gentleman from Arkansas who was usually referred to, even by his friends, as Mr. Boyd. Mr. Boyd… was generally recognized to be the finest five-card stud poker player in America.”

Boyd won the five-card stud event at the first four World Series of Poker gatherings (’71,’72,’73,’74). It wasn’t offered as an event again. People joke that Boyd killed it with his prowess, but the truth is it was a dying game, a game played by old men like Mr. Boyd.

Amarillo Slim said “I’d rather catch frost on my winter peaches than play stud with Bill Boyd.”

People liked him. He sounded like a genuinely nice guy. He respected people and they gave it right back.

Here’s what Sam O’Connor wrote about him in Tales of Old Las Vegas:

“Bill had an easy manner and a way of engaging in brief, good conversation. He nearly always wore a sports jacket with duck vents and, when he was standing, he would rock forward and his tiptoes, trying to be just a little taller. Bill gave everybody a friendly smile and a firm hand-shake, employee and customer alike.”

And from Alvarez’s The Biggest Game in Town:

“Boyd is a sober-suited old man who looks like a family doctor and manages the card room at the Golden Nugget. He is also the undefeated champion at five-card stud – so good that in the end no one would play against him, and the event lapsed from the World Series.”

When the Mirage opened in 1989, Boyd was honored by being dealt the first hand.

Brad Boyd, Bill’s son, said his dad’s superb observational skills set him apart from other players, and once they left him, he stopped playing.

He retired from poker in 1982 and passed away November 21, 1997. He was 91.