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Poker Book Extract -- The Devilfish in Vegas Part II

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

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In part one of our extract from Devilfish: The Life & Times of a Poker Legend our hero from Hull took on Lyle Berman and won handsomely. Next up he challenges Puggy Pearson but gets an altogether different response.

Gary had already told me about Puggy Pearson’s mobile tour bus which he travelled round in from tournament to tournament, and which was famous because it had a gambling quote of Puggy’s painted down the side of it in big letters. Everyone seemed to know this bloody van. It was more famous than most gamblers.

So this was too good a chance to miss. As Puggy walked past in a cloud of blue cigar smoke – I knew it was him because through the smoke I could see deckchairs fighting – I shouted out to him.
‘Hey, Puggy! How about me and you playing heads-up?’ He turned round to look at me.

I said, ‘Come on, Puggy! You’re always telling everyone what a great gambler you are, so let’s play!’

Like Doc, he was another good ol’ Southern boy. He walked over to me, smiling, and in his lazy drawl, he said, ‘Devilfish. Son, I wanna show you somethin’.’

Dave "Devilfish" UlliottI told Gary to watch my money. Puggy asked me to walk with him across the casino. Outside the Horseshoe we crossed the road to the car park. Then I saw his van, which wasn’t exactly a van – it was a massive touring mobile home. It looked like it needed two engines to move it. The kind of thing you only see in America because it wouldn’t fit most other places. In Britain, this vehicle would’ve had its own postcode, street name and seventeen wheelie bins.

On the side, in big letters, were painted the words ‘PUGGY PEARSONROVING GAMBLER’ and underneath that, something else was written, which Puggy pointed at and started to read out loud. He said, ‘As you can see, it says: I’ll play any man from any land any game he can name for any amount I can count,’ and then he lowered his finger to point at some really small writing at the bottom of the bus: ‘. . . Providing I like it!’

Then he turned to me, and to answer my challenge, he said, ‘And ah don’t like it, Devilfish! Ah don’t like it at all.’ He stuck the cigar back in his mouth and I started laughing. It was really funny. He was a clever enough gambler to give himself a get-out clause.

Puggy lived in Vegas and later he would die in Vegas, which tells you plenty about the man. And if he died broke, it was probably the mobile home petrol bills.

He was also smart enough to know when to avoid a good player on a hot streak. That was quite a compliment to me, when I thought about it – Puggy Pearson, a four- time bracelet winner, WSOP champion and a member of the Poker Hall of Fame, didn’t want to play me heads- up, even though he’d ‘play any man from any land’, because when he thought about playing me, he ‘didn’t like it’.

The actual main event of the WSOP turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax for me after all the action I’d been getting. I got knocked out early, but then I was exhausted from all the cash games I’d been playing so I hadn’t given myself much of a chance.

Eventually, the WSOP got down to the last six players (including Stu Ungar) and five of those were classed as Las Vegas residents, which says something about the town. The only finalist not from Vegas was a London player and mate of mine, Mel Judah.

That final became one of the biggest stories in poker history because Stu Ungar – in his blue John Lennon shades – won it and became the 1997 WSOP champion, sixteen years after his last win. He was now the only person in history to win it three times. Everyone was calling him The Comeback Kid.

Within a year Stu Ungar would be dead, and there’s no comeback from that. A terrible waste of a great talent.

For me, things were definitely alive. On only my second trip to Vegas, I’d become known. I realized that when I walked into the Four Queens and ran into Johnny Chan. Johnny was a bit of a poker legend. He’d won the WSOP Main Event in 1987 and 1988, and was runner-up in 1989.

Being the cocky fucker I am, I walked right up to Chan and said, ‘Now then, Johnny boy!’ He barely nodded.

This was getting to be a bit of a surprise trip: I’d outgrown Hull, outgrown the north of England and then outgrown London; the last thing I thought would happen would be for me to outgrow Vegas. So the only place left for me now was the rest of the world. But first, there was somewhere I had to go that was more important than the rest of the world. Back home.

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