(Editor's Note: For the first installment of Matt Savage's two-part look at poker and gambling legend Dewey Tomko, click here. Matt continues in this installment with his examination of Dewey's life and history.)
A Great Storyteller
I always enjoy spending time with Dewey as we have the same interests for the most part — poker, golf, and as it turns out we are equally picky about food, although it doesn't look that way. He has some of the greatest stories in the world as some of his best friends and business associates included Jack Binion, Doyle Brunson, the late Chip Reese and Stu Ungar. If you mix that group with poker, golf, and then gambling on both poker and golf, you get hours of enjoyment and interesting stories. Here are just a few of the stories he has shared with me (at least the ones I can talk about here).
Dewey on Doyle Brunson: "Back in the late seventies and early eighties Doyle and Jack Binion used to call me out from Florida as kind of a golf 'sparring partner' before their big matches. I remember one specific time when Doyle called me out to Nashville and I came out on the tail end of a two-day-long poker session. I brought my entire bankroll with me but I told Doyle I would not play him until I got some sleep. Somehow he convinced me to come out anyway and by the time we were done 'practicing' Doyle had beaten me out of every penny I had to my name (about $98,000) and I had to head back to my $6,400-a-year teaching job before I even checked into the hotel. It was the first of many times Doyle busted me, but that's what friends are for."
Dewey also talks about Doyle being one of the most frugal travelers back in the day, even though Dewey said he, Chip, and Doyle had too much money and were investing it in television stations, one of which was in Mobile, Alabama. After three years of not watching their investment they decided that the three of them would go to Mobile. "Doyle made the room accommodations and he found the cheapest fleabag hotel in the city," said Dewey. "We were so afraid of being mugged that the three of us knelt down on the stained floor and prayed! For years after that Chip and I would laugh about that night in Mobile."
Dewey on Stu Unger: "A lot of people don't know how great an athlete he was but he was the worst gambler maybe of all time. He would come to my house in Florida on social visits and they always turned into sporting competitions. Whether it was golf, ping pong, or shooting baskets, Stuey always found a way to leave me all his money. On his last trip to Florida he ended up losing $30,000 to my 11- and 13-year-old sons shooting free throws."
Dewey's motto for many years was, "Gamble with your friends and your enemies won't come around."
World's Biggest Golf Gambler
Amazingly enough, Dewey's poker winnings are not among Dewey's biggest wins and losses, as those have come on golf courses around the country and world. There was a time that he was the world's biggest golf gambler, winning or losing millions of dollars in a single round. Dewey's matches are legendary and he has always (unlike some of today's poker players) tried to make the fairest match possible. "I believe you try to set a match that both sides can win depending on how you play that day." He is the first to admit that most matches have gone his way, however. One stipulation he does have is that, "You have to make it hurt a little bit if you lose; that way handling the pressure becomes a big part of the game."
In the past Dewey has played against many touring pros that were much better golfers than he was, but made sure the pro was playing high enough to be out of his comfort level. "Four-foot putts become much tougher when you have a couple hundred thousand dollars riding on it," said Dewey. Dewey's golf career has also taken him into the golf business in which he has built and owned a golf course, and now into television, as he now owns his own golf television show, along with Doyle, which airs on ESPN.
Dewey and Marianella in Costa Rica, March 2008
Dewey Belongs in the Poker Hall of Fame... and Probably the Golf Hall as Well
When I brought the fact that he is definitely deserving of the honor and asked why he felt he was not in to this point, Dewey rolled his eyes and told me that it would be nice but he has never been about the trophies and accolades and has played the game for what poker is all about… the money. The money has always been his focus whether it was poker, golf, or sports betting. I think his record shows that he belongs up with the likes of Doyle, Chip, TJ Cloutier, Phil Hellmuth and many others before him that are already in the Hall of Fame. When I asked a couple of his friends and peers what they thought of Dewey being inducted, they said the following:
Doyle Brunson: "Dewey is absolutely one of the best poker players I have ever played with and is so underrated because he does not seek the spotlight. His tournament success should be overshadowed by his cash game play, where he is one of the all-time greats! For sure he is the greatest player not currently in the Hall of Fame."
TJ Cloutier: "There is no one out there that is more deserving than Dewey. He has been an integral part of the poker scene for at least 30 years. He has always been one of the classiest and best players in the world."
. . .
In this spot I feel that I have a "good read" on Dewey and believe that his induction would mean a lot to him. Being in the Hall of Fame would be a crowning achievement and well-deserved validation for his unbelievable life.
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 AskTheBoard@PokerTDA.com or check out Matt's website at SavageTournaments.com.