Dave 'Devilfish' Ulliott

May cover

05 May 2011

"The old mafia look? I put the TV on one day and everybody looked like me. They all had the shades and the suits on. And apart from that, my young girlfriend decided that I looked better with my hair like this."
Devilfish on his new look.

Following the recent sale of DevilfishPoker.com, Dave Ulliott suddenly finds himself a free agent. Time, then, to reflect on the more important things in life – family, poker and rock n’ roll. Bluff Europe chats to a mellowing Devilfish.

What the devil have you been up to recently?

I’ve only played a couple of tournaments so far this year because my ex-wife has been ill – she’s just had a seven-hour cancer op – and so I’ve been hanging out with the family, which is obviously a lot more important than playing poker. But as long as I’m not more than a couple of hours down the road, then it’s OK, so I haven’t really been playing abroad. But as long as she remains well, I’ll be going over to play the WPT in Vienna and to Vegas in May for the Bellagio and I’ll probably stay there right through to the World Series. Once you’ve played in Vegas, it’s tough to play anywhere else. It’s harder for me to get the momentum to go and play in these smaller things.

Does poker still excite you like it used to?

I’ve always needed the final table, really, because of the buzz. I love it. That’s when the adrenalin kicks in. All the way through the tournament, up to that point, I’m just waking up. I’ve always said that, especially in NL tournaments, all the skill comes in the middle of the tournament. At the beginning you’ve got to be lucky enough to get chips, and at the end of the tournament it’s usually a crapshoot. Even the Main Event at the World Series. I mean, we all like TV to get involved, but as soon as that happens, the blind situation is ridiculous. In fact, of the last two tournaments I won, neither was televised. That’s why you don’t see me much on TV these days playing in these one-table SNG’s, because you can’t afford any bad luck in them. Sometimes you play your bollocks off and then you get heads up with a 5:1 chip lead and you’re only three hands away from going broke. The blinds are so big and you can’t fold because then you’re just giving them up.

What do you think about the current state of TV poker in this country?

For a start, I don’t think they should have any celebrities playing poker. You wouldn’t get “celebrity” football matches – no one would watch that – or “celebrity” snooker matches where you wouldn’t get over a seven break. I think it’s disrespectful to poker players. And the man off the street – he’s got no idea about poker – all he sees is good players getting beat, beat, beat. They don’t know it’s a bad beat. They don’t know we got our money in with the best hand or that we were forced in by the blinds. So many people come up to me and say, “I saw you got beat again on TV!” and they don’t realise it’s not real poker, it’s just a show. It’s a shame, really. I don’t think it does us any good.

You get a few TV shows which are great, some have come and gone. I can’t complain too much. If you look at Late Night Poker, which kick-started the whole thing, everybody thought that was skill – I won the first three and I never won one in probably the next 15. So that kind of puts a true reading on things. You have to be very lucky when the TV cameras are rolling.

How would you do TV poker if they put you in charge?

I’d like to see half Omaha and half hold’em – make it more skilful. And, also, the TV cameras don’t have to show too much Omaha if they don’t want to, but you would get a better class of player. It would also teach people about Omaha, and Omaha’s not so complicated. Seven-card stud, for instance – I mean, I love the game, but it would be too much – people wouldn’t understand it.

Back in the old days, it was just seven-card stud and five-card stud. I went to Leeds to discover hold’em and I took it back home to Hull. Then I went back to Leeds to learn all the dealer’s choice games and took them back to Hull. Now they all sit around playing dealer’s choice games. Sorry [spies pretty cocktail waitress] I just lost my train of thought… just went totally blank… where was I?

How has the game changed over the last decade, from the point of view of someone who has a been-there-done-that T-shirt?

People go out there now and they win a couple of tournaments and they’re, like, third on the cash list. I’m still top of the list in the UK but I had to win hundreds. I had to go out grafting all over the place. These kids play a couple of high roller events and all of a sudden they’re up there because they beat 20 people. The real change is that the money’s ridiculous now. But the unfortunate thing is that these young kids put no value on money. I never used to put any value on money and I’m lucky to be where I am now because I could have just easily been broke somewhere. I was just lucky to have met the wife because otherwise I’d probably be in prison, or dead.

But these kids – I was having dinner with Tom Dwan in Vegas and he’d lost, like, £2m the night before. I mean, they don’t understand how hard it is to get there. And once you’ve had it and you lose it, that’s when you’re really in bad shape. Money’s very hard to get hold of and very easy to get rid of.

I mean, I used to chase for England. If I was losing ten dollars in a game I could end up losing a ten grand. Nowadays, I just walk away. I get up, smile and say well played.

So, I’m settling back into poker. I’m going to go over to Vegas. I’m going to go there by myself, rather than with the girlfriend in tow, which is usual, and I’m going to be really focused, and I’m going to try to win a couple of bracelets – that’s the idea.

There are too many tournaments now, though – 57, or something ridiculous. You’re playing in one and there’s another one starting. I believe, now, you can buy in during the first three levels, so if you get knocked out of one and another one’s starting, you can just hop into another…

You just have to choose the ones you play best and also the ones where the most money is. Unfortunately NLH is always going to be where the money is, even though it is, in my opinion, one of the least skilful games. Like I say, you can play in the middle, but after that it’s in the lap of the Gods.

You don’t seem to play EPT’s so much…

I haven’t been, but when I get a sponsor I will be. Soon as I wear someone’s logo out there.

You mean you’re a free agent?

I’ve got no sponsorship at the moment. The Weather Lottery guys who bought DevilfishPoker.com assumed they were sponsoring me but they haven’t offered me enough money, so I’m open to a sponsorship deal if anyone’s listening. I’m still the top money earner in England, and I play all games, unlike most poker players these days. I still get more TV coverage than anybody because I’m a funny guy, and I’m not partying so much now so I’m focused on the game. So if anybody out there wants to grab hold of me quick, now’s the time. Where else would you get someone who plays the piano, rocks and rolls and has a sense of humour like mine?

What happened with Devilfish Poker?

They put some write up in some financial newspaper that said, “Devilfish Poker sold for 340-something-thousand.” Then there was a picture of me and it said, “Devilfish says this will help pay off some of the debts.” Well, first of all, I didn’t even want them to sell it. Secondly, I never got involved in the cash side of it. In fact, I put another £80k into Devilfish Poker a couple of months before they sold it; or rather, they managed to con me into putting another £80k in. Basically the only people who made money out of it were the directors. All I ever did was lose money out of it.

But at the moment I’m going through a phase where I’m just laid back and the family’s more important. My ex-wife’s an absolute diamond. She’s such a lovely woman – she don’t drink, don’t smoke and she got ill and here am I, leading the rock n’ roll lifestyle for years. I went for one of these BUPA check-ups and they said the only thing wrong is that my liver’s a bit swollen, everything else is fine. They said my heart goes like a train, although I hope that doesn’t mean it’s going to keep stopping every 20 minutes.

So you’ve got a clean bill of health and you’re back on your game?

Yeah, I am. And I’m concentrating at the moment, which is what it’s all about really, especially when you’re playing so many tournaments, like you do in Vegas.

How do you choose which tournaments you play?

Well, there are so many, it’s very easy to think, “Well, it doesn’t matter, there’ll be another one tomorrow.” You’ve got to get that out of your head and concentrate on the one you’re playing in.

Also, you don’t want to pick a tournament when there’s one the next day that’s going to have massive money in it, because if you make it to Day 2 you’re gonna be sick. You have to be really choosy. Like, I played the short handed $5k in Vegas last year. I was one of the chip leaders, there were about 20 players left and it was, like, 2am and freezing cold. Jennifer Harman sent for a blanket. I’d gone and grabbed one of the sheets covering the stalls and I’m sat playing with a sheet wrapped around me. Then they put Men the Monkey on the table; he’s pissed out of his bollocks, holding the game up every single hand. Every hand’s just a joke. I was so fed up, I just murdered my chips. I mean, I had two tens and I just played them so bad against two aces, it’s scary. It’s quite funny because the guy goes, “That’s how you play aces!” and I’m like, “No, it’s just not how you play tens.”

Reading your book, you’ve always been a fighter. Have you mellowed? Is there anything left to fight for?

Life is definitely a lot better than it used to be in the sense that I don’t have to worry about money any more, although you’ve always got to worry when you’ve got seven kids. I want to make sure that they’re all set up when something happens to me. Although I do actually seem to be getting younger as I get older (laughs).

Are you alluding to your notorious image change? What happened to the dark suits and the slicked-back hair?

The old mafia look? I put the TV on one day and everybody looked like me. They all had the shades and the suits on. And apart from that, my young girlfriend decided that I looked better with my hair like this, so I thought, why not? It’s not as scary and it’s not a poker look, for definite, but I like it better, I think. But poker can be an unhealthy lifestyle if you’re not careful. You see so many young kids now, they just play, play and play, they don’t look after themselves, they don’t dress well...

Will you be playing forever? Any thoughts of retiring?

I’ve still got the fire in my belly. People say to me why don’t you retire. But what would I do? At the moment I go round the world, I meet beautiful girls, I sit on the beaches – I do what I want. So what am I going to do if I retire? Same thing. So what’s the point?

Devilfish: The Life and Times of a Poker Legend is currently available at all good bookstores.