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The Other Side of the Felt, Vol. 6: Dewey Tomko -- Sometimes Nice Guys Finish Second

The Other Side of the Felt, Vol. 6: Dewey Tomko -- Sometimes Nice Guys Finish Second 0001

Coincidences in life are sometime hard to understand and many times they are blessings in disguise. When I called Dewey Tomko out of the blue about a restaurant recommendation in Kingman, Arizona, the conversation changed to our upcoming travel plans. I told him that my wife Maryann and I were heading to San Jose, Costa Rica the following day on business, and it just so happened that he was already there. No big deal as Dewey owns a casino in Costa Rica but this is where it got weird: Dewey told me he would unfortunately miss us because he was going to the Pacific coast with his family.

I responded, "So are we," and then I told him, "I am staying at the Hotel Parador in the town of Manuel Antonio for two days."

He then replied, "I'll be damned, so are we." There are almost 200 hotels in the area and we were staying in the same hotel on the same exact days. Well, one difference for sure would be our accommodations, as we had a nice room but Dewey and his wife Marianella had the Presidential Suite. He is what one would call a real baller from way back and he does everything first class. By the way, Dewey had absolutely no idea what a baller is or does.

The Other Side of the Felt, Vol. 6: Dewey Tomko -- Sometimes Nice Guys Finish Second 101

Girls' Night Out: Marianella and Maryann in Costa Rica

From Kindergarten Teacher to Top Poker Player

Dewey's path to success is definitely not a common one; back in the '60s he was playing poker in pool halls during high school and college, on his way to Florida to be a "beach bum" and play poker with the GIs returning from the war. Dewey took a job as a kindergarten teacher just so he could stay in Florida. At the time he was making $6,000 a year as a teacher while playing for hundreds and thousands in private poker games. Dewey regularly beat those games, and in 1973 made his way to Las Vegas to play poker during his summer break. After a few successful Vegas trips he decided to give the World Series of Poker a try, and in 1975 he played his first $10,000 Main Event. He hasn't missed one since and holds the record for consecutive years playing in the big one at 34. Even during the years in which he took time off to raise his three boys, Dewey still made it back to Las Vegas for the Main Event.

Dewey's tournament record is great, with over $5,000,000 in career earnings. He currently ranks in the top 40 all time, with three WSOP bracelets, and his two second-place finishes in the WSOP Main Event are legendary. In 1982 he finished second to Jack Straus in the famous "chip under the napkin" comeback. Jack Straus thought he was eliminated from the tournament when he removed the napkin from where he was sitting, and a $500 tournament chip emerged. The tournament director allowed him to stay in the tournament and he ran his chips back to the '82 title. Had I been the WSOP director in 1982 he would have been eliminated and his last $500 chip would have been removed.

TDA Rule #23 States:

Chips Visible: All chips must be visible at all times. Players may not hold or transport tournament chips in any manner that takes them out of view. A player who does so will forfeit the chips and will face disqualification. The forfeited chips will be taken out of play.

Dewey did admit that had Jack not been in the tournament he never would have finished second, as Straus kept him alive late in the tournament with some key double-ups. 19 years later in 2001 he again finished second in the main event, this time to Carlos "The Matador" Mortensen. Dewey was a big favorite on the last hand with two aces vs. king-queen when the money went in before the flop. The Matador made a straight that ended Tomko's dream one more time; however, Dewey took it in stride as he always does.

If you ask Dewey how he feels about today's poker you may be surprised to hear that he feels maybe the game has passed him by. Unlike most poker players, other things have taken priority in his life of late. His beautiful wife Marianella, his three boys and their families and his lifetime love — the game of golf — have taken precedent over poker. "Poker used to be a game where everybody knew everyone else; now, when I enter a tournament, I look around at my table and I don't know anyone." He no longer feels that he needs to be at a poker table for long hours but it was not always that way, and he said that for years in the late '70s to middle '80s, "No one played more hours than I did."

Dewey used to play in games for three days straight, regularly eating, drinking and sleeping between hands. As he describes it, "The games were just too good and that if you got out of your seat you may not get it back." In between those marathon sessions Dewey was the most successful tournament player in the early '80s, winning many of the largest buy-in majors when $10,000 was a huge amount of money. In 1984-85 Dewey had what should be considered the best run in poker history:

1984 $10,000 Grand Prix, 1st Place
1984 $5,000 WSOP Pot Limit Omaha, 1st Place
1984 $10,000 WSOP Deuce to Seven, 1st Place
1984 $10,000 America's Cup, 3rd Place
1984 $10,000 Grand Prix, 4th Place
1985 $2,500 Grand Prix, 1st Place
1985 $10,000 Grand Prix, 1st Place
1985 $5,000 Superbowl of Poker 7 Card Stud, 1st Place
1985 $10,000 Superbowl of Poker, 2nd Place

When the three other major tournament series besides the WSOP (Amarillo Slim's Superbowl of Poker, Bob Stupak's Vegas World, and the Grand Prix of Poker) ended, Dewey was the leading money winner in all three, and although he is humble about his tournament achievements he also claims that there were more wins during that time and earlier but that accurate records were not always kept. Even today he still has what it takes as proven by his back-to-back top-ten finishes in the 2006 and 2007 $50,000 WSOP H.O.R.S.E. tournaments, which most pros consider the toughest field in the most skillful event.

See you at the final table!


Matt Savage is one of the world's most recognized poker tournament directors, and has been involved with over 350 televised events including the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour, and many others. Matt is a founder of the Tournament Directors Association, the first inductee into the Poker Managers Hall of Fame, and actor in the movie Lucky You. If you have questions about any rulings please send them to or check out Matt's website at

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