Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, the exuberant British poker pro who was as big a celebrity in the US as he was in his native UK, has died at the age of 61.
The poker legend died in his home town of Hull, in the north of England, after a battle with colon cancer.
On Monday, his son David tweeted that his father had “lost his battle with cancer [today] and died peacefully surrounded by his loved ones.”
Ulliott is survived by eight children and his wife, Anpakitta.
A rather over-excited social media crowd had passed around condolences several days ago following a mistaken ‘RIP’ message, but Devilfish managed to stick a middle finger (adorned with a jewel-encrusted knuckduster, no doubt) at those jumping the gun to be photographed playing the guitar.
He even found time to be interviewed by his local newspaper, the Hull Daily Mail.
“I don’t think cancer has any chance of taking me. It is a hand that life has thrown at me,” he said to a reporter on April 1. The poker analogy and the ironic date was pure Ulliott theatre.
“All my life I have had rubbish hands and I have managed to turn them around. It is what I am good at and this is no different.”
Already a force in poker during the early 1990s following spells in prison for safe-breaking and petty crime, Ulliott secured his first (and ultimately, only) WSOP bracelet in 1997 during a $2,000 Pot Limit Hold’em tournament.
However, it was in an Omaha event several months earlier where his infamous nickname came to the fore. Ulliott defeated Men “The Master” Nguyen at the Four Queens Poker Classic, a result that came in no small part to a fervent support chanting his new nickname, “Devilfish”.
When a press release ran a headline the next day reading, “Devilfish devours the Master!” a legendary moniker was born.
Ulliott would go on to take down the WPT World Poker Open in 2003, beating a then relatively-unknown Phil Ivey heads-up, but not before he had entered the British psyche with his TV appearances on Late Night Poker.
A revolutionary show shown in the post-pub slot, Late Night Poker had Jesse May in the commentator seat, plenty of dark suits, smoking and sunglasses, and innovative ‘under the table’ cameras (a full couple of years before WPT made them their trademark).
It was the first time many Brits had seen real-life poker pros on television and it made a star out of its contestants. Devilfish would win the very first series.
Following his death, many poker pros came out to show their support for a figure who has never been equaled, and is unlikely to be.
PokerStars (@PokerStars) said:
“Yesterday we lost a legend of the game. Our condolences to the family of the unforgettable Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliott”, while Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) tweeted: “Poker lost one of its most colorful characters today. RIP Dave “DevilFish” Ulliot.”
Doyle Brunson was already kick-starting a campaign on social media to have Ulliott inducted into the poker Hall of Fame this summer. With the great man now gone, what’s the betting the Devilfish achieving his last goal in poker? Surely those are odds a great gambler like him would have loved.