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Book Extract: Devilfish -- Poker Legend

The Best Way to Kill a Bookie

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Dave "Devilfish" UlliottEver since that Saturday when I’d walked into the bookies to fetch my dad when I was fifteen years old, I’d been hooked on the horses. Of course, it helped that my first bet was on a 50–1 shot that came in and won me the equivalent of two weeks’ wages in two minutes. That’s like a drug dealer giving you a free hit to get you hooked.

It must have worked, because over thirty years later I was still betting the nags. For years the horses would have been for me the closest to what gamblers call a ‘leak’. Meaning a weakness for something that reduces your gambling winnings. You might also include all the money spent on sex and booze and rock’n’roll . . . but I wouldn’t.

Remember when George Best was staying in a hotel and ordered champagne from room service? The waiter deliv- ered the champagne, saw that George’s bed was covered in casino winnings and the new Miss World. He said, ‘Mr Best, where did it all go wrong?’
Luckily for me, poker players didn’t need to be able to run up and down a football pitch for ninety minutes, so champagne, casinos and Miss Worlds were a normal part of the pre-match training regime.

I’d spent years putting too much money over bookies’ counters. The only things that can help even out the odds between the punter and the bookie are being able to understand the horse’s form and making sure everything is in your selection’s favour.

I usually bet on handicaps. Horse handicaps are like reading a book – they tell you a story.

In Stakes races or Group races you haven’t got a lot to go on, and there are improving horses, so it’s tough. But give me a handicap race (not sprints) and I can read the form; I will know exactly where I am. I just know if every- thing’s right – the right draw, the right jockey, course experience. In form, the right going, correct weight, good prize money, and a horse that has had a break . . . When I say the right going, it always has to be good/fast, never soft (when it’s wet, don’t bet). Then an each-way bet on a 5–1 shot or better gives you a great chance of cash back or a nice win.

I also check out the statistics – you can do this by checking ten-year trends in the Racing Post. I try to place the bet as late as possible, because if one horse gets pulled out, leaving seven runners, then each-way is no good.

I like to watch my selection relaxed, not on my toes or sweating. It’s like baking a cake – if all the ingredients are right, you’ll end up with a winner. Of course, you might have to wait a week or two for the right horse, but so what? That just means you can put more money on.

So, the big change was when I became much more selective about what I bet on and when. As soon as I did that, I started winning much more.

In the earlier days I was betting too much to put it all on myself without being barred, so I’d ask Gary or another mate, Julian, to put bets on for me. That way we could lay more money across more bookmakers. Julian is also banned from several bookies now.
One of the best tips I ever had was on a 50–1 shot. And it came by a strange route. A gambler I knew had stopped and given a lift to a fella he’d passed who’d broken down. In return the fella gave him a tip – McCarthy’s Hotel. I saw that it was at 50–1 in an eight-runner chase, so I could back it each-way. Now that’s a real rarity. It seemed too good to be true.

I told my mates in the bookies but they thought it sounded too good as well. So I rang some more mates over in Ireland, Don Fagan and Alan Betson, because they both liked a bet. They piled their money on, and told all their mates too. I only bet £250 each-way because I still wasn’t convinced.

I should have been, because it romped home the winner by a few lengths. It made me a few grand but could have made a lot more: £5,000 spread over different bookies would have given up £250,000. Soon after, my phone rang and when I picked it up, I couldn’t hold it to my ear because of all the shouting coming down the line from Irishmen, all screaming ‘DEVILFISH! YER DA MAN! GO, DEVILFISH!’ So at least the Irish bookies took a real battering.

I started winning so the bookies decided, one by one, to ban me from their shops. First, William Hill’s in Hull banned me, then Ladbroke’s, the Tote and Stanley’s. William Hill’s even served papers on me telling me I was

banned. I was in the pawnbroker’s when one of their people came in and handed them to me.
I suppose it didn’t help that after the success of Late Night Poker I was now a known gambling face. One book- ies after another banned me as word got round. I had to go through a lot of them to be banned, so as soon as the banning started I made sure that I made as much as I could off each one before they joined the list. And even- tually some of the new ones that opened barred me before even taking a bet off me. Within a year I was banned from all of them, Rossy Brothers too, and Corals. They’d either serve papers on me personally, like William Hill’s, or just tell me when I walked through the door. Kenny Walsh, at Rossy Brothers bookmaker’s, let me bet longer than the big firms . . . but only until I had sixteen winning bets in a row.

At least I could still get a bet on a racecourse, because they could just pass it on to another bookie.

I ended up being banned from every bookies in the country, and those bans stand to this day. Which is mad, when you think about – because basically I’d been banned for using my brain. I wasn’t banned for cheating or race- fixing or bribing or anything like that (although plenty of that went on in racing), but just because I could read and think. That’s crazy. Especially for someone who did as badly at school as me.

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