Swimming with the Devilfish: Excerpt 4/5

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(Extract from Des Wilson’s “Swimming with the Devilfish” – now on sale)

Swimming with the Devil Fish
Swimming with the Devil Fish by Des Wilson

Devilfish bluffs more than most, and occasionally too much. But on the whole, there’s a keen intelligence behind the bluffing. No matter how aggressive or apparently deliberately reckless he appears to be, there is still a keen tactical mind at work as well. He can play more conventionally, especially if the going is rough. This is in no way inconsistent with being a “super aggressive poker master” As Ray Michael B. goes on to say: ‘Super-aggressive poker masters are flexible enough, when the situation demands it, of being “geared down” or “screwed down for the night” when they are running rough… these are the times that they righteously sense that it would be ill-advised to strongly contend for the pot…they have that uncanny (sixth sense) instinctive ability when to lie low…. (Then) when the cards turn their way, their basic style of play is reactivated.’

Of course, the image of someone who’ll play with any cards works for him when he does get a good hand. In poker, lack of predictability can be a real strength. Devilfish may sometimes go out spectacularly when a bluff doesn’t work, but he also wins spectacularly by capitalizing on his reputation for bluffing and engineering a rash call.

Apart from table cunning, strength of personality and skill, the basis of his game is nerve and lack of fear. Surviving an event like the five- or six-day WSOP main event, or a WPT event, and beating thousands of quality players, will increasingly become a bit of a lottery, luck and stamina playing a bigger part. But at the end of the day, it will always come down to nerve, the readiness to put the whole lot on the line, a disrespect for money as the main objective…above all, lack of fear.

As Richard Sparks says in his Diary of a Mad Poker Player, ‘To be a good player, you need more than just the skills of card knowledge and people knowledge and odds knowledge. You need the gambling instinct. It is revealing that it is a compliment when a professional poker player says of another, “he’s a gambler.” It does not mean that he throws his money away on reckless high-risk plays: it means that he has the heart, and the courage, and the confidence to use his stack as a weapon. The term is one of respect – like one boxer saying of another “He’s a fighter.”’

As suggested earlier, with the Devilfish it ultimately comes down to will-power…to wanting to win enough. He’s a big occasion player. These days, with money in the bank and a reputation established, he can run short on motivation, even get bored. And poker, when the cards aren’t falling for you and you just have to ride it out and control the damage until either luck turns or you come up with an inspired move to win a hand despite the cards… poker can be boring. And Dave has a low boredom threshold. So, to overcome this he needs a reason to want to win – because there’s extra prestige at stake, or extra money or extra attention.

Ask anyone in British poker about Devilfish and one particular word will always come up. Ego. Some of them say it’s his one major flaw… that he’ll act recklessly because his ego can’t tolerate anyone, especially anyone he perceives as a weaker player, to prevail; that he grandstands; that his ego affects his judgement and the objectivity of his game, especially in cash games.

The word ‘ego’ can mean self-conceit (or, equally, deep insecurity), and the Devilfish is not totally lacking in ego as so defined, but that’s a narrow definition. Look to the best in many fields – actors, sportsmen, politicians, business leaders, you name it – and it’s clear that central to their success has been ego in the form of a sense of self: confidence and self belief. After all, who but someone with abundant self-confidence dares to assume they’re capable of being the best, the best in the world, world champion? What drives them on, to practice, to rehearse, to train, and then to compete at the highest level under colossal pressure except iron will and self-belief? Without ego thus defined, you can’t and won’t win. It’s exactly this, at times apparently outrageous self confidence, that has enabled the Devilfish to achieve more consistent success at the tougher poker tables of the United States than any other British player…to sustain his position at the top of the game for over a decade and still be there today. It’s this sense of self that’s enabled him to survive in the human jungle, ride out cruel and depressing experiences, fashion a life from the worst of beginnings.

The truth is that nothing that can happen to him at the poker table can be worse or more testing than some of the things that have happened to him in real life.