I had a Las Vegas coffee mug, with a royal straight flush pattern, which I was very fond of. I used it nearly every day for 10 years. It was a little gift from Bill Boyd, reputed to be the best five card stud player there ever was. When I got home recently, the mug was broken. And next day I heard that Bill Boyd had died, at the age of 91, no doubt to join the great celestial poker game in the sky.

Bill Boyd, known to everyone as Mr Boyd as a mark of respect, was special. He had grown up in Arkansas at the start of the century, drifted into poker, and discovered his talent. He ran the poker at the Golden Nugget in Vegas for 36 years, until his retirement in 1982. He made a tremendous success of this venture, by establishing sensible rules and ensuring fair play. The poker room became the home of the game and the arbiter of standards, as Binion's Horseshoe is today.

When Texas hold 'em became popular, a generation ago, five card stud died out as too mechanical. This was hard luck on Bill. He had earned the most graceful tribute to a poker player I have ever heard, bestowed by none other than Amarillo Slim. "I'd rather catch frost on my winter peaches than sit down to play five card stud with Mr Boyd."

I only once saw Bill playing five card stud, but it gave me an idea of his style. He was playing heads-up against a fresh-faced man in a suit and tie. Bill was showing:

(?) 8-6-3-10 and his opponent

(?) 8-7-3-10. There was a lot of money on the table. The man checked and Bill made a pot-sized bet at him. As the man havered, Bill started a sort of sing- song in his twanging Arkansan accent: "Ya got a pair of 10s down there? Ya better raise it right now. Maybe you ain't got 10s. Ya got 8s, hunh? That'd be good, 8s back-to-back. Hey, we cain't both have 8s can we? Or didja catch 7s? Ya think that's good 'nuf, go ahead ..." and so on.

The man sat there, like a rabbit in the headlights, staring at the cards. Finally he seized his chips, threatening to call. Then he stood up, grabbed his chips and fled, leaving the 70-year-old Bill sitting on his own.

It was against etiquette for me to ask Bill what his hole card was, but he told me anyway. "Pair of 6s."

"Weren't you taking a big risk?"

"He had ace in the hole, wouldn't have played it else."