Swimming with the DevilFish...Under the Surface of Professional Poker
by Des Wilston

Swimming with the Devilfish is a fascinating look at professional poker in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Even if you're not from the UK, I highly recommend picking up a copy. Especially, if you are interested in what the poker lifestyle is really like or how the top players evolved into the people/players they are today.

The book begins by chronicling the rise of David “Devilfish” Ulliott from the rough backstreets of Hull; where just looking at someone the wrong way can get you a beating, to the pinnacle of professional poker. David’s ascent to poker stardom is certainly not one of overnight success; he starts out trying to earn an “honest” living as a trophy maker but quickly finds that he can make more money playing the ponies at the local horse tracks. Inevitably, as the economy sours he falls in with a couple of local hoods and begins committing some small burglaries; most of which the shopkeepers are part of to collect insurance money and he ends up in prison.

He believes he is destined for a life of crime, then as fate would have it, on the same day he is going to rob a bank with his new criminal friend, the friend gets picked up by the police and David meets the person who turns his life around, Amanda. Once they decide to marry, David decides to give up the criminal life for good and he and Amanda open up a pawn brokerage with some horse track winnings.

David then discovers poker in the backroom “spielers” and underground casinos; his aggressive style quickly cleans out the local competition and has trouble finding games around Hull. He and his buddy Gary then take their games to London where the competition is a lot better and the players cannot be bluffed as easily. The pair suffer some wild bankroll swings until David starts winning consistently. Finally someone suggests David should try out Las Vegas…as you know the rest is history.

The remainder of the book focuses on a group of players that Des Wilson calls “The Usual Suspects” since they seem to be playing everywhere he goes on his yearlong stint as a poker player. They include players from the Hendon Mob (a group of players from Hendon, including Ram “Crazyhorse” Vaswani, Barny and Ross Boatman, and Joe Beevers), John Gale, Lucy Rokach, Simon Trumper, Paul “Action Jack” Jackson, Dave Coclough and many more. The author profiles each persons rise or fall within the poker profession. From the glorious tournament victories, the hilarious portrayal of a player’s first time with online poker, to the players who blow their winnings at the craps table or horsetrack, this book pulls no punches in showing both the apex and the bottom of the profession.

The remarkable thing about all of the players profiled is not their differences, even though each player has a unique background, but their similarities from their basic disregard of money to their risk taking in other areas of life. I can almost guarantee that if you are a serious player or just enjoy the game of poker that you will see a little of yourself in every single player.

Des Wilson also makes one point that I found particularly poignant. After his journey from the backrooms, to all the tournaments and glamour, when he contemplates whether he would like to be a poker professional; the answer is basically yes and no…mostly no. I have to admit, my answer would be the same.

- Review by PokerLizard.com correspondent Donald Key.


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