The T.J. Cloutier Wicked Chops Poker Interview


Tj_cloutier1T.J. Cloutier has stature.

TV does not accurately convey just how big of a man T.J. Cloutier is.  The former football star takes up a lot space at a poker table. 

Which is good for him, since he often needs that space to place everyone else’s chips. 

No poker player alive has T.J. Cloutier‚Äôs wicked tournament chopsCloutier has won more major tournaments (59 and counting) than any other player.  He has six gold bracelets to his credit.  Barring a bad beat, he‚Äôd have that WSOP Main Event championship as well. 

Wicked Chops Poker sat down with Cloutier at the Java Coast in Caesar‚Äôs Palace hours before he busted out of the WSOP Circuit Main Event on the first hand (typically, it was on another bad beat, as Cloutier‚Äôs flopped nut flush got beat by a turned boat).  Of course, Cloutier had gotten his money in the middle with the best of it.  He almost always does. 

We‚Äôre honored to bring you the Wicked Chops Poker Heads-Up Interview with T.J. Cloutier. 

WCP: T.J., thanks for taking the time to talk to us.  Even with the influx of new, young, hyper-aggressive players, you‚Äôre still posting major tournament wins.  Have you adapted your game at all the past few years, or have you just kept doing what you‚Äôve always done?

T.J.: All you can control is the table you‚Äôre on.  If there‚Äôs 2,000 players in a tournament, all you should be concerned about is the other 9 players at your table. 

The only big difference now [with the increased tournament fields] is you have to get through so many more people.  You have to worry about getting outdrawn more.  In the old days you didn‚Äôt have to see so many situations where you could get outdrawn. 

But I don’t think overall that the players now are any better than the players back then, that’s for damn sure.

WCP: Do you think the game was more nuanced back then?

T.J.: People are learning the game quickly.  See everybody know learns from books and stuff‚Ķ

BookWCP: Like your book…

T.J.: Not just mine [laughs].  The old style of playing, people never played pots that they didn‚Äôt make just a little token raise.  [People limp in more] now.  But you have guys like the Grinder and a few other young players that are pretty aggressive and great.  But of the young players, I‚Äôve gotta say that Phil Ivey is the best.  He can play both ways, by tightening up or being very loose and aggressive when he needs to.

WCP:  The older generation seemed to have a lot of interesting characters, like Puggy Pearson.  Did you know Puggy very well?

T.J.: Real well. 

He hadn‚Äôt been involved in tournaments for years and years, but he played [cash games] all the time.  He loved to play golf.  He hit golf balls every day of his life.  Literally every day of his life until he couldn‚Äôt any more.

WCP: I’m sure he made a lot of prop bets during those games…

Puggy_pearson_1T.J.: Oh yeah.  He was a very good golfer.  Couldn‚Äôt hit it very far but he was a very good golfer.  If a new guy would come out, he would play him for hundreds of dollars.  And  he was gonna win, that‚Äôs for sure.

He was a personality.  See that‚Äôs what‚Äôs missing today with a lot of the young players.  There were so many distinct personalities back then, like Jack Straus and Goody Roy and guys like that that you have never heard of but were fabulous players.

WCP:  It seems like the older generation played all of the games well too, not just no limit.

T.J.:  Yeah well no limit is the big TV game, so you‚Äôve gotta expect that.  But at the WSOP this year you have the $50,000 HORSE event. 

WCP: Are you gonna play in that?

T.J.: Yeah!  I‚Äôve already entered.  The last time I played in one of those types of events was in the HOE event at the old Tournament of Champions.  I came in 2nd in that one and had to get drawn out to lose it.  Brian Saltus caught a 9 on the river to hit an inside straight on me.

That was three tournaments in a row that year that that happened to me.  The World Series championship, I had [Chris ‚ÄúJesus‚Äù] Ferguson dead to the 9.  Then I played another no limit tournament and had a man heads-up dead to the 9 and he caught it.  Then I had Brian Saltus dead to the 9 and he caught it.  So in three tournaments in a row I had a man dead to the 9 and they all caught it and I came in 2nd in all of them.

WCP: You‚Äôre playing in the WSOP Circuit championship shortly.  Do you do anything differently to prep for the large events now?

85x68_1T.J.: Yeah.  I play those little $11 dollar re-buy tournaments on Poker Stars a lot of times at night.  They get 1,500 players.  In one week I had two fifths and a sixth.  It‚Äôs tough though cause those people will play any 2 cards. 

What‚Äôs really funny though is you sit back and you hear some of these people‚Äôs chat.  They‚Äôll talk about what experts they are and I‚Äôll just laugh.  Sometimes though when I‚Äôm playing I‚Äôll win a big hand with a J-9 and someone will say, ‚ÄúJ-9 is T.J.‚Äôs hand.‚Äù And I‚Äôll say that I‚Äôm T.J. and they‚Äôll say, ‚Äúbullshit‚Äù and start chatting all sorts of things.  So then I‚Äôll just turn off the chat. 

WCP: All of us Wicked Chops Poker guys are married.  But we‚Äôre lucky.  Our wives let us play whenever we want.  How‚Äôs the balance of playing poker for a living and being married affect your poker playing?

T.J.: Oh not at all.  She‚Äôs with me most of the time anyway.  She‚Äôs been with me for 22 years so I was already doing this for a living. 

But she doesn‚Äôt know what hand beats what hand.  I mean she literally doesn‚Äôt know poker at all. But she gets a big kick out of seeing herself on TV.  And people come up to her all the time and introduce themselves and tell her they‚Äôve seen her on TV.  I told her I made her famous by osmosis. 

WCP: So having a stable marriage really helps you?

Osmosis_1 T.J.:  Oh yeah.  Being able to get away from poker is great.  When I‚Äôm not playing [poker] I don‚Äôt even discuss [poker]. 

But there‚Äôs so much going on nowadays. I mean I get three or four calls a week asking me to do something.  I‚Äôve refused a lot a lot of things these days.

WCP: Are you scaling up the number of tournaments you play now?

T.J.: I play a lot less now.  I just play the big ones now.  I used to go to a tournament and play all of the events.  But there‚Äôs too many now.  You‚Äôve gotta realize that there were only two or three $10,000 buy-in tournaments a year back then.  There‚Äôs 35-40 of them now. 

Tournament poker has changed.  If you hit the tournament trial, it costs you about half a million dollars now just to enter and tour the events. 

WCP: If you’re just playing the circuit, it’s like you really need that top 3 finish once a year just to keep you going…

T.J.:  Yeah, yeah.  That‚Äôs what‚Äôs been good for me.  I‚Äôve only had one losing year.  1993 was my only losing year in tournament poker.

WCP: And you’re only sticking with tournament poker now?

T.J.: I don‚Äôt play much cash any more. 

Bobby_baldwinBut I played hold‚Äôem for 14 years in Dallas, steady.  All of the time.  All no limit hold‚Äôem.  And I played against the best back then.  That‚Äôs when [Bellagio CEO Bobby] Baldwin was still playing. 

But you know, you can‚Äôt do both at the same time.  A lot of people think you can, but one will hurt the other one.  If you‚Äôre playing a cash game, the blinds are the same the whole way through.  In tournaments, you‚Äôre doubling up every hour, and it takes a whole different mindset.  Hands you‚Äôd play in a cash game you‚Äôd never play in a tournament.  People will play hands in position that they‚Äôd fold in tournaments because they know they can just go back into their pockets.

But even with the big fields, tournaments are not [just about] luck.  It‚Äôs no coincidence that you see the same names up at the top, even today, time and time again. 

WCP: Today you definitely see some of the younger guys like Negreanu, Grinder, Antonius up at the top time and time again…

T.J.: Yeah [Antonius] plays any hand.  It‚Äôs tough to put him on a hand.  Grinder plays a lot of hands too, but he‚Äôs got a pretty good sense about him.

WCP: Of the older generation, who did you have the most problems playing against?

T.J.:  None of ‚Äòem.  If you thought someone had the best of you, why even bother playing against them?  No, I never thought of it that way.  I never thought I was better than anybody but I never thought anybody was better than me either.  That‚Äôs always been my mindset.  I don‚Äôt care who I play against, I gotta beat them all anyway.  When you‚Äôre in a tournament, that‚Äôs what you‚Äôre supposed to do. 

I mean, I‚Äôve won 59 majors and nobody has ever come close to that.  And that‚Äôs all because of my mindset.  I‚Äôm never thinking about coming in 3rd or 4th or just in the money.  I‚Äôm thinking about winning [the tournament].

WCP: There‚Äôs been a lot of legislation introduced recently regarding the legality of online poker in the States.  What do you think of this legislation?

T.J.: The money aughta all be coming in from the United States.  [The US Government] ain‚Äôt gonna stop it.  If you take away poker in the United States, a lot of people will go to where they can play it.  All of the sudden, Canada will become very populated.

I mean, look at that money Party Poker is making.  We can‚Äôt tax it!  It‚Äôs ridiculous.

WCP: How do you like your chances in the WSOPC ME today?

T.J.: I got as much chance as anyone. 

Observation_1 You know, enough people are seeing enough hands online these days that you can learn the game pretty quickly.  Sure they won‚Äôt be able to look someone in the eyes online or pick up physical tells, like how they push their stack in the middle, but the basics of poker, [the newcomers are] all very good at now.  But there‚Äôs so much more to the game.  Observation is the whole game.

Tj_cloutier_sixthbraceletWCP: All in all, are you satisfied with your tournament results of the past four or five years?

T.J.: Yeah.  Especially because of my health. 

I used to play a lot more but I can‚Äôt as much now.  But last year I won the $5,000 no limit hold‚Äôem event at the WSOP, bracelet number six, and I plan on winning another one this year. 

WCP: Ok, we ask everyone we interview this question.  Your name comes up in the answer pretty often too.  So if you could pick your dream six-person table to play against, who would be sitting at it?

T.J.: I’ve already played on it!!!

The final four at the Queens one year was Doyle, myself, Chip, and Erik Seidel.  That was a great group. 

Tj_cloutier2But I also played at the final table at the Stardust years ago against Stu Ungar, Jack Keller, Hamid Distmalchi, Berry Johnston, Dewey Tomko, Doyle Brunson…man, every single person at the table had won at least one bracelet, and you’ll never be able to top that.

Nowadays there‚Äôs so many great players that I‚Äôd hate to leave somebody out.  One other dream table I played at was the [Poker] SuperStars.  Now Hellmuth didn‚Äôt get a chance to play in that one, but I like playing against Hellmuth.  Let‚Äôs see, we had Barry Greenstein and Doyle and Chip [Reese].  We had Phil Ivey, and Daniel Negreanu, and Erik Seidel, Howard Lederer, Gus Hansen, it was a helluva table for this day and age. 

But right now if I had to play and just pick one, you can‚Äôt do one without Doyle.  Doyle‚Äôs gotta be in it.  Erik and Howard have got to be there because they‚Äôre solid, good players.  And Daniel, you‚Äôve gotta give him credit for the past five or six years, he deserves to be there too.  I would take Phil Hellmuth because he‚Äôs a kick to play with. 

Ivey2copy_1WCP: He is a great no limit player…

T.J.: Well…

He‚Äôs not a bad any kind of player.  He‚Äôs a good player overall.  And he moves his chips pretty good.

Then you got a lot of new kids who are pretty good too. Allen Cunningham and the Grinder and Mark Seif. 

But for my six, I left Phil Ivey off.  How could you leave him off?  He has a chance to surpass all of us.  That‚Äôs how good he is.  He has a chance to be the greatest of all time.


6 Responses

  1. paul007

    May 25, 2006 4:23 am, Reply

    i learned how to play by reading tj’s book. great to hear what he has to say on the game today.

  2. Dave

    May 25, 2006 8:48 am, Reply

    Awesome interview with my favorite tournament poker player…He is a really interesting guy and seems to be as sharp as anybody in the game. Thanks.

  3. Kid Dynamite

    May 25, 2006 2:21 pm, Reply

    TJ is such a gentleman he didn’t want to say he wants Hellmuth at the table because he’s dead money!
    TJ’s wife is the best – we should all hope our poker wives would be so supportive!

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