Dave Ulliott is one of the most outspoken figures in poker. After a hiatus from the game, he’s back. Ross Jarvis met him to see if time has mellowed the one and only Devilfish.
When Dave Ulliott was unleashed onto our television screens on 1999’s Late Night Poker he captured the imagination of the British viewing public perfectly. The slicked back hair, sharp suits, quick wit and a hint of danger was the exact perception of poker that people had in their minds. This is what a real poker player looked like. Add to that the coolest nickname in the business, ‘The Devilfish’, and a star was instantly born.
All the stylists and catchphrases in the world would count for nothing if Ulliott couldn’t back it up at the table but, back in 1999, he was among the best players in the world. He already had a WSOP bracelet and romped home in that first Late Night Poker series to become a household name among the post-pub TV watching UK.
Nearly fifteen years later, the poker world bears little resemblance to the one that Devilfish took by storm. The top pros are no longer grizzled veterans with knuckle dusters but young pros who hone their skills online and place more emphasis on analysing hand ranges than looking an opponent in the eyes to see if he’s got it.
Is there a place for the Devilfish in this world? After a three year absence from the spotlight he returned in style at this year’s EPT London, placing 31st in the main event and sixth in the £10,000 High Roller to win just under £100,000.
I caught up with Ulliott at his regular card room Dusk Till Dawn where, after taking over the UKIPT party with his electric guitar and medley of Johnny Cash songs, he sat down to tell me the tale of his remarkable life as an old-school gambler. Here is Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott in his own, uncensored words…
Devilfish on… recent years
I got married two years ago. She’d had two boyfriends who couldn’t get her pregnant and I did it first time, boom! I have eight children now, six lads and two girls. Kids are what it’s all about. Gambling is good but it’s all about health, kids and filling the fridge. I love my kids to pieces. they’re all diamonds and really cool.
I played 15 years in a row at the WSOP and never missed a year until this summer. I learned that it wasn’t such a big deal and it was only Barny Boatman who did good.
Winning the EPT High Roller wouldn’t have been the highlight of my career as I know there’s a lot of luck involved. They’re all pretty good players in these so there is no big edge and, because the TV doesn’t put any extra money in, it’s basically an ego thing. It was just a cooler when I got knocked out, Jacks vs Kings blind on blind, or I would have done a lot better.
Devilfish on… the young players today
I was sat at a table in a tournament recently with four young Scandis and one of them asked me what I thought of the kids playing poker now. I said I could outfight ‘em, out f*ck ‘em, out drink ‘em, out sing ‘em and out bling ‘em! I have nothing against them but I’m outgoing. One time on the PartyPoker Premier League I stuck my arse on the glass where you put the cards for TV.
The trouble is that I have a very good sense of humour. I used to do stand up in places where nobody else would dare go. Some of those places were getting petrol bombed all the time. There aren’t many funny guys about in poker now, look at Tony G – he just shouts. I don’t watch poker. My wife recorded all the EPTs for me and I could only watch five minutes before I had to delete it all.
One young player who is a gentleman is Tom Dwan. I’m old school and I never talk about whether he does or doesn’t have money but he’s a very nice guy. He lost $7 million online one night and still insisted on buying the dinner for us the next day. That’s an example of how nice he is. Tom is the only person I trusted to take my girlfriend out to dinner for me when I was busy.
Devilfish on… his image
I’ve never been shy. [On Late Night Poker] I had the black suit, a WSOP bracelet, was taking the piss and won the first three. It was destiny. It helped to get no limit hold’em where it is now. People still care about me because I’m just one of the boys, a working class guy. It doesn’t matter to me if a guy is a movie star or a dustman – if I like someone I like them and if I don’t, I don’t.
I was getting too recognisable so I stopped wearing the shades and having the slicked back hair. I had every drunk in town leaning on me. They thought they could all beat me at poker. So I changed my look. I used to wear all the rock ‘n’ roll stuff and now I look at it and never wear it. I don’t feel comfortable in them now – I feel like I’m past my sell-by date sometimes!
The one thing that I have never changed is my ‘Devilfish’ rings. I’m lucky I have them or I would have been beat up a lot of times! I was in Cardiff one time and got into some trouble with a bunch of guys. I fronted them all but they noticed the rings and it turned out to be the Cardiff Devils ice hockey team. Instead of fighting they put my name on the back of a jersey!
I’ve now got a deal with Rob Yong here at DTD and I think he’s the best guy around for poker. He loves the game. He wanted me to look a bit smarter, and I get a free bar out of it so I do!
Devilfish on… the early days
I was quite successful but unfortunately England loves losers while America loves winners. In the first Late Night Poker everyone that got knocked out got a big round of applause in the green room as they walked through it. When I won it was just the cleaning woman left.
I have a lot of mates in poker but let me tell you something, a friend in need is a nuisance in poker. Everyone is always going skint. They say poker’s gone up a grade but when I won the British Open [in 2004] they lost about 60 on Day 1 – now you lose about two thirds of the field.
Nowadays I live in a beautiful village near Hull. We have a duck pond, there’s one post office and one pub. Nobody speaks to me…but they all love my wife!
Devilfish on… high stakes cash games
The biggest pot I lost was quite a long time ago in Tunica in America. Jack Binion had a casino there, he asked me to go down and I won a tournament for $100k. Then we sorted out a big cash game with Doyle Brunson and everyone coming down. I lost a $700k PLO pot to Chau Giang. It came 9-7-x, I had three Sevens and he had Aces and a flush draw. We ran it twice and I lost both. My arse was numb. You just have to accept it. I used to have the record for seconds and thirds in tournaments at the WSOP. Eventually it gets to the point where it’s just one of those things.
I’ve never been responsible with money. I usually had my whole bankroll on the line in one game. I’ve always told people what to do but never done it myself because I like flying by the seat of my pants.
Chip Reese was the best player [in that game] and I’m not just saying that because he’s dead. When people die they go up about five points on the Richter scale – maybe when I’m dead I’ll be good as well! He was a very nice guy. Bobby Baldwin is good too, he’s a friend, and I rate Erik Seidel and Johnny Chan. I also used to play a lot with Sammy Farha – he put my kids through college actually with all the money he lost to me!
A Devil in decline?
Ulliott is the second most successful UK tourney player. However, the results haven’t been coming in as regularly as they used to…
Career tournament winnings: $6,196,184
2013 winnings: $183,758
2012 winnings: $5,525
2011 winnings: $98,019
2010 winnings: $221,046
2009 winnings: $359,693
2008 winnings: $147,725
2007 winnings: $1,284,954
2006 winnings: $348,001
2005 winnings: $601,377
2004 winnings: $486,121
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