The Life and Times of Dave 'Devilfish' Ulliot4 years ago
Poker has crowned many legends in its long and illustrious history, but few, if any, can match the life and times of Dave ‘DevilFish’ Ulliot who passed away late last year.
The Englishman encompassed everything that was interesting, colourful, skilful, and ‘edgy’ about the game of poker – with a career spanning several decades and a background which makes modern-day pros look like choirboys in comparison!
Criminal safe-cracker, poker pioneer, party animal, family man, bracelet-winning expert player, TV personality, tough guy, funnyman – the number of roles Ulliot played in his 61 years on this planet are perfect fodder for a blockbuster movie, but who except Ulliot himself could possibly play the lead role in such a film?
The Devilfish –as cool and apt a name as has ever been seen in poker - graduated to the game through the ‘old-school’ route: an early introduction to the game from relatives, followed by the typical 1970’s backdrop of smoky casinos, back-room games policed by gun-carrying regulars, with criminal schemes and plots straight from the ‘cops and robbers’ text-book.
Growing up in a tough, working-class-estate in Hull, England, Ulliot spent time in prison for safe-cracking and assault – with serious assault charges almost adding to this period of his life, spent mostly in isolation. When he finally decided being a small-time gangster had taken its more-than-fair share of his life, poker dominated his ‘re-birth’.
Although known mainly for his No Limit Hold’em skills and TV appearances at the turn of the century, Ulliot was actually an expert in almost every form of the game, winning massively at 5-card stud and PLO throughout his early career, and claiming that 4-card Omaha variants were his personal favourite.
Travelling the length and breadth of England to find poker games and gambling opportunities (having been barred from most book-makers, racetracks, and private games for his skill and winning ways) the Devilfish would have friends and connections place bets for him. Ulliot himself would usually carry a gun for protection in the often-scary underground high-stakes poker games he would find himself in.
When he started to progress to world-level poker, his tournament and cash-game success was not long in coming – and career earnings of over $6million testify to his skills across the board. Only Sam Trickett has earned more from among the UK players who have hit the big time, but Ulliot’s accomplishments include a WSOP bracelet, WPT title, countless tournament victories across a range of games and huge success in the world’s best cash games.
Naturally, if it were only financial success which counted for legendary status, Ullliot would be merely one of many, but his approach to life and poker and his outstanding personality are what separates him from the masses.
The gold knuckle-dusters, tinted sunglasses, slicked-back hair and leather jacket or suit became as much a part of televised poker in the UK (and latterly further afield) as the game itself. His barbed wit and sharp tongue made for fun – sometimes awkward –entertainment.
He was an English Hellmuth without the silly nastiness, a UK version of a Doyle Brunson and an Arnold Rothstein of the British poker scene, who knew how to make the most out of others’ weaknesses on and off the table, but did so with a silver tongue and a wink to show his real demeanour – a gentleman of his own styling.
When you take away the early-Ulliot finding his way through the murky world of pre-regulated gambling and televised poker, you would find an honourable man with a sweet nature, and as Mike Sexton said in his obituary column - If ‘unique character’ was one word and you looked it up in the dictionary, you might find Devilfish’s picture there – and deservedly so.
Sexton’s description of a night at the Aviation Club in Paris is worth recalling:
I was sitting at a table one night near the musician and watched as Devilfish walked up to the guy and gave him 100 francs (this was before the Euro), saying, 'take a little break.' The guy was wide-eyed and puzzled about getting a tip to stop playing but he took the money, got up and let Devilfish have his seat. And that was the end of the soothing music.”
First came Devilfish’s version of ‘Great Balls of Fire’ by Jerry Lee Lewis followed by Elvis Presley’s, ‘Jailhouse Rock’. The French stared in disbelief but I loved every minute of it. Devilfish loved having a good time, both on and off the table.”
Such stories abound when the pro’s talk of Dave Ulliot – every single one has a story which illustrates just how extraordinary the man was. Originally known as ‘Dave the Clock’ on account of appearing with a Grandfather clock in place of the cash buy-in, knowing that a clockmaker would be at the game, the tale of his Devilfish name has been recounted endlessly - but it would be remiss of me not to share it here, courtesy of Brian Pempus’ obituary of the great man on CardPlayer.com.
In case you forgot how the man who played cards for 46 years got the nickname Devilfish:
I was playing against a guy in Birmingham and he said to me, ‘You should be called Devilfish’. When I asked him why he said it was a very poisonous fish that eats everything in the water. I responded and said I eat everything in the bath, except the soap. Next I went to Las Vegas and people started calling me Devilfish, and it kind of stuck.”
And so the legend was born.
Sometimes death glosses over people’s lives, those who fail to achieve greatness or acclaim are left with only friends and family to grieve over them.
Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliot – three-times married, father of eight children and friend to many - can lay claim to this part of ‘the end’ too, but his legacy in poker - not only UK and European but world-wide by the time he left – is almost too great to define. Some might question his choices early in life, but few if any can question his poker legacy.
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