Devilfish Memories

Devilfish Memories

Monday, 25 May 2015

Neil Channing and Nic Szeremeta look back.

Neil Channing

I think I first became aware of the Devilfish in about 1995, at the Victoria Casino. I used to come five or six times a year for a week at a time when they had a big tournament and stay for a week and Dave was a bit similar. There was a legendary game "The Big Game". It was too big for me but Dave was trying to break into it. He'd been beating all the games in the north and there was nothing that was big enough to satisfy him anymore. He used to say nobody in the north wanted to play him anymore. I remember he struggled to break into that game. It was a massive £1000 sit-down PLO with three blinds of £10, £20 and £40 and pots of £100,000 were not uncommon. He would moan about how those Cockneys always got lucky against him and they would swat him away. That was around the time they made the documentary, the cameras followed him around for six months. Watching that is always going to be a great way to remember him.

During a Vegas trip in 1996 I stood on the rail and watched Dave for hours. I was desperate for him to acknowledge me and I was proud when he stopped to chat, probably wondered why this English guy, one of only a few there, was so fascinated. He had a certain magnetism that was hard to explain.

In 1997 he got his bracelet and that secured him legend-status to my eyes. I assumed he was totally cleaning up at all times as I watched him play in the biggest games in the world, but I now realise these were amazingly swingy times for the Fish. He tells the story in his autobiography of going broke in Vegas and basically winning the bracelet with his last bit of money. During the early Late Night Poker years he was doing great and the confidence could be easily seen through the screen. The sharp suits, the nickname, the winking and the pithy comments made him the star of the show. It was watching LNP that got me thinking that this could be something I'd do as a "career" rather than just an occasional hobby. I think it's very reasonable to say that without the Fish there wouldn't have been a LNP as we know it and to the UK players LNP was the big important thing, way bigger for us than the film Rounders, the WPT coming to TV and later the win of Chris Moneymaker, which were the things that caused the big boom in America. Our boom came a little earlier and the game maybe tripled in size and a lot of that was down to Dave.

By 2002 I can see now that things can't have been going so well. People were gossiping and I heard them ask why Dave would be "bothering" playing the "Christmas Cracker" a series of small events in Luton. In the £200 PLH I got heads-up with him. He had a massive chip lead and I lost a flip to hit the front. I felt like it was a big swing for me at the time. I think it was bigger for Dave though. Someone later told me the £10,000 he won that day was basically his new bankroll and he took it to Tunica where he played the WPT event, he defeated Phil Ivey heads-up and Phil Hellmuth on commentary said it was the finest display of poker seen on TV ever.

From that day until yesterday Dave was a star. It was that WPT final which got him the Ultimate Bet deal and made him a big name in America as well as over here. He was the first UK player to really make it there and to be acknowledged by the biggest names in the game. He was the first player in UK poker to really have mainstream fame, being recognised on the street and signing autographs.

We were never really great friends. I never once ate a meal or even had a drink with him. When we met one of us was usually attempting to take every penny the other one had and leave him with nothing. We were rivals. I'm not really sure when it was that I earned his respect but I remember being proud when I realised it had happened. He had mine from so many years earlier.

I was sad when I heard about his illness, I've been sad for a few weeks and I'm sad now. I'll miss him. He was a true legend. 


Nic Szeremeta

I was always ten years older than the Devilfish but he had this habit of calling me “son”.

“You don’t wanna do that son,” he would say if he thought I was going to raise on the rare occasions when we were at the same tournament table.
It eventually dawned on me that he addressed most of the men in his life in the same way.

Like the busker we ran into at 3.30am on a freezing November night on the canal bridge outside the Holland Casino in Amsterdam. It was during the Master Classics tournament in the late 90s and the casino kicked everyone out at 3 am. This did not go unnoticed by the local mugging community who used to pick off the occasional gamblers who tried to make it to their hotels alone at that late hour.

So the poker players used to leave in gangs of three or four to avoid any unwelcome attention.

The busker – full marks for business initiative – figured to take the players’ money in a more lawful way by singing for his breakfast.

“Give us your guitar son” said the Devilfish removing the instrument from the busker’s ice cold fingers and then bursting into a rendition of some blues song or other. “Get your money out son” he told one 70 year old member of our group, German bank owner Manfred Daries. Both he and the rest of us complied along with various passers-by and the Devilfish handed over a wad of Dutch guilders to the bemused busker who had probably made more in five minutes that in a normal month.

He was a generous soul but then at times he could afford to be.
When he became the first winner of Late Night Poker back in 1999 he invited everyone back to Jury’s Hotel in Cardiff for a celebration drink.
“What would you like sir?” asked the barman. “A dozen bottles of champagne son,” he said. And he got them. And we drank them. Happy days.

He had a healthy disregard for money that occasionally had unfortunate consequences. After winning a World Poker Tour event in the USA in January of 2003 – beating Phil Ivey heads up if you ever did – he brought back the prize money in notes, all $589,000 of it. First stop on the way home was the ACF in Paris where he was annoyed to find that the safe in his hotel room was too small for him to cram in all his cash.

He rammed in over half a million dollars but still had $40,000 to hide somewhere. So he removed the bin liner of the wastepaper basket, lined the bottom with forty large and replaced the liner.

Then forgot about it.

When he packed to catch his plane back to England he cleared out the safe but it was only in the cab on the way to the airport that he realised he was missing something – like his $40k in the bin. He probably called the cabbie “son” when he ordered him to turn round and go back to the hotel.
The hotel staff were most helpful and between shrugs explained that the room had been cleaned and no one knew anything about any money in a waste paper basket. Well they would say that wouldn’t they? Needless to say the cash had disappeared into thin air.

Devilfish was sometimes lucky and he knew it.

Like the time about ten years ago when the plane in which he was flying to Amsterdam was struck by lightning shortly after taking off in Nice. As it climbed through the clouds there was a massive bang like an explosion, the plane shook, all the lights went out and the screaming commenced.

Dave didn’t join in. Here’s how he told me why.

“The guy in the next seat asked me how I managed to stay calm,” he said. “I told him that I had noticed that the plane was still going up!”.
But he did admit to being a bit scared. “When something like that happens you feel like you’ve got a second life,” he said.

Tags: Devilfish, Dave Ulliott, Neil Channing, Nic Szeremeta