Dewey Tomko is a poker legend you may not have heard of, so we tracked him down: “I remember playing one night at the Golden Nugget with Benny Binion’s bodyguard. He was drunk, and when he was drunk he was liable to take you out to the desert”

We track down Dewey Tomk, one of the game’s greatest legends to find out how he wrote poker history

Dewey Tomko has played more consecutive World Series of Poker Main Events than anyone in history. He’s also made 23 WSOP final tables, won three bracelets, come runner-up in the Main Event twice, and finished seventh in 2006’s $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament. Plus, if you happen to have a big bet you want to make, track him down – he just might give you some action.

You’ve gambled as high as anyone at golf, wagered millions on sports games, and once lost $50,000 on a coin toss. Where does poker fit in?

For a long time poker was my grind. I played poker, slept and not much else. During my 20s and 30s, I probably couldn’t have told you who the President of the United States was. If somebody I knew died during the World Series of Poker, I wouldn’t have gone to the funeral. Now I can’t even tell you who won the last World Series.

How do you contrast poker today with how it was back in the 70s and early 80s?

Guys in the game used to be such incredible characters. I’d play with them for eight hours and not say a word. I’d just listen to their stories. And it could get dangerous. I remember playing one night at the Golden Nugget with Benny Binion’s bodyguard. He was drunk, and when he was drunk he was liable to take you out to the desert. I had $10,000 to my name, I was a loser in this game, and I was bluffing. He showed his gun and said, ‘Kid, if you’re bluffing me this hand, I’m gonna kill you.’

So what did you do?

I bluffed him to the river and had all my money in the pot. He folded Jacks and wanted to see my cards. I immediately mucked and said, ‘You know I had a pair of Aces, but I can’t show you. It’s against the rules.’ He didn’t know how to answer that, and I raked in the money. But man, I was sweating.

You’ve made 23 WSOP final tables and won three. When you look back at the ones you came close to – including finishing second to Carlos Mortensen in 2001 – do you have any regrets?

There’s not a thing in life that I regret or feel bad about. Every experience either made me a better person or served as a learning opportunity.

What do you take away from a loss like the one against Mortensen?

I get stronger, I get tougher, and I learn to move on. I don’t believe in second-guessing. Against Carlos I played as good as I could play. Let me tell you something, Doyle [Brunson] won two World Championships, and in both of them he outdrew the guy. Look at when Chris Ferguson beat T.J. [Cloutier]. If Ferguson had come in second, nobody would have ever heard of the guy. Fate is fate. Everybody gets lucky at something.

Speaking of luck, let’s talk about proposition betting. I assume you’ve made a few of them in your time…

I’ve made millions of ’em. Once I bet Jack Binion and Doyle $10,000 that I could swim the length of a pool without coming up for air. I’m telling you, buddy, when they pulled me out, I needed resuscitation. Just recently I was playing golf with Phil Ivey… You ever see Phil play golf?

We heard he’s just got a bit better.

He’s so uncoordinated that I figured he wouldn’t be able to shoot a basket. Now, I once made 15 out of 15 in Lake Tahoe to win $65,000, so I thought I was pretty good. When Phil and I came off the course and went to the clubhouse, where there was a basketball court, I said, ‘We’ll shoot three-pointers; first to hit one gets $20,000.’ I figured I’d be robbing him. Well, I’m 60 years old and that trip to Tahoe was a long time ago. I shot first and didn’t even hit the rim. Then he stepped up to the three-point line and swished it. Phil Ivey can definitely shoot baskets.

Until recently, you owned a casino in Costa Rica. Do you find it better to be the player or the house?

What do you think? Every time someone walks into your joint, they’ve got the worst of it.

What’s more fun?

Playing. Owning a casino is a way to make money. But you’re way happier when you win as a gambler.

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