Poker icon David “Devilfish” Ulliott, from Hull, England, succumbed to cancer quietly and with class last week. He won WSOP, WPT titles and was a legend in high stakes cash games. Out of respect for Nolan Dalla and Stu Ungar, I won’t call Devilfish ‘One of a Kind’ – but, like Stuey, it would certainly fit. If ‘unique character’ was one word and you looked it up in the dictionary, you might find Devilfish’s picture there – and deservedly so.
I knew Ulliott before he acquired the nickname “Devilfish” – one of the great nicknames in poker – as I was one of few lucky Americans who travelled to Europe in the 90’s to play poker. I first saw him in the big game at the ‘Vic’ in London and played with him numerous times at the Aviation Club in Paris. The Aviation Club had a James Bond ambiance about it, making it a truly special place to play. Long, drawn-out dinners were the norm and even though I wasn’t a fan of two-hour dinner breaks (just two hours after a tournament started), I enjoyed them due to the soothing, ‘live’ music.
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.
Devilfish, before becoming a poker celebrity, was a product of his environment and did a lot of things he felt he had to do (some illegal) to survive.
He told me, “to survive in Hull you had to be very tough and street smart.” And Devilfish was. As I got to know him he told me about his youth, his boxing days, some fights he was in (in and out of prison), etc. I knew if trouble broke out Devilfish was a good man to have on your side.
Devilfish in Paris
In Paris once I was in a game with Devilfish and a French player who wasn’t a fan of Brits. It didn’t take long before the verbal jousting started. All of a sudden Devilfish got up, walked to the hallway and started shadow boxing. He was bobbing and weaving, breathing loudly thru his nose and firing combinations Sugar Ray Leonard would be proud of. Then he came back to the table and continued to play without saying anything. He was sending a message, especially to the French, that he shouldn’t be messed with.
Speaking of boxing, I went to the Floyd Mayweather/Ricky Hatton (who, at the time, was an undefeated Englishman) fight in Vegas with Devilfish and about six other Brits and I’ll be surprised if the Mayweather/Pacquio fight has an atmosphere that gets anywhere close to the fever pitch in the MGM arena that night. As we were walking into the MGM, Devilfish said to me, “I hope you didn’t bet on Hatton. ”
I said, “yes, I did. I thought all of you bet on Hatton, too.”
He said, “these dumb blokes did, but I’ve got $20k on Mayweather. I know boxing and this is like stealing. Hatton’s got no fuckin’ shot. None!” I called my bookmaker and changed sides. Thanks, Devil!
Devilfish was never shy. Just ask any woman he ever spoke to. He was a bit too crass for some and hard to understand at the best of times, but he was one of the funniest guys I’ve ever known, always laughing at his own jokes. On top of his unique sense of humour he really was one of the best poker players in the world.
I remember when he captured his WPT title in Tunica, Mississippi like it was yesterday. I remember it so vividly not only because Devilfish came to the table in a black suit and revealed his “Devil Fish” diamond rings for the first time, which were like brass knuckles that stretched across three fingers on each hand, but also because it was the most dominating win in WPT history. Devilfish came to the final table as chip leader and ran all over the table. He raised nearly every pot. It was a slaughtering. And what made even more remarkable was the high calibre of players at the final table. Phil Ivey was on that table (he finished 2nd) as well as some highly respected NLH players from Texas. But it was strictly – and I do mean strictly – a one-man show.
I was, however, really disappointed with the edited TV show. It didn’t show how the Devilfish bossed the table, leaving viewers unaware of his utter dominance. Only “x” number of hands can make it to the TV show, those that get action and go to a flop. Devilfish was raising and re-raising 9 out of 10 hands and everybody folded until they were so short stacked they were compelled to play. Devilfish would then call with K-5, or J-8, or whatever because he was priced in. It looked to most on TV like Devilfish was a bad player who got lucky. But nothing could be further from the truth. The show didn’t do Devilfish justice and it still bothers me to this day.
Devilfish targets Doyle Brunson
There is an endless supply of Devilfish stories, but here’s one of my favourites: A big $50k PLO buy-in game, a small fortune back then, was going on at Bellagio. A rich Greek was in town and he loved PLO, which was coincidentally Devilfish’s best game. The Devil was dying to get in on the action but didn’t have enough to buy-in. Finally, after grinding and winning smaller games for several days, and perhaps borrowing a little, he had exactly $50k and got a seat in the game. The Devilfish was never shy about putting his entire bankroll on the table.
Blinds were $200/400 and most put the $800 straddle on it. Devilfish folded every hand for a round or two. The Greek then opened the pot for $2k, Doyle Brunson called and the Devilfish, in the BB, bet the $9K pot. Both players called. The flop came A-7-5 w/two diamonds. Devilfish bet $27k and the Greek folded. After hesitating, Doyle, who was winning pretty good in the game, said, “OK, let’s gamble!” He then set Devilfish all-in who quickly called.
The Devil was trying for days to play this game and within 30 minutes was vying for a $110k pot! The Devilfish turned up A-A-J-10 in hearts and diamonds. He had the top set (best hand possible) and the nut flush draw. Doyle turned up 9-8-7-4 in diamonds and spades. He was drawing dead to running quads or a six that wasn’t a diamond. The two of spades came on the turn and then the six of clubs on the river, giving Doyle the straight and the win.
Devilfish stared at the board for a minute. I thought he might turn the table over but to everyone’s surprise, he didn’t say a word. He just got up from the table and started walking out. He stepped down off the balcony, took a few more steps, turned around and headed back toward the table. When he got there he put his hands on the table, leaned across toward Doyle and said, “Doyle, have you got any more of those Super System books of yours? I’d like to have one so I’ll have something to wipe my ass with when I get back home.” He then turned and walked out.
Let’s get Devilfish into the Poker Hall of Fame
The poker world will never be the same. Look for David “Devilfish” Ulliott to get elected into the Poker Hall of Fame this year. It seems only fitting that the guy who shined perhaps the brightest light on European poker be the first European elected to the PHOF. He’s sure as hell going to get my vote! RIP Devilfish.
The following two videos sum up the Devilfish perfectly. The first is him playing up during an interview with PokerNews and the second where someone caught him doing what he loves best and that is performing for the public.