Interview With Dave "The Devilfish" Ulliott
By Steve Marzolf
How did you get started playing poker?
"I used to play a bit with my mother and father at the kitchen table. The turning part was when I started working making shields and trophies. At lunch time, they used to play poker during the break. I started playing plain draw poker - and losing - and one of the old boys in the game, this old guy called Jack, was a member at the only casino in Hull. It was this very small, shady casino called the 51 Club. I was quite a tall kid for 15, and he signed me in there. I started playing this game called Three-Card Brag. I ended up getting lots and lots of money at that game because I could track the cards coming around. It was like tracking the Aces and Jacks in Black Jack. Anyway, I started playing this Brag game, then I went to Strip-Deck Stud Poker, which is the same game Steve McQueen played in 'The Cincinnati Kid.' And, I played that game for 20-odd years in Hull until I couldn't find a game. They used to move the game if they knew I was coming."
So you built your career from the street.
"Oh yeah. I started off without spit to slide on. My house was so small when I was a kid they had to paint the furniture on the walls. You could put your hand down the chimney and open the door from the inside if you forgot your key."
How old were you when you went pro?
"I never really went pro. It just sort of slipped upon me. I bought this jewelry business 20 years ago from poker winnings, and me and the wife run it. I'd go off playing poker in places like Leeds, Bradford, London, then across to Vegas. I used to play in places where you had to take a gun with you. The hard bit wasn't winning the money - the hard bit was getting out with it."
What's the shadiest game you've experienced?
"Me and Gary, this friend who used to drive me around, we went to this game at a Pakistani's place. This guy was about six-foot-seven and the skinniest guy you've ever seen. He used to twang in the wind. This game was down a dark back alley with rats lying around that were probably waiting to get on the menu. You'd go up this fire escape in the freezing cold on a winter morning. I went into this place, and there were about nine Pakistanis there, and I started to break each one. As I'd bust one of them, another would jump in. So, I probably busted about 20 Pakistanis that night. I took all the money they had. Gary and I were the last out, and as we were leaving we got into this back room leading onto the fire escape. I said to Gary, 'Wait a minute.' I turned the light out so it was completely dark and got my eyes used to it. I walked out first with Gary behind me and heard them whispering in the alleyway. They were waiting for me to get the money back. I pulled a gun out of my jacket - and Gary didn't even know I was carrying a gun this night. I fired it in the air. Imagine 5:30 on a winter morning when you could hear a pin drop, and here I am, firing a gun in the air. Gary shit his pants behind me, and you heard all the dust bins going off as they ran down the alleyway. So, I got in the car and blew on the barrel of the gun - like they do in the old cowboy movies - and said, 'Let's go, baby.'"
That covers the past nicely, what's your big goal for the future?
"I'm making this web site, www.DevilFishPoker.com, and I want to build it up and make a bunch of money. It's up and running, and it's fantastic. It's like a gangster site. You come up to this steel door, and the grill comes across and this ugly face comes up and decides if he's going to let you in. You go in and sit down in the brickwork room, give yourself a gangster name and get going. There's already like 15,000 people playing. I don't want to come across as an advertisement, but I've also got www.TheDevilFishStore.com, where I sell chip sets, poker tables, card shufflers. It's the best there is, and it's cheaper than everywhere else. Not only that, but I give away a free DVD with every purchase. And the DVD is great because I'm funny. Some guys doing these DVDs should be hypnotists - they send you right to sleep. But, this is good stuff."
That's a hell of a pitch. Tell the whole story behind the nickname Devilfish.
"The Devilfish was given to me by a Chinese guy in Birmingham by the name of Stevie. This guy likened me to the Devilfish because I'm very aggressive and I give 'em the needle after I take the money off them. The Devilfish is the blowfish that only a few chefs can prepare - if they don't take the poison out right it'll kill you. Gary, who drove me around, was there at the game. We walked out of the game, and I forgot all about it. Three months later I was playing against Men The Master in the Four Queens Omaha tournament, and nobody even knew me over there. It was only me and him left, heads up, and somebody yelled out, 'Go on, The Master!' Right out, Gary shouted, 'Go on the F-ing Devilfish!' He'd remembered all the way from three months back in Birmingham. And the headline on the flyer the next day was, 'Devilfish devours The Master.' I went back three months later, won a gold bracelet and put Devilfish on it for a bit of fun. It's better than naming yourself Slippery Ass or something."
A lot of pros had their down and out moments whether going broke or just partying too much - what have you struggled with along the way?
"Both of 'em - going broke and partying too much. I've been broke plenty of times, and I've definitely partied too much. All the young guys out there, Antonio and Phil, they all like going out with me because I'm a rock'n'roller. I'll get up with the band and grab a guitar off 'em. I'm friends with Ronnie Wood out of the Rolling Stones. I'm big friends with Roland Gift out of the Fine Young Cannibals. He came 200 miles down from London to sing me a couple songs at my 40th birthday. That's class right there."
Who's your favorite pro to play against in the U.S.?
"Probably Sammy Farha. We always have a laugh. It's always entertaining when it's me and him in the game. When I'm on a game and he's not, I have to get everybody steaming on tilt and gambling bad. But, Sammy does that for you if he's on the game, so you can just sit there and mop up."
How's the poker scene different in the U.K. versus the U.S.?
"Apart from the obvious that everything's bigger in the U.S. - like the dick swing, according to the girls. The tournaments are bigger out there. They've got all the rules sorted out. There's nothing that they haven't come across before. A lot of the tournaments in Europe are still getting things ironed out. I've mentioned rules to places in Europe, and they say, 'Yeah, yeah, we'll think about it.' Then a year later, they bring it in as if it's their idea. Just simple things, like, you have to be in your chair before the last card's dealt. This is just a simply good rule because it just saves arguments. Also in America, there are a lot of four-day tournaments, where in the U.K. a lot of the tournaments are still two-day or one-day. It takes a lot of the skill out of the game."
What's the most extravagant way you've blown your winnings?
"Well, I threw $40,000 in the trash can in Paris. I put a bag into the safe, which I thought was containing $40,000, when in fact it was containing rubbish. And, I left the $40,000 in a similar-looking bag on the floor, which I thought was containing rubbish. So, I walked out and put it in the wheelie bin. The next day, I realized it and went to the people who handle the rubbish, and instead of mentioning that I lost $40,000 in a bag, I told them I'd lost some keys and wanted to know if I could get the bag back. They said, 'No, it goes straight off the truck and into the incinerator.' So, that was the end of that."
Were you drunk or something?
"No. I don't need to be drunk to do stupid things."
What do you think of this new crowd of serious amateurs that are playing?
"You know, a lot of these are good players, but in the past two tournaments I've played in it's been ridiculous. I just had a guy in Amsterdam who actually called me on the flop with no outs, called me on the turn with no outs, and at the end he put a bluff in on me. As it happens, the perfect cards come off for him to be able to bluff it - if that card hadn't come up, I was calling a million percent. Then he turns his hand up and wants to show and laugh as though he's smart. Really, it's just ridiculous. But, these are the kinds of moves guys want to do on me in front of the table and say, 'Look, I bluffed the Devilfish out of a pot. I outplayed him.' Obviously, you're getting it all the time. It makes it tough when everybody's gunning for you."
How do you deal with it?
"You just have to tighten up. A lot of these guys don't have enough common sense to realize that I don't play the same at the beginning of a tournament with my $10,000 stack of chips as I do on the final when I'm chip leader. I play pretty tight at the beginning to get some chips together."
What differences do you see in the new generation of guys who are contending to be pros now that the game has exploded?
"A lot of these young guys win a lot of money on the internet. So, they've got a lot of confidence. They're cocky, and they think they're world-beaters. But, I don't know if they'll be around in 10 years. I mean, I bought a gold-and-diamond business before poker was even known - before TV and prize money - just by playing cash games around places these young kids wouldn't dare walk in. You can't go around the places I've been around if you're a namby-pamby. There's a lot of guys out there - even the pros that are playing now - that won't last 10 minutes in these places. When I sit across the table from somebody, I don't care who they are. I'm not afraid to say what I want to say. However bad it gets, it's been worse. "
Do these new guys play entirely differently without that experience?
"A lot of these guys are flying by the seat. I used to be a bit the same as them 10 or 15 years ago. When I first went out to Vegas, I played a lot heads-up, just to prove the point that I was the best. I had a bit of an ego problem, but I don't think I have it now. The reason I'm playing in Monte Carlo with these other six pros isn't because there's a great edge in it - it's just that I can advertise my site during the interviews."
If you weren't playing poker now, what would you be doing for a living?
"I'd probably be a male model."
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