At the first televised poker tournament in Cardiff Wales, in the spring of 1999, I watched Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, dressed in all black with gold-rimmed sunglasses and goatee, breathe life into televised poker by winning Late Night Poker I. I’ll never forget that night after the final; back at the bar with Devilfish buying a case of champagne, there was a true pioneer spirit in the air. Most of us had played and lost, but it didn’t matter, because something great had been created and Devilfish was a worthy winner to present the face of poker as a sport.
Now, more than five years later, Devilfish is on top of the poker world. Over a midday meal on the 11th deck of the ship on a recent poker cruise to the Mediterranean, I got to talk with him about how far he has come and how life is now that he’s an UltimateBet-sponsored player.
Everybody knows Devilfish. Wearing his black suit and those two finger rings that say “Devil” and “Fish,” the Devil has topped big poker tournaments in both the UK and America, like the one he won (pocketing $600,000) in front of a partisan American crowd in Tunica, Mississippi, during the breakout season of the World Poker Tour. Ulliott wiped up a final table there that included American superstar Phil Ivey and Texan old-timer Tommy Grimes. “I done Tommy Grimes’ head in there,” Dave laughed. “It was good for televised poker that I won those early tournaments.” Yes, it’s been great. Devilfish’s image and play have won him fans from around the world, and helped to catapult poker to being a sport with exciting stars.
It certainly didn’t start out easy for Dave Ulliott. “In the old days,” he said, “I used to have to win at poker to play the tournaments, because nobody ever gave me a spit to slide in.” A young Devilfish once lost his friend’s car in a poker game. “They asked me, ‘How much have you got left?’” he reminisced, “and I said, ‘I got these car keys here,’ and I put them in.” Ulliott smiled at the memory. “Hey, I was an 11-1 favorite in the pot!” he said in his own defense. “Then, I called my mate up and said, ‘You know that car? How much would you sell it to me for?’”
Devilfish got his nickname in Las Vegas, and don’t let his wit let you forget his skill. A devilfish is an oriental delicacy that kills you if it’s not prepared properly. Someone had called him that in his local game in Hull many years ago, but it hadn’t stuck. And wouldn’t you know it that someone from that game happened to be in Las Vegas when Dave got to the final two of the World Series of Poker pot-limit hold’em championship in 1997. Ulliott was head up for the $200,000 first prize against Men “The Master” Nguyen, a stack ’em up tournament artist who’s a commander on the tour.
The spectators were a little boisterous, and one of Men’s supporters, of which there were many, shouted out, “On the Master!” A cheer went up. Then, from the back of the pack, the man from Hull fired back, “On the Devilfish!”
Then, the Devilfish skinned the Master, and laid him out to dry, and the nickname stuck.
Devilfish served serious notice to the judi poker online pkv world on that 1997 Las Vegas trip. “I went to Vegas,” he said, “and Mansour Matloubi (1990 WSOP champion) befriended me. He suggested I play Lyle Berman heads up. I beat him for $168,000.”
“Did Lyle say anything to you?” I asked.
A dry smile broke across Ulliot’s lips. “He said, ‘That’ll do … ’”
His friendship with Mansour was to pay even bigger dividends. When the online poker site UltimateBet decided it wanted someone in Europe toward the end of 2000, Mansour told consultant Russ Hamilton that Devilfish was the man for the job. “At the first Poker Million on the Isle of Man, Russ and Mansour invited me up for a dinner. I was a bit dubious, and decided that I better not fasten my shoelaces,” he said with a wink.
Devilfish needn’t have worried. He was offered a 1 percent share in UltimateBet and was given two weeks to make up his mind. He decided to give it a go. “And if I had decided not to,” Ulliott said, “I probably would have shot myself. It’s probably worth over a million bucks now.” Dave strongly believes that UltimateBet has the best software, and in his opinion is the best in online poker. Devilfish calls UltimateBet CEO Greg Peterson “one of the cleverest guys I ever met; he never makes a wrong move.” And of former WSOP champion and UB consultant Hamilton, Dave said, “I’ve known Russ for seven years, and in all that time, I’ve never seen him lose a bet — whether it’s golf or bungee jumping!”
After his initial contract with UltimateBet was up, Devilfish tested the market and found quite a few offers. But, UltimateBet matched all comers, giving Dave the most lucrative individual contract ever in European poker. Ulliott can now play whichever poker tournaments he chooses, whenever he wants. “It’s nice,” he said, “to be involved in a company that you believe in and own 1 percent of!”
Dave Ulliott has come a long way from a tough upbringing in Hull, but he has no desire to forget where he came from. He still lives not far from where he was raised, in a house with a garden, a pond, a snooker room, and a music room. “My only worry,” he said, “is getting the kids to school on time!”
Talk about how times have changed. “Although I started as the bad boy of poker,” Dave admitted, “I’ve changed quite a bit. I used to swear and say what I thought … ” That wink and the smile that cracked his lips signaled that the man known as Devilfish is still apt to say whatever’s on his mind, but it’s different now — now that Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott has reached the pinnacle of the poker world. Devilfish is not a bad boy any more, and he wears it well.