David “Devilfish” Ulliott Passes Away
The poker world lost one of its ultimate personalities on Tuesday as David “Devilfish” Ulliott passed away after a difficult bout with cancer. Just two days ago, he celebrated his birthday. He was 61 years old.
Ulliott’s son posted a brief message to confirm the news today, writing on both the Devilfish’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, “Unfortunately Dad, Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott lost his battle with cancer today and died peacefully surrounded by his loved ones. Thank you for all your support, love the family xxxxxxx.”
Ulliott’s teenaged years were rough-and-tumble, as he dropped out of school when he was 15 years old, got involved in betting on horse races, and was not a stranger to street brawls. By the age of 19 or 20, he turned to a life of minor crime, actually joining a safe-cracking team, of all things. In one of his more famous incidents, he lost over £5,000 to a bookie, then robbed the bookie’s safe to get it all back. He was eventually caught, but only after he was on the lam for a week. He celebrated his 21st birthday in jail, part of his nine-month sentence.
He was arrested again at age 28 and served an 18-month sentence. In one of those life’s crossroads moments, he was set to rob a bank with a fellow inmate named John after they had both been released, but just hours before the plan was to be set into motion, John was arrested. Ulliott never went back to crime.
Ulliott learned to play cards during his childhood. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, he, along with several of his friends, became regulars in games around England, particularly Hull, where Ulliott was from. The UK poker community is a tight-knit group, so Ulliott’s prowess was already well-known in those circles before he hit it big in the United States.
Ulliott was made for the poker boom of about ten years ago. He had a style all of his own, that worked tremendously both on television and in person. Usually dressed in a fancy suit, the Devilfish was easy to spot with his orange-tinted sunglasses, toothpick hanging out of his mouth, gold jewelry, and pair of “knuckle duster” style rings, one reading “DEVIL,” the other reading, naturally, “FISH.” He was a cool cat at the table, always looking like he had the edge on his opponents, regardless of whether or not he actually did, but at the same time was not afraid to speak his mind. If you crossed him, he would let you know. But colorful language be damned, he was loyal to his friends and a gentleman to strangers.
He was also extremely difficult to play against, utilizing an ultra-aggressive style that, at the time of the poker boom, was much less common than it is now. Ulliott described his style to author Des Wilson in Wilson’s 2006 book, Swimming with the Devilfish – Under the Surface of Professional Poker:
Aggressive. If I’m going over the cliff, you’re coming with me. If you want to mess in my pot then you learn that all your chips are on the line. Not a few – all of them. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the best way to play but it has definite advantages. I will make calls that a lot of other players won’t make and a lot of the time I’m going to lose, but a lot of the time it’s going to be the crucial hand to allow me to win the tournament. But I’m not afraid of getting knocked out.
Before his passing and since, people who knew him, or even had the good fortune of simply meeting David Ulliott, have been telling their stories. From poker pro Blair Rodman on Two Plus Two:
When the WSOP 1st moved to the Rio, they had a room that you paid 1k to be a member for the duration of the tournament. It had food and some games, like a putting green and pool table. I was a pretty good stick when was young, but rarely play any more.
I was messing around on the table and Devil came up and asked me if I wanted a game. We played for $25 and I amazed myself by breaking and running the table, a rarity for me. He never even blinked, but rather asked me if I now wanted to play 2-out-of-3 for $500. Bells should have gone off in my head, but I was feeling cocky so I said yes. I never had a chance.
Devil was always entertaining. He loved to pick up a guitar and play for whoever was around. He gave my wife and I a solo performance on the back stairs of a poker club in Ireland in 2004. He could play! Very talented guy, and a good man. If the stars of today had fraction of his personality, poker might still be booming.
Again on Two Plus Two, poster “88Orange” had a way with words:
He is a character of the highest order: his personality: unvarnished, uncouth, and at the same time, larger than life – he was a force responsible for a louder explosion of the poker boom. Entertaining. Old School. Not an act – you were getting the from-the-marrow David Ulliot. Ready to entertain. Ready to fight. Mark Twain couldn’t have dreamed of a more quintessential poker character.
Devilfish was seemingly full of life up to and including his final days. On March 30th, Simon Trumper, one of Dave Ulliott’s close friends, shared a quick story on Facebook relayed to him by Dusk Till Dawn poker club owner Rob Yong:
So I get the Devil’s house and he is having a nap, waited a few hours and decided not to wake him up and I get half way back to Notts and his wife mails me that he has woke up and said ‘tell that xxxx to turn the xxxx round and get back here’, so I went back to Hull and The Fish entertained me and Numpty till 5am on the piano and guitar. He’s spending some quality time with his family and is really touched by all of the wishes of support from everyone.
Flushdraw’s condolences go out to Dave Ulliott’s family and friends.