Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, the charismatic British poker player and gambler, has died at the age of 61 after battling cancer.
The legendary pro, who hailed from the northern English town of Hull, had been a mainstay of the worldwide poker circuit for decades.
He managed to fit in World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker bracelets, jail time, his own online poker site, and TV immortality into a bulging resume.
His trademark winks, off-the-cuff jokes and sharp suits (in later life to be replaced by skin-tight tee-shirts), along with two jewel-encrusted rings reading ‘Devil’ and ‘Fish’ introduced Ulliott to a whole new generation of players.
To this day, Ulliott is one of a handful of pros known to poker know-nothings and the big names alike.
To Hull and Back
Devilfish was diagnosed with colon cancer in February of this year, but social media went into something of a frenzy in recent weeks after it was (wrongly) believed he had died.
To allay fears, Devilfish was filmed at his Hull home playing the guitar and joking, but the illness with which he was battling got the better of him and he passed away last night.
Ulliott’s son, David – one of eight children – posted a brief message on his father’s Twitter page, reading:
“Unfortunately, Dad, Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott, lost his battle with cancer today and died peacefully surrounded by his loved ones.”
Devilfish, who earned his infamous nickname after a fellow home game player compared him to the deadly Japanese blowfish of the same name, left school without qualifications and quickly became embroiled in the city’s grubby underworld of illegal card games.
His head for numbers meant he was able to put on (and win) bets made at the local bookmakers but would eventually fall foul of the law after joining a safe-cracking team.
After losing £5,000 ($7,500) sportsbetting, he raided his local bookmakers and made off with the takings, safe and all. Devilfish later claimed to have been banned from “every bookmaker in England” and could be seen at live tournaments asking other poker pros to lay odds on whatever took his fancy.
WSOP, WPT Titles Follow For the Fish
Despite a criminal record from brief stints in prison, Devilfish made it to Vegas for the 1997 World Series of Poker where he famously took down the $2,000 Pot Limit Hold’em event for a first prize of $180,310.
However, it wasn’t until 1999 when Ulliott entered the public consciousness. Appearing on a then-revolutionary TV show in the UK called Late Night Poker, viewers at home were able to see players’ cards via under-the-table hidden cameras.
The British public were treated not only to Texas Hold’em on TV for the first time, but also introductions to smoking, dark-suited characters who inhabited (in the public imagination, at least) a shady underworld of back-street games.
Devilfish won the first series of Late Night Poker to set himself on the road to poker immortality. But it would be on the 2003 World Poker Tour where Ulliott would score his biggest win.
At the WPT World Poker Open in Tunica, the Devilfish took down a $589,175 top prize by beating Phil Ivey to put himself two-thirds of the way towards the holy trinity of poker titles (sadly, an EPT Main Event title always eluded Ulliott).
Devilfish tried to cash in on his personality with less effect during the 2000s after an ill-fated DevilfishPoker.com poker site failed to take off, but he continued to cash at tournaments right up to his death.
With over $6 million in tournament earnings, Devilfish confirmed his place on the list of all-time poker greats, and if Doyle Brunson’s campaign for Ulliott’s entry into the Poker Hall of Fame (HOF) comes to fruition this summer, it would be the perfect send-off for one of the game’s true characters.