David Ulliott is one of the bevy of Brits who won and placed during the recent World Series of Poker. On Great Britain's election day, I watched from the press section as Ulliott deftly and impassively edged his way up from a fourth-place start to the championship in the $2,000 pot-limit hold'em event, leaving fellow Brit Chris Truby with the consolation prize of runner-up and 1983 World Champion Tom McEvoy in third place. With a record field of 247 entrants, the event garnered $180,210 for Ulliott, nicknamed "Devil Fish," who later finished 17th for a win of $4,480 in the $5,000 limit hold'em tournament. "It's good to win," he said in a classic example of English understatement.
Although this was his first appearance at the WSOP, Ulliott well knows how it feels to win, as he had just come off a winning streak in European tournaments. In June he won the pot-limit hold'em tournament at the Victoria Club in London, and finished third to Mickey Finn in the no-limit hold'em European Championship. He won his second pot-limit hold'em title at the Victoria Club during its Christmas Cracker tournament and just before the WSOP began, he won the pot-limit Omaha event at the Spring Festival tournament in London. Ulliott also squeezed in a trip to Las Vegas last January to compete in the Queens Classic, where he won the pot-limit Omaha tournament.
At home in England, Ulliott specializes in pot-limit and no-limit poker. "The limit games in Europe are primarily weaker games," he explained. "There are a lot more moves in pot-limit than there are in limit poker. Pot-limit is a more complete game in every way. In limit games, you can't get rid of your opponents, you can't bully them out of pots, because they always call."
The father of four "beautiful lads" (including his 16 year-old namesake, David), Ulliott owns a jewelry and pawn business named Uncles in Hull, England (about 200 miles from London), which his wife handles when the "Devil Fish" is on the road playing poker tournaments. "In olden days, rather than say to the children 'Go and take this to the pawn broker,' they would say, 'Take this to your uncle.' If you look under 'uncle' in the dictionary in England, you will find 'pawn broker.' So that's why I named the business Uncle." In his crisp British accent, Ulliott recounted some of his tournament experiences with me at an outdoor umbrella table under the canopy of the Fremont Experience, one of the few quiet spots we could find during the hectic action of the WSOP.
Dana Smith: How did you get into the pawn business?
David Ulliott: About 12 years ago, I had a good win on the cards and my wife Amanda had a good job. So we invested in a little house, redid it, and then we sold it. With the money from the house, we bought a little shop and then got a bank loan to get the business started. And it has paid off.
DS: I noticed that you seemed to stare down your opponents from behind your Ben Franklin sun glasses before you acted at the final table. What were you thinking about at those times?
DU: I like to study me opponents. When I was younger, I would have me chips in the middle before I really thought out the situation; now I like to think through things before I put the chips in the pot. I remember sitting in a 1,000-pound buy-in tournament once. In one of the first pots, somebody raised and somebody else reraised, and I took all me chips and stuck them straight in. I think I was the first person broke. I wouldn't do that today.
DS: Have you always played tournaments?
DU: Until last June, I wasn't what you could call a tournament player. I used to show up for the cash games after the tournament finished; or I would maybe sit in the tournament just until the cash games started and then give me chips away; I wasn't interested in the tournament itself. Then I thought to meself, "Well, if you're going to play in tournaments, you might as well take them seriously and begin to study them."
DS: How did you prepare yourself to make the change from cash games to tournaments?
DU: I read everything. I see everything that goes on. Now I am in my element in tournament play. I enjoy the battle.
DS: And after the tournament, the thrill is gone?
DU: Yes, that's right.
DS: How does the WSOP compare to the tournaments you've played in Europe?
DU: It's a lot bigger and there's a lot more money. But once you get to that final table, it's exactly the same.
DS: You now play tournaments all over Europe?
DU: Yes, I have just returned from Paris, where I had a good time in the cash games. I play in Ireland, Holland, all over.
DS: You began by playing strip deck stud poker?
DU: Yes, when I was 15 years old. This was the only game that was played in the north of England. There were some very good players and like everybody else, I started off by losing plenty of money at the game. But by the time I got to be about 22 years old, I started to run over the games a bit. It got to the point that now, if there's a game at all, I don't get invited. About four years ago, I decided to go to Leeds one night; it was me first time playing Omaha. There was plenty of action, so I grabbed me bankroll and jumped into the game. In 20 minutes, I went bust. Obviously, Omaha takes a lot of learning -- it's such a complicated game with so many outs and combinations. We play six-card Omaha in England, not four-card. It's been only in about the last year that me game's come along. Every year that goes by, I remember thinking to meself, "I'm as good as anybody at Omaha," and as the year goes by I realize how bad I was the year before. Everybody thinks that they're good at the game; otherwise they wouldn't play it.
DS: How do you explain your success at poker?
DU: I've always been a fearless gambler. I used to bet the horses really big. And I was always able to put the money in the pot without showing any emotion, win or lose. And, obviously, being a pawn broker I am always working on percentages.
DS: And your educational background?
DU: Me father was a lorry driver and I had a normal education. I left home when I was 16 years old, and I led a pretty rough life. I worked as a doorman, I used to box a little, and worked on construction sites ... whatever it took to make a living.
DS: During your stay here at the Horseshoe, have you met a particularly fearsome poker opponent?
DU: They're all fierce in America, much more so than in England. They put their money in at the slightest opportunity and then about half the time, they try their best to get as much out again as they can, through some sort of business deal. In England, there are no deals; once your money goes in the pot, that's it. I enjoy playing with the Americans.
DS: Has it meant a lot to you to win a bracelet at the WSOP?
DU: It's very nice, very nice. I fancied winning it all along. My wife rang me up today and said that she had read in the newspaper that winning a bracelet at Binion's is equivalent to winning a gold bracelet at the Olympic games. The hospitality here has been terrific. I met Jack Binion at the Chinese food restaurant here at the Horseshoe. He is a true gentleman, and treats everyone like an equal. I also give credit to my friend Gary Whittaker, who is here with me. In England, he drives me all over the country and supports me during the tournaments.
DS: And your plans now?
DU: I would like to win the Big One. I may take a shot at Foxwoods or Atlantic City, if the first money is big enough. It's such a huge journey here from England (14 hours air travel), there obviously has to be good prize money.
DS: Is poker growing in England?
DU: Yes, it's really taken off in England, thanks to people like Mickey Finn and the Victoria Casino. Finn and Nick Szermata have started up the European tour. Bill Slate, the manager of the Victoria, is here in Vegas for the WSOP. People like these guys will go all the way to try and get people like me to sign up for the tournaments.
DS: What about your nickname, "Devil Fish?"
DU: There's a Chinese fellow in England called Stevie who gives everyone a colorful nickname. He calls one player cult fish because his bottom lip sticks out. He decided to call me devil fish, and it stuck. (The devil fish is a Chinese culinary delicacy that can kill whoever eats it, if it isn't properly prepared.) Another Chinese friend of mine, Peter Cham, recently came back from a visit to Malaysia. He says to me, "I've got a new name now. I call myself Banana Leaf." I says yeah, why's that? He says, "Because I've just been to Malaysia and when they cook the devil fish over there, they cook him in a banana leaf!"