T.J. Cloutier Shares Tales From the Poker Trail.
If you asked the average poker player what living players are in the Poker Hall of Fame, they couldn't tell you. They could probably name more guys in the Football or Baseball Halls of Fame than the one for the game they play. I blame it partly on the fact that we don't have a set-up where people can go to see poker memorabilia and photos of the members of the hall of fame like the big sports do. I think that's a shame. Harrah's is making so much money from the World Series of Poker, I'd like to see them give something back.
Our latest inductees into the Poker Hall of Fame are Barbara Enright and Phil Hellmuth. Since I haven't formally congratulated them yet in this blog, better late than never, they say. I'm actually two "halls" behind on Barbara Enright, who also was inducted into the Women in Poker Hall of Fame two weeks ago. From what I've heard, the women put on a huge celebration and induction ceremony. Everybody who's anybody in the world of poker ponied up a few bucks to attend the banquet, followed by speeches and bouquets of roses and door prizes, the whole enchilada. Seems to me that Harrah's could learn a thing or two about putting on a first-class affair from the organizers of the women's induction.
Barbara was the first woman to be inducted into the formerly all-male Poker Hall of Fame, and there isn't one woman in the world who deserved this honor any more than she did. I was playing poker with her over 20 years ago, and she was winning big tournaments back then. I don't think the cards know when a woman's holding or when a man's holding them, so I'm not like Amarillo Slim in that respect. There are a lot of excellent women players, and Barbara's always been one of the greatest. She knows when to play certain hands in certain situations. She wasn't afraid to gamble here and there; she never allowed her stack get too short; she knew all the right moves to make in tournament poker.
And she was always a lady at the table. She'd joke with the guys, and didn't whine when she took a beat. Sometimes she'd talk with me after the game if she drew out on me, saying something like, "Well, that was a tough beat I put on you." Or if I'd drawn out on her, she'd say "What in the world were you doing in there with that hand?" The bottom line is that I'm very happy that she was inducted to both halls of fame.
Phil Hellmuth and I have been friends ever since Phil first came on the tournament scene. I remember a conversation we had in Malta just after he'd won the Diamond Jim Brady $10,000 championship event in 1987 or '88. I took him out to dinner as soon as he landed on the island.
"TJ, I want to tell you something before we sit down," he said. "I think I'm the second-best no-limit hold'em player alive." I almost keeled over backward! He was a young kid back then, you know, and brash.
"Oh yes?" I asked. "Well, who's number-one?"
"Johnny Chan won the World Series two years in a row," he said. "We've gotta give him due credit."
"That's good," I said, "but let me tell you something, Phil. You've won two or three tournaments, and one major. I've won quite a few myself, and I know I'm in the top 600 players. But if you say you're number-two, you're number-two."
That night we played a cash game that was half no-limit hold'em and half Omaha with Mansour Matloubi and a few Europeans at the table. It was quite a game, and Phil lost $10,000 in it. But the funny part was that all during the game, nobody called him Phil. We all called him "Number-Two." I'd told some of the guys beforehand so we could rib him a little bit. Here we were on the island of Malta with nothing to do except play poker - and Phil went to his room after that game and never came out of it for five days!
That's just one of the funny stories about him. But let me say right here that, although we all kid about Phil being the biggest whiner in poker (and he is), you've gotta realize one thing about this man: He's as honest as the day is long and he cannot do enough for you. Further, he tries hard all the time while he's playing poker, and he's really a nice guy away from the table. Everybody knows he has a large ego, but once you get past that, he's a swell guy. Of course, some of the bravado people display in public actually masks a little bit of insecurity. I used to sit down and try to coach Phil about his conduct, suggesting that he not say some of the things he says to other players. But after talking with him, I can tell you that he can't help himself. Nobody tries harder to win tournaments than Phil does, and his 11 gold bracelets plus his wins in other big tournaments prove it.
In closing, here's another story from the '80s about Phil and me. We were playing the Diamond Jim Brady at the Bike (he won the title there before I won it the next three years in a row), both staying at the motel across the street. Seems Phil had to attend a big affair and wear a suit, but he hadn't brought any shoes with him, just flip-flops. So, he called me to borrow a pair of shoes.
The next night he phoned me again. "T.J., I've got your shoes here to return to you. Why don't you come on down to my room to get them," he suggested. "I've got five or six hands laid out and we can discuss them."
"I don't think so!" I answered. "Just bring me my shoes."
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