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Poker Book Extract -- The Devilfish in Vegas Part I

The Devilfish Express – Extracts from Devilfish: The Life & Times of a Poker Legend

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It’s 1997 and Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott has just won a World Series of Poker bracelet in Las Vegas on only his second trip. In the extract below he describes how he took on wealthy businessman and WSOP champion Lyle Berman.

Lyle BermanThere’s no point going home with a bag full of squirrel heads to mount on your trophy wall. You need some lions. This is where a well-known American player called Lyle Berman came in. He was older than me and had been playing for longer. He was known as a high-stakes cash game specialist, and a good one. He already had three WSOP event bracelets to his name. He was a respected player. Probably the most recognizable Omaha player.

I asked Lyle whether he fancied a game and he agreed. He’d obviously heard the rumours going round about me and probably thought I was some flash-in-the-pan that he could turn the heat up under. Depends what’s in the pan, though, doesn’t it?

From a distance it didn’t exactly look like an even match, with the odds stacked heavily in Lyle’s favour. I sat down – a gabby, smart-arse motherfucker in shades with a freshly minted WSOP bracelet. Lyle sat down – a quiet, grey-haired gentleman with glasses. He was a successful businessman and wealthy. I’d been lucky enough to win a WSOP event, clearing all my debts. For the two weeks since that win I’d been riding high in the cash games. I now had $240,000 all told, so I was $40,000 up on the trip.

So I’d gone skint, borrowed, gone skint again, borrowed, gone skint, borrowed again . . . and finally won. But, I was still willing to risk everything I had in a heads-up game with a guy who could buy me out a thou sand times over. There was no risk to him. And, yet, I was still willing to put it all on the line. Everything. That’s the sort of guy I was.

Lyle started off with about half a million and I had my near quarter-mill.

Sitting behind him, Lyle had support from a huge Texas fella called TJ Cloutier, who was a famous ex-American football player and now a famous poker player. And – get this – laid out in front of Lyle, on the table next to his cards, was a massive solid gold bar. You couldn’t help but keep looking at this big yellow bar shining under the lights. He said that he kept this gold brick as a reminder. A reminder of what, I didn’t know. Maybe of all the gold teeth and fillings he’d won off other players.

In only a few months, I’d gone from playing in the backstreets of Bradford, Manchester and dark old London casinos – and often playing against Brits with limited bankrolls – to playing in the Nevada desert in the gambling capital of the world against a millionaire businessman with mineshaft pockets full of cash and a solid gold brick as a lucky charm. That kind of game change, and the amount of money at stake, would cause a lot of players to produce their own bricks of a different kind.

I don’t think Lyle or TJ were too worried about the competition. From their side of the table, what they saw were two pasty-faced Brits from Britland.

Dave "Devilfish" UlliottAll we had was my belief in how good I was. And Gary [Whitaker’s] belief . . . in how good I was.

I had one other believer on my side, the British player Ali Sarkeshik, who knew from experience how good a player I was heads-up. He must have had some faith in me because he had 15 per cent of my action.

Before you knew it, I was $100,000 up against Lyle. I kept changing the way I played and I was doing everything that he wouldn’t expect me to do. I checked the nuts right to the end and got a big bet out of him before I re-raised.

I was doing all sorts of moves. It was like poker gymnastics. I bet aggressively one minute and then changed the next. I knew, from Lyle’s point of view, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go, but, for me, this was exactly how I’d seen it panning out.

At one point, I got Aces, which, as I said, in Omaha can deceive you into thinking you’ve got a better hand than you have. Even when the flop came 2, 3, Q, giving me a straight draw, I still had a bad feeling about it and I threw the hand away; he’d re-raised me on the flop and even though usually I’d go to war, this time I folded and waited for the next hand.

At this stage, I can’t imagine that Lyle liked me too much. No one likes getting beaten. Especially by some English guy with a chip on his shoulder who keeps having a go at everybody.

Eventually, I ended up getting $168,000 off Lyle. I was just sorry that I couldn’t get him to the point where he’d push the gold bar into the pot. That would’ve looked good sitting in the pawnshop window. But he was smart enough to realize this was not his day.

Devilfish – The Life & Times of a Poker Legend is published by Penguin and available to buy at Amazon.co.uk.