Las Vegas Sun

August 24, 2019

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Poker champion Smith dies

Bill Smith, a Las Vegas gambler who overcame hard luck to win the 1985 world poker championship, has died. He was 61.

William Paul Smith, a Korean War Navy veteran, died Wednesday at Nellis Federal Hospital. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Services are set for 1 p.m. Tuesday at the First Congregational Church. Nevada Cremation and Burial Society handled the arrangements.

After Smith won the 1985 $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas hold 'em crown at Binion's World Series of Poker, he became a top-flight tournament player from contests on the professional circuit to the $20 nightly Las Vegas events.

"Bill loved tournaments and did not care how big the money was," said Jim Albrecht, longtime director of the World Series of Poker at the Horseshoe. "He had a passion for the tournament style of play, more so than for the side games."

Before the 1985 world title event, Smith, noted for an ever-present beer in front of him and a cigarette in his hand while he played, was broke and needed a friend to help buy him into the main event.

Upon winning the crown and a $700,000 first prize, Smith, in response to a reporter's question about his personal life, simply acknowledged: "There's not much to say -- I just drink and gamble."

Smith had placed fifth in the world title game in 1981, winning $37,500 and fifth in the championship event in 1986, collecting $51,300. His lifetime World Series earnings of $788,800 places him 20th on the all-time list.

Smith's '85 title game showdown with T.J. Cloutier, both of whom lived in Dallas at the time, was a classic.

Cloutier had a commanding chip lead, but Smith turned that around by winning a $1.2 million pot -- one of the largest in tournament history at the time -- when his pair of pocket kings held up against Cloutier's nines in the hole.

From there, Smith grinded out a victory. The winning hand was a pair of threes.

The fortunes of the two men took different paths after that memorable showdown.

Cloutier, a tight end with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League during the 1960s, became one of the bigger names in poker, winning several major titles, including the 1990 Amarillo Slim Super Bowl of Poker and the Diamond Jim Brady Classic three straight years in Southern California.

Smith struggled in later years, failing to make the field for some of the world title events after not winning satellite qualifying games.

He often could be found playing in the Monday night $20 buy-in no-limit hold 'em game at the Gold Coast, where he was a regular.

Born March 14, 1934, in Roswell, N.M., Smith in recent years worked as a Las Vegas poker room host, in addition to playing in tournaments.

Smith began playing poker professionally 38 years ago. He once vowed he would make up every dime his father had lost playing poker.

Smith is survived by his wife, Christy of Las Vegas; two sons, Wayne Cox of Albuquerque, N.M., and Tommy Johnson, residence unknown; a daughter, Vicki Cox of Albuquerque; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.