The Roundup -

Professional Poker Player, Author, and Handball Champion Recalls an Interesting Life


The Sidney High School 1960 graduating class at their 55th High School Reunion in 2015.

Sidney native and 1960 Sidney High School (SHS) graduate, Bill Jones grew up on his family farm, milking cows, fishing, and agate hunting along the Yellowstone River. He grew up in a time when everybody had cool cars, his own 1950 Pontiac included. He would come home from college during the summers to work at the Eastern Montana Experiment Station, and years later his parents would sell their land to Montana Dakota Utilities where they would build the coal factory that is still there today. One of many things that Jones recalls is watching his dad play poker at the Moose Lodge, and over the years his father taught him to play. It was a game that would later play an important part of Jones' life.

Jones attended the University of Montana in Missoula, where he began playing poker on a more regular basis. Realizing the young man's skill, a couple of establishments offered him a unique opportunity. Jones was a shill, playing for the poker parlor itself; if he won, he got to keep half the winnings and the house took any losses.

"That was in the early sixties, so bars didn't close at two o'clock. If I was having a good night, I'd could be there until four or five o'clock in the morning," recalls Jones. "Playing poker was how I financed much of my education."

In 1980, he moved to Billings, MT where he still resides with his wife, Diane. After the move, Jones began playing poker more frequently. He's played in 15 World Poker Tour events and two World Series of Poker Tournaments. In 2003 he took 17th at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, winning $55,000.

At the time Jones was working as an administrator at the Crowley Law Firm, when one of the attorneys suggested he write a book and Jones took his advice.

Texas Hold'em Montana Style was published in 2006, which accounts Jones' personal experiences playing tournament poker.

Jones retired in 2005, and is currently working on his second book, which is a creative non-fiction story about four friends growing up in Montana during the homestead days. The friends end up joining the WWII effort. It's titled Homestead Soldiers and Jones hopes to finish it by the end of the year.

Another of Jones' accomplishments is his handball career, which began in Great Falls, MT in 1967.

"I'd always wanted to be an athlete, but I had rheumatic fever in the 5th grade and couldn't play sports in high school. Handball was an opportunity for me to be an athlete," said Jones with tongue in cheek.

Handball is similar to racquetball; the court is 40' long, 20' wide, and 20' tall and each match is the best two out of three games, with each game scored to 21 points. It is a fast moving game played either as singles or doubles. Players wear thin gloves and hit a rubber ball, hence the name. In Great Falls Jones played with Marvin Strom and Tom Quilling who are also SHS graduates.

"They were exceptional players and they taught me a lot about the sport. I went on to win two state championships in Idaho and competed in tournaments in the western half of the United States and into Canada," Jones stated. "It's challenging because you have to be fairly coordinated with both hands."

Jones and his wife (a Registered Nurse) are Grizzly fans and travel to Missoula regularly to watch college football. Between them they have five kids and ten grandkids in total that all living in Montana.

"I've led an interesting life and I'm very fortunate," Jones commented.

As for his hometown, Jones attributes much of his success to the 'nice town with honest hardworking people'.

"Sidney was a wonderful place to grow up and is a wonderful place to come back to," he concluded.


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