Jesse and Mickey May Tell Devilfish's Story: "A Friend with a Heart of Gold"
On Tuesday, April 6, British poker legend Dave "Devilfish" Ulliott passed away at the age of 61 after a battle with cancer.
Since then, countless friends and fans of one of poker's most distinctive characters took to the Internet to share their memories and pay a tribute to a man who gave an enormous contribution to the game in order to help make poker as popular as it is today.
To help remember some amazing moments of their friendship with Ulliott, Mickey May and Jesse "ScurrilousMay" May decided to put together some meaningful images and use them to share with PokerNews readers the story of a man whose way to live poker convinced thousands that this can be a lot more than a simple game of cards.
PokerNews sincerely thanks Mickey and Jesse for the photos and text below.
The Night Dave Ulliott Became "Devilfish"
At his very core, Devilfish was a man who adored the game of poker. He loved the shit out of it — not that he would ever admit it. This picture was taken during the 2004 World Series of Poker (WSOP) downtown at Binion's Horseshoe. Devilfish had a couple of those original WSOP jackets. When he wasn't wearing his black suit for the cameras you would find him wearing one of these, an old softy for the history of the game. In the later years, he got a reputation for being a bit of a party animal, but this is how I remember him: hard, sober, and looking straight through you with his piercing gaze.
This also kind of reminds me of the story of how he got his name, or when Las Vegas first heard of Devilfish, anyway. Much is made of when Devilfish won his WSOP bracelet, but this story took place a few months earlier, in January 1997 across the street at the Four Queens. And the story is pure Devilfish.
So David Ulliott gets heads up for a Four Queens title with Men "The Master" Nguyen. At this time, the Four Queens Tournament Series was second in prestige only to the WSOP, and the nicest thing you can say about Men the Master is that he's not a very nice guy.
But back then Men the Master ruled all of the big tournaments in more ways than one, and he had an army of minions that would have been surrounding the table cheering him on. Men the Master always drank Budweisers when he played. When he had an audience he could get pretty abusive, and he had the chip lead.
So the story is that there was a sea of people on the rail shouting, "Go on, the Master!" and one of Ulliott's mates from back home who was in town as Dave's minder and would have been the only one in Las Vegas at the time who was cheering Dave on, he shouted out, "Go on the Devilfish!"
Devilfish was a name that someone had once called Ulliott in a cash game in London, but it hadn't ever really stuck. So Dave Ulliott comes all the way back from a big chip deficit to beat Men the Master, and after that everybody called him Devilfish. But, that's not the good part of the story.
The part I love is that after winning an all-in pot when they were nearly even in chips, Men the Master was left with one single tournament chip. It was at that moment that the level ended and there was to be a scheduled one-hour dinner break if the players wanted to take it. So the Devilfish gets up to leave and Men the Master starts wailing, "You can't leave now, I only have one chip!" And Devilfish, who has been getting dog's abuse from Men the Master plus the entire rail for probably the whole day while nursing his stack, says to Men, "Of course we're going to take the dinner break, and I think maybe you can take that time to think about your tactics."
I don't know about the truth of the rest of the story, but that happened. It's just pure Devilfish. Men the Master would have turned purple and threatened to have Devilfish killed. And Devilfish would have spent the entire hour just busting his bollocks laughing, and gone around the room, telling absolutely everybody. Priceless.
A Real Master of Jokes
Anybody who spent even a few moments with Devilfish knows exactly what he is whispering in Greg Raymer's ear in the following photo — something totally rude, partially inappropriate, and savagely funny.
I think this picture is from Deauville in 2005, while Raymer was on his first European tour after winning the WSOP Main Event. Devilfish had an endearing manner. He would say something to you that would make you think that you and he were in on the joke, and that he accepted you as "getting it."
No doubt, the joke in this picture is Gus Hansen or Barny Boatman, or probably both — convenient foils in this case for the wit of Devilfish. But really, with Devilfish there was no poker player ever in the clear. As the saying goes, you would think you were playing the game, but suddenly the game was on you.
Raymer, to his credit, would have understood that, but I guarantee you that he wouldn't have been able to keep from laughing about four seconds after this snap. When Devilfish was in form, he was way too funny.
The Day Devilfish Lost To a Kid Named Peter Eastgate
Both these pictures were taken during the filming of Poker Million III. I think Devilfish played in every Poker Million, although he may have missed the last one due to getting barred from Sky Studios.
Whenever Devilfish showed up at Sky, it was bound to be a long day.
He pulled the same move every time. He would show up horribly late, and then he would wait in the green room, lying on the couch while all the rest of the players were sitting in the studio waiting for him, and the production staff going crazy.
It was terribly frustrating for anyone working on the show, but it paid dividends.
The Ladbrokes Poker Million was populated by the original type of Internet qualifiers, those who had never played on television before, had won their way in on a cheap buy-in, and were scared to within an inch of their lives. Then they found out they'd be playing against Devilfish. By letting them stew under the studio lights, Devilfish would increase the pressure on these guys tenfold.
And, just when everybody was ready to pop and the organizers were threatening disqualification, Devilfish would stride into the studio to start the game and the table would be too rattled to do anything but fold every hand until they busted out just for relief. It worked that year in Poker Million III, as Devilfish went all the way to the final before finishing runner-up to Donnacha O'Dea.
But I remember one year when it went horribly wrong. Devilfish tried to intimidate a young Internet qualifier from Denmark who looked like a deer in the headlights. The kid responded by running an audacious bluff on Devilfish, then knocked him out and nearly won the heat. The kid had some success a few years later — it was Peter Eastgate.
"If You Want to Raise a Pot, Kick Me Under The Table!"
When it came to poker talent, Devilfish was a shrewd judge. While his inner circle was just a party of one, Devilfish always tried to be on good terms with those he considered to be the top British players. It was actually a badge of respect to have Devilfish come up to you and give you the old, "We're both British here, mate. Let's not go out of our way to pick on each other."
Certainly it was just an angle, trying to keep a good player from giving him trouble, but there was some mutual respect from the young guys that could really play the game, at least in the years of say, 2002-2005. These two pictures here would have probably been the two guys he considered the best young British players during that time, Ram Vaswani and Julian Gardner — two very laid back guys with acres of poker talent. I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to say that both these guys got a kick out of Devilfish as well.
This also reminds me of a story I once heard about Devilfish and Simon Trumper. It seems they were both at the same table in a tournament in Las Vegas, with Devilfish sitting on Trumper's right.
"We don't want to mess with each other," said Devilfish to Trumper. "So here's what we'll do. Every time you're going to raise a pot, you kick me under the table, and I'll do the same."
Of course, with Devilfish sitting on Trumper's right, he acted first every hand anyway!
How the Brits Crushed the Scandis
I love this picture. It's from the Ladbrokes poker cruise to the Caribbean one year. If you're a fan of British poker history, then you will realize how many heroes are in it.
Paul Jackson on the left edge of the shot, Conor Tate next to him, and then the man known as "Bob the Butcher" (called that for reasons better left unsaid!). Then, Swedish poker hero Bengt Sonnert is on Devilfish's right, Jon "Skalie" Kalmar shouting from the rail, and even former Miss UK Leilani Dowding is looking on.
It was a team event, with the "Brits" taking on the "Scandis" in a one-table shootout. The prize money was all for charity, but Devilfish only agreed to participate on condition that he could pick the charity, which turned out to be the Hull Skateboarding Park, an institution that I believe was building a skateboarding park in Devilfish's backyard! The Brits came out on top, by quite a large margin.
"You Should See My Hot Tub, Phil!"
Both of these pictures are from the 2005 WSOP, deep in a tournament at the Rio. At the table, Phil Hellmuth and Devilfish liked to play the role of sworn enemies, but they were more like two peas in a pod. After getting knocked out here by Devilfish, Hellmuth can be seen leaning in close to wish him luck and say something like "Come on Devil, now take this one down."
But they never let up.
One Premier League played out in Maidstone, and neither Hellmuth nor Devilfish would consent to play until they had each been assured that they would have a bigger hotel room than the other, and were the biggest star of the show. When Devilfish found out they'd both been duped, he didn't break stride, he just made it up. Every time Phil was present that week, he'd start talking about the grand piano and hot tub in his room just to see the look on Hellmuth's face.
"The Most Dominating Final Table Performance The WPT Has ever Seen"
I don't know when exactly he got those knuckle dusters made, but my all-time favourite Devilfish story concerns them.
It was when he made the final table of the World Poker Tour Tunica during the first season in January 2003. The event was played even before Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP, and the first WPT season hadn't yet been aired.
Poker was growing, but it hadn't gone big time yet. I wasn't there to see this, but during that first WPT season they carried live audio broadcasts of the final table over the Internet, and I was glued to my computer from overseas. Devilfish had a commanding chip lead at the final table, but being that Phil Ivey had chips, as well along with some local heroes and a very famous old-timer named Tommy Grimes, the sentiment was that this strange upstart foreigner would soon be reined in.
The final table started with a big live audience and walk-ons for the players, who were introduced according to chip count, lowest first. Linda Johnson was on the microphone and as each player was introduced and walked onto the stage, the applause grew louder, with huge cheers for Phil Ivey. Then Linda Johnson said, "Your chip leader, from a place called Hull, The Devilfish!"
Now first of all, she said Hull like she thought it was a country of its own somewhere in a far-off land, and what with Devilfish's northern accent most people in Mississippi were quite convinced he wasn't speaking English anyway. As Devilfish walked onto the stage, all you could hear on the radio was absolute and total silence in the room, and I nearly broke a table I was crying so hard with laughter, because I could picture it clear as day.
Devilfish, who had probably been wearing jeans and hoodies for the last four days like everyone else, strode onto the stage looking like something they had never even seen in movies. He would have been in his black suit, slicked back hair, orange-tinted sunglasses, and those big diamond knuckle dusters saying "Devil" and "Fish." The entire state of Mississippi could only gape and wonder who the hell he thought he was.
Then he murdered them.
I've talked about it a few times with Mike Sexton, who still calls it the most dominating final table performance the WPT has ever seen. Unfortunately, the edited TV show just didn't do it justice. Devilfish was one hell of a no-limit hold'em tournament player at all times, but from the front he was in a different class. At that final table, he raised seven out of every eight hands, and if someone raised in front of him he just pounded the three-bet in.
Now this was January 2003, and at that time that sort of thing just wasn't done. The audience was shocked into total silence as Devilfish carved their hopes up and spit them out. He put every single person at the table, with the exception of Phil Ivey, on total tilt. Ivey had the good sense to realize what was going on and just sat there and didn't move a chip until Devilfish was done.
Grimes was one of the most beloved old-time tournament players to ever come out of Texas. The tight-playing Grimes was so tilted up that he called off his entire stack before the flop with . I still remember the hand, because it was so funny, you understand. Tommy Grimes called off his whole stack with . With six players still left in. Devilfish fancied his chances in a spot where it was him against the world. He loved those odds.
A Friend With a Heart of Gold
Let me say this about Devilfish — there were always a lot of people who would say bad things about Dave Ulliott, and they had no shortage of ammunition.
He could be rude, obnoxious, cruel to dealers, inappropriate to women, and totally insensitive towards people of all stripes. As was once said about Stu Ungar, "He'd put a rattlesnake in your pocket and ask you for a match."
Oftentimes I hated the things that would come out of the Devilfish's mouth. Sometimes I said as much, and many times I didn't. But, to be honest, with Devilfish what came out of his mouth was never anything I gave any weight to, it was all patter meant to be laughed at and discarded like leaves in the wind. He was riotously funny and brutally direct, and he could lay a person open like no one I've ever seen who wasn't Irish born. But to me, none of that really meant a thing.
Simply, I always admired the way Devilfish walked in his shoes.
If you know his story, you might know what I mean when I say he wasn't exactly provided with the greatest little pair of shoes in the world, and I don't have any doubt that most people would never have made it out his front door. But Devilfish made his shoes shine special. Poker players get laid pretty bare and I've seen my share, and I happen to know that Devilfish had a heart of gold. I know he had a heart of gold and while I almost never agreed with what he said, I was never anything but proud to call him my friend.
Rest in Peace, Devilfish. You did it just all right.
*The photos in the article are from Mickey May, and the text is from Jesse May.