Last week it was all the Devilfish. And if you’re walking around wondering when people will stop talking about class and start displaying it, then you should of listened to last week’s live Internet broadcast of the final table from Tunica, Mississippi, where the Devil made mincemeat out of a lot who call themselves poker players. Anyway, here’s a recap…
There were hoards of Europeans in Mississippi for most of January, clattering it up in the pot limit Omaha games and at the bar, but by the final day of the final event, there didn’t seem to be a European poker player in sight. Except for the Devilfish, that is, who was leading the last six players in the tournament with 600,000 chips out of 1.6 million in play. First prize was $589,000 plus a $25,000 buy-in to Lyle Berman’s big World Poker Tour final event at the Bellagio in April, so a large crowd had gathered, and the final table was being filmed for television and they had a packed ballroom and cameras all around, and a whole load of supporters for the two Texans left in the tournament and a lot of vocality for the young poker superstar Phil Ivey, who was lying second in chips with a ton of determination.
The final table action begins, and it’s immediately clear that the Devilfish doesn’t have a whole load of people funking for him. There was dead silence when he came strutting in for the television cameras, looking like a million dollars in his custom suit with his two finger gold rings that say Devil on one hand and Fish on the other as he throws boxing feints on his walk down the red carpet. There was mostly a stunned silence, one commentator pointedly asking Mark Napolitano (the broadcast team’s European translator) how the Devilfish can be that cocky.
The game begins. Three guys from Mississippi pick Tommy Grimes to win the tournament because he’s a road gambler from way back who knows all about the big stage and while they are talking Tommy Grimes raises a pot and Devilfish immediately raises all in behind him and takes Grimes off the hand. And then Russ Hamilton says he wouldn’t be surprised if Devilfish ruined this one because he can’t lay down a hand. And while he is talking Texan boy wonder Jeremy Tinsley comes in with a raise and Devilfish is all in behind him and Jeremy lays down the hand. And then Devilfish raises nine out of the next ten pots and steals the blinds every time, during which everyone starts backpedaling and saying maybe the Devilfish is pretty good at playing a big stack.
Except for the brave John Bonetti, who only called out flat in his Brooklyn accent, “Devilfish is the best player at that table. In that order. He can play!” Meanwhile, Devilfish has got the table so spun out that Tommy Grimes, who’s just won a pot, comes in for twenty-six thousand and when Devilfish goes all-in behind him Tommy Grimes calls for over 160,000 more with the king-five of hearts. One of the great road gamblers from Texas was spun out so severely by the Devilfish that he refused to talk to the cameras after his last place television finish, demanding personal time.
Frankly, there was a lot of talent at that final table. But give Devilfish the chip lead and put him on television, and he is one fantastic chalk. He’s one of the top chalks in the business.
It was a funny radio show. After the break Linda Johnson took the microphone in front of the crowd and said, “Devilfish, a lot of people have asked about your nickname. Is it true that in your country,”… she says ‘in your country’ like Devilfish is from some principality on the outer edges of Mongolia, or maybe she thinks he’s from the country of Hull,… “In your country, David, there is a fish called the Devilfish that will kill you if not prepared correctly. And someone from your home game once called you that and it stuck. Isn’t that right?”
It’s not really right. The real story of how Devilfish got his nickname is much better than that. At least my version is. Now Devilfish has been around a long time, and before he was on the world stage he was on the local one, and as a very young man he was not known as the Devilfish at all. In fact he was known as Dave the Clock, because as a cash strapped youngster he had heard about a poker game going on at which he knew there was a furniture dealer playing, so a young David Ulliott showed up at the game with a grandfather clock as a buy-in. Dave the Clock.
But Dave the Clock had been called Devilfish one time before. Ulliott had been called the Devilfish exactly once in his life, at a local game in Hull, when a very frustrated Chinese player said upon losing a big pot to David Ulliott, “You are a Devilfish, aren’t you?” And no one ever mentioned it again. No one ever mentioned it again until fifteen years later, when David Ulliott finds himself heads-up with Men the Master Nguyen for a World Series of Poker bracelet in Las Vegas. Men the Master is a dice ‘em up artist with a large standing, and he had an army of followers who surrounded the final table with their throaty cheers and vicious yells, as they chanted over and over again towards the inevitable result, “On the Master! On the Master!” And Men the Master, smiled, waved, and said something needling to David Ulliott.
From the back of the crowd, one voice piped up. “On the Devilfish!” Everyone looked at him. It was a man from Hull, in Vegas by chance, who also happened to be one of the few people who had been playing with Ulliott on the night he was called the Devilfish, fifteen years before. And your man stood there at the back, while the entire crowd shouted, “On the Master! On the Master!” and he shouted back, “On the Devilfish!” After quite a lot of play and even more vicious banter, Men the Master finds himself down to one single chip when the tournament director announces that it’s time for an hour break. David Ulliott stands up from his chair and Men the Master says, “How can we take a break? I got one chip left.” So David Ulliott says to Men the Master, “We’re taking the break, and in all fairness to you, I think you should go upstairs and think about your tactics.” After that day, the nickname stuck. That’s when everyone started calling him Devilfish.