Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott is one of the most successful, formidable, and well-known poker players of our time. Born in working class Hull, in northern England, Devilfish drifted out of education and on to the wrong side of the tracks. Despite, or perhaps because, of sharp mind and natural street smarts he found himself in trouble and had several unhappy brushes with the law. During this time he discovered his talent for poker, a talent which would be his savior. By the time he hit his 30s his life was well and truly back on track. He had a successful pawn broking business and was organizing regular poker games in the back of his shop.
How did he start in poker?
As a young man he mostly played three-card brag but by the time he was 30 he was regularly hosting games and playing in other people’s home games. He was so good his fellow players stopped going to his games and allowing him at theirs and by 1990 he was on the road six nights a week trying to find games all over the north of England and the midlands. Devilfish was driven from game to game by his pal Gary Whitaker who had 10 percent of his action. Whitaker also placed bets for Devilfish with one of the top UK bookmakers after Devilfish had been barred for running £4,000 up to £70,000 as a result of his successful wagers. During this time his exploits included losing a £60,000 pot to Irish professional Donnacha O’Dea and winning the money back in other games over the next 48 hours. He also once played in five cities on one session and won £35,000. In the early 1990s Devilfish was playing more tournament poker than cash and was sufficiently good by 1996 to win £100,000 in one two-week period at the Victoria Casino, London. This boosted his bankroll enough to allow him to go to Las Vegas for the first time.
How did he get his nickname?
In 1996 he went to Las Vegas for the first time and got heads-up in a tournament against Men “The Master” Nguyen. “The Master” had many friends and fans cheering him on so Whitaker began cheering “Go on the Devilfish” to support his friend. The name was thought up by Stephen Au-Yeung who ran a poker game at which Ulliott was a regular. Devilfish won the tournament and when the headline “Devilfish devours The Master” appeared in the following morning’s headlines the nickname stuck. Interestingly, Ulliott had been previously known as Dave “The Clock” because he used a grandfather clock to buy into a tournament once when he knew an antiques dealer was playing. He obviously much preferred the new moniker because shortly after he commissioned two huge knuckledusters emblazoned with the words “DEVIL” and “FISH”, one to be worn on each hand, and he began to revel in his new persona.
When did he become a legend?
In 1997 Devilfish went to Las Vegas and won an event at the World Series of Poker for which he was awarded a coveted bracelet. This is the pinnacle of any poker player’s career. He had to borrow $70,000 to play after he had lost $200,000 in cash games and tournament buy-ins. He lost this too and borrowed another $2,000 to play in the pot-limit Omaha event. He beat fellow countryman Chris Truby heads-up, won just over $180,000, had “Devilfish” engraved on the bracelet and his legend was born. Devilfish went on a rush for the rest of his trip, winning up to $20,000 each day playing cash games and beating seasoned pro Lyle Berman out of $168,000 in heads-up pot-limit Omaha. He arrived home to cheers from his fellow players with almost $750,000 in plastic duty-free bags.
How did he become a TV celebrity?
When Late Night Poker was first aired on Channel 4 in the UK in 1999 Devilfish became an overnight sensation. With his hand crafted “Devil” and “Fish” knuckleduster, his orange tinted prescription sunglasses, his slick suit, and his hilarious table banter it was clear Ulliott was a star turn. Devilfish demolished the opposition in that first, and seminal, televised poker tournament and won £40,000 and enduring infamy as a star of the emerging poker boom (the event was watched by 1.5 million people when it was first broadcast). In 2005 Devilfish would again become a TV sensation but for a very different reason. During a prestigious invitational event after the Monte Carlo Millions which was being broadcast live across America on the Fox Sports Network (FSN), Ulliott removed his jacket when eliminated in third place for $120,000 to reveal the legend www.devilfishpoker.com on the back of his shirt. The image was shown in millions of homes across the US in contravention of Fox Network’s strict policy on .com advertising. Devilfish was told he would never appear on any future FSN production. Ulliott remained unrepentant saying they changed their rules after he agreed to appear.
How much has he won?
According to The Hendon Mob poker database Devilfish has almost $5.5 million in career tournament winnings. As well as his World Series of Poker victory in 2007 he has come second four times in 1998, 2000 and twice in 2001, and third twice in 2001 and 2005. In 2003 he won his second “major”, taking down the World Poker Tour $10,000 no-limit hold’em championship for $589,175 and in 2007 he came third in the $15,000 WPT Doyle Brunson Classic in Las Vegas for his biggest ever tournament payday of $674,500. Indeed 2007 proved to be Devilfish’s most successful year ever in terms of tournaments with over $1.25 million in winnings. As a result he won the prestigious Card Player European Player of the Year title. He is sits on second place of top earning English tournament poker players in the history of the game.
What else does he do?
Devilfish has many strings to his bow. He launched the first World Series of Poker Europe held in London in 2007 with his great rival Phil Hellmuth — proof if it were needed that he is by far and away Europe’s biggest poker legend. He is an accomplished musician and singer playing several instruments including guitar and piano and can often be seen at poker tournaments and events entertaining crowds. Author Des Wilson has written an acclaimed biography of Ulliott called “Swimming with the Devilfish”.