No sympathy for the Devilfish

Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott may be one of the most feared players on the planet, but does his game really live up to his reputation?

The name relates to the Fugu fish, which can kill

Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott has been around from the dawn of televised poker, winning LateNight Poker Series 1 for £40,000 and remaining a household name ever since. He’s a natural in the one table televised format, but is probably better known for his personality than his poker.

He’s undoubtedly an aggressive player, but his style is not that favoured by some of the new breed of players, who are prepared to put large amounts of money in on questionable hands. Instead, Devilfish follows the traditional aggressive approach preached by Doyle Brunson in Super System of constantly putting his opponents to the test with small bets and raises but not committing all his chips without a hand. He demonstrated this ably at the Full Tilt Poker invitational in Monte Carlo late last year where he faced off with the likes of Ivey, Matusow, Ferguson and Hellmuth, and took control of the table in the early stages.

Eventually, he ended up crashing out in third after the blinds started rising rapidly and he ran into a few hands. But it goes to show that even the best in the world can fall victim to this deceptively simple strategy.

However, the Devilfish’s abilities are based on more than simple book smarts, and the story of his nickname tells another side to his game. Supposedly first used while playing poker with the Triads, it became the stuff of folklore when a friend shouted it from the rail while he was playing Men’ The Master’ Nguyen at the end of a tournament.


The name relates to the Fugu fish, which can kill the eater if not prepared correctly and, similarly, the number of times opponents have found themselves caught short trying to put a play on the Devilfish is remarkable.

Partly, this is a result of him knowing when to ease off the aggression and leave it to other players to hang themselves. However, his instantly recognisable image and intimidating table talk also pile the pressure on and play a vital role in helping provoke others into making mistakes. Everyone wants to beat the fish, and he uses this to his advantage.

This routine is something that has repeatedly been seen on televised one table tournaments, where well known players Guy Bowles and Rob Yong both found themselves putting the money in against his Kings and Aces in questionable circumstances. Many an internet qualifier has also tried an ill-timed bluff while he had the nuts.

Surprisingly, beyond this his approach to the fast televised format is strikingly simple. The plan is to get a line on players, then get a good start by making early moves.His attitude is the more chips you have, the fewer cards you need later on. However, one of the skills of tournaments is in building up enough chips in the first place – by whatever means necessary – to survive a big hit, or getting trapped by a bigger hand. The fish will frequently try to do this by taking command of the table from the outset.

Trying to win the first hand is one of his favourite tools when it comes to doing this – effectively putting himself in a position where he cannot be knocked out immediately and establishing an air of psychological dominance over the table.

But he’s also a pragmatist, and is equally well tuned to the mindset of ‘small pot poker’, where he looks to chop out a lead gradually rather than by taking undue risks. But as the blinds get high in tournaments and the other players start to feel the pressure, he is always the one who is most likely to find a different gear and start accumulating chips.


His key strength is certainly the psychological aspect of his game, which comes to the fore against weaker contenders and many an internet qualifier has been left quaking in his wake. Against more experienced poker players it’s perhaps less of a factor. And there is no doubt there are mixed opinions of his talents in the wider poker community. But while opinions are divided as to just how skilled a player he really is, his results, particularly in the single table format, are tough to argue with.

Trying to win a tournament is, in his inimitable phrase ‘like trying to climb a mountain wearing roller-skates’. But if you follow all of his tricks, trying to constantly accumulate and be the dominant force at the table without putting everything on the line, then you’ll be in a better spot than most.

Pin It

Comments are closed.