World Series Of Poker Legend T.J. Cloutier: 'To Hell With Them' Who Make Fun Of My Craps Play
Six-Time WSOP Bracelet Winner Defends His Gambling Life
T.J. Cloutier, winner of six World Series of Poker bracelets, is one of poker’s most accomplished players, but he’s also the butt of jokes about the pitfalls of trying to make a living — or at least carve out a sustainable existence — within the walls of a casino.
Cloutier, 73, has been around the WSOP for as long as most can remember, and is still a common sight these days, years after the famed tournament series moved from Binion’s Horseshoe to an off-the-Strip carpet joint. The once towering figure moves through the sprawling halls of the Rio Convention Center on a motorized scooter, frequently putting on the brakes to chat with a fellow poker player or just a familiar face.
Over the decades, Cloutier has won an outstanding 46 tournaments and racked up $9,774,628 worth of scores. Despite his accolades and earnings, the veteran grinder, like so many in his volatile profession, has run into money problems at times. Just a few years ago, a 2005 bracelet won by Cloutier was on the auction block on eBay.
Fast forward to 2013, and Cloutier seems to be doing well, as he has cashed in two events at this WSOP and was still in contention at the restart of play Wednesday in the $5,000 buy-in shorthanded no-limit hold’em. Cloutier took the time during one of his breaks to talk about his career, what his poker legacy might be like, and his craps play, which he said is exaggerated.
Brian Pempus: So how are you feeling this World Series?
T.J. Cloutier: I feel good. I’ve gone back and forth [between Las Vegas and Texas], and this is my second trip back. I played in the “Millionaire Maker” and the “Seniors” and the $1,500 [no-limit hold’em], and I’ve cashed in two out of the three. I feel fine. The other day, I had a real shot in the $1,500, but you know me, I am trying to win the tournament and not trying to finish…I was already in the money. I went to war with A-K against two queens, and I didn’t get any help. You have to win a few coin flips to win a tournament.
BP: Do you still have a lot of energy these days?
TJC: Sure. I get my second wind all the time. The great thing about poker is the fact that it doesn’t matter how old you are or how feeble your body is, as long as you still have your mind you can play. I feel that I still have that part.
BP: How big would it be for you to get another bracelet before it’s all said and done?
TJC: Oh, it would be fine. It wouldn’t be the world. I have been there before. I could have 14 if things had fallen right, when I was down with two or three to go in some tournaments.
BP: Do you think about the close calls to this day?
TJC: Yeah, the one I really think about is when [Chris] Ferguson caught the nine on the river [in the 2000 main event]. But a lot of people don’t know that there were two $10,000 tournaments right after that, in a row, and I got heads-up in both of those. Both times they were dead to a nine with one card to come, and they caught it too. That’s quite a story…I mean, it’s the way it goes. But a lot of people forget, because they see one draw out at the end, how well that person had to play to get that far to make that draw out. So, you can’t feel bad about it; what the hell.
BP: Do you still feel at home at the WSOP?
TJC: Sure. People stop by and say ‘hello,’ or want a picture or an autograph. That’s good.
BP: When it’s all said and done what would you hope your poker legacy is like or how you are remembered by the card-playing community?
TJC: Well…that I gave something back. I teach at the WPT Boot Camp, and I’ve been co-author of four, and author of one, books, and stuff like that. I always feel that someone should give back, and I carried myself with good comportment at the table. So…that’s it.
BP: What do you do these days besides playing poker?
TJC: I live in Texas, so I go up to Choctaw [Casino] and the WinStar and play in their tournaments on the weekends. I am not doing all the traveling I used to do, but once in awhile we’ll take off and go some place to play.
BP: You and your wife?
TJC: Yeah, she always…she’s not here right now, but she’ll be here for the big one [the WSOP main event]…I’ll be back for the big one.
BP: So these days you like Texas better than Las Vegas? You don’t think you could live here?
TJC: I have never wanted to live here.
BP: Why is that?
TJC: Everybody has holes in their game. Mine, I used to really be…I still play craps every once in awhile, but it’s very, very cheap. But if I lived out here, who knows, I might go off. And that’s not the point. If I was going to move, it would have been years ago when I could have seized all the opportunities that were offered me — a lot of things I could have been doing in Las Vegas and had a piece of. We decided to stay…our daughter lives in Kline, Texas, and we are happy there.
BP: Can you talk about the pit thing? Is craps still an issue?
TJC: It used to be an issue, but not nearly as much as everyone thinks. The only time I played really high was when I had their money. So…I mean over the years, sure, I’ve lost some money at it, because what the hell, it’s a game…it’s an addictive game for Christ’s sake, but I still play once in awhile, but not for any kind of money anymore.
BP: What do you mean by “their money”? When people would back you?
TJC: No, when I win! I won big…like at the Orleans and at the MGM, and then took a bunch of it to the Bellagio and gave it back. That’s all.
BP: That’s just how it goes? It’s not the kind of game that’s beatable?
TJC: Yeah, it’s beatable, but it’s not a game you can beat every day. When you do hit a good run you got to take it and go. That’s all.
BP: Does it ever bother you that sometimes poker players talk a lot about you and craps?
TJC: Yeah, they used…they didn’t know what the hell they were talking about anyways. It doesn’t bother me at all…I’ll go in there and they’ll say, ‘Are you going to the craps table today?’ when I haven’t been there in a year or something, you know; to hell with them.
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