TJ Cloutier is one of the most successful tournament players of the late 20th century and early years of this century. From 1998 until July 2006, he was the No. 1 MTT player of all time. Even Joe Hachem could not beat him, who himself received $7,500,000 for winning the 2005 WSOP Main Event. Only Jamie Gold succeeded, who won a record $12,000,000 in the 2006 Main Event. At the same time, Cloutier himself has never won more than $900,000 in one tournament in his life.
TJ was born in 1939 and started playing poker at the age of 17.
“I started with no-limit lowball,” Cloutier recalls. ''But I lost everything. Then I switched to a 5-card draw game, and I immediately began to succeed in this game. Once I managed to play heads-up with the owner of the club where the game was held. I tore him apart without him standing a chance and brought home a lot of money. The next day, my father showed up at the club – he grabbed the owner and said that he would kill him if I even once crossed the threshold of the club. Naturally, the next evening I sat at the table again.''
TJ's professional career had to be postponed – he was drafted into the army. After the service, he tried his hand at American football and even managed to play for professional teams from Toronto and Montreal. But due to injuries, he was forced to end his sports career ahead of schedule. Cloutier returned to Texas and took a job on an oil rig. There he again began to play poker with colleagues and quickly realized that he was winning more at the table than he was earning.
In the 70s and 80s, illegal private games became the main source of income for Cloutier.
“I won a lot in the big game at Shrewport,” he recalls. – ''Then I went to Dallas, where I was invited to a closed game, which was organized by a guy named Charlie Bissell. It was the biggest asshole I've ever met. But he put together an incredible game. I won $200,000 there in a year, after which Charlie said that he would not let me in again unless I agreed to give him half of the winnings. I had to agree. And one day he suddenly said that our cooperation was ending. Several new players appeared at the table that day. “I wonder what will happen next,” I chuckled to myself. Bought in for only $500 and left in half an hour. A couple of years later, in 1983, the game was covered by the cops, and I moved to Vegas, where I started playing tournaments.''
Cloutier has come close to winning the WSOP Main Event four times.
In 1985, he lost heads-up to Bill Smith. According to Cloutier, Smith was an alcoholic and played very badly sober: “He was the tightest opponent in my entire career, but when slightly tipsy he played excellently – no one read opponents like him in this state. But when he crossed the line and got too drunk, he again began to play disgustingly and immediately became the worst player in history.''
Cloutier hoped that Bill would get drunk during the heads-up and start making mistakes. And, in the end, it happened, but it was too late – by this point, Smith had a huge chip advantage, and he brought the match to victory, winning $700,000. Cloutier received $280,000. Bill Smith died in 1996 at the age of 61.
Cloutier made his second final table appearance in 1988. Eliminated in 5th place, he earned a modest $63,000. And the title in the historic heads-up was played by Eric Seidel and Johnny Chan.
Ten years later, in 1998, TJ took third place ($437,500). That tournament can also claim to be legendary, because Scotty Nguyen won with his catchphrase "You call, it's gonna be all over, baby."
After a fairly long three-way game, true to his style, McBride knocked out Cloutier as well. He min-raised from the small blind and Cloutier raised 4x. Kevin called with Js9s and on a 4s5d7s flop called an overbet all-in. TJ held KxQx offsuit, the turn was a jack, and Cloutier received $437,500. By the way, the then tournament director (and now the main poker man at the Bellagio), Jack McClelland, reminded before the start of the game: "The craps tables at the Horseshoe are open all day." This reminder was most certainly intended for Cloutier, as Nguyen preferred to shovel tournament winnings into expensive cash games.
Two years later, TJ reached the heads-up of the main event, where he lost to Chris Ferguson. Chris started the title duel with a 10-to-1 lead, but Cloutier managed to level the stacks. In the final hand, Ferguson called all-in with A9 and beat AQ, the river came a nine.
“I could have 14 bracelets if the dealer delivered the cards I needed when there were 2-3 participants left in the game,” Cloutier said in an interview. – ''Most often I remember about the nine that Chris caught. But almost no one knows that right after that main, I played two more $10,000 tournaments and went heads-up in both. Both times I was separated from victory by one card, only a nine helped my opponents, and it came both times.''
According to the website Hendon mob, the next $10,000 Cloutier cashed in didn't take place until 2003, so either the tournaments were private or it was a fantasy of his.
Despite the success at the poker table, Cloutier has always been accompanied by the fame of a notorious gambler and an eternal debtor. He spent all his poker winnings on craps and horse racing.
“In the 70s, I played poker at night, then I immediately went to the hippodrome, where I spent the time until dinner,” recalls TJ. “Besides that, I played rummy and blackjack.''
“No one alive has lost more craps than TJ,” Terrence Chen once wrote. “Obviously, he just doesn’t know how to play. When you find yourself at the same table with him, you just need to bet against him.''
“I still play craps,” Cloutier admitted in 2013. ''But very, very cheap. Once it was really my problem, but not as big as it is commonly believed. I played really big only with "their" money. Although I will not hide, for all these years I have lost decent money in the casino, after all, this is a heavy addiction.''
– What is this "their money" – said the interviewer. – Backers?
– ''No, I mean my big trips to the casino... I deposited huge sums in Orleans or MGM, took this money and then left most of it in Bellagio. That's all.''
In January 2010, Plano Pawn put up a $5,000 NLHE 2005 tournament bracelet for sale. With a starting price of $2,999, the bracelet was purchased for $4,000. The buyers were anonymous players who returned the bracelet to Cloutier, his fate is unknown. In 2013, Cloutier's ring, which he received for winning one of the 1998 Legends of Poker tournaments, was put up for sale on eBay for $2,500.
TJ is also famous for his love of educating young people. On 2+2, one anonymous visitor recalled the following story:
A couple of years ago, a friend and I played $1/$2 at Casino Niagara. At some point, s guy old enough to be my grandfather sat next to me with a full stack (a rarity for older players). I opened with 66 on the button, he SB and the BB called.
Flop 556, grandpa called my continuation bet.
Turn 9, checked.
River K, he bet, I raised and he shoved instantly.
When I called, he showed K5 with a smirk.
"I'm sorry, buddy, I'm sorry," I said, and turned over my cards.
– *** kids, – he grumbled unhappily. – How sorry are you? Enough to give me back the stack?
“Then never apologize again.”
I had no idea who we were playing with, only after the hand was told that it was the famous TJ Cloutier.
Isaac Haxton also received a lesson in wisdom from TJ in his first World Series.
Cloutier flipped and I said I threw an ace. A not very pleasant scene followed: “Never stop a person from hitting his own luck!”
“In the past, for something like that, as well as for a slowroll, you could get a bullet,” experienced live specialists reminded Ike.
It seems that Cloutier has been educating young people at the table all his life. In the middle of the 2000s, in an interview, he assessed Phil Hellmuth's behavior:
“If he had played with us in Texas in the 70s and behaved the way he does now, he would not have lasted even a week. I once played poker against four hardened killers. Then you could be buried simply for words that they did not like. Modern players do not understand this, everything is easy for them, and I had to watch with one eye so that I would not be robbed, and with the other, so that I would not be killed.
In the early 2000s, Cloutier wrote several books on strategy. Tony Dunst recently found one of these books and was amazed at how much the approach to the game has changed since then.
In 2003, Championship NL & PL Hold'em by TJ Cloutier was considered the best MTT book. In the first hand example, he advises to fold AKo to open-raise 😳
Almost all the expensive tournaments Cloutier were under backing by Billy Baxter and Lyle Berman. His main successes came during this period. According to rumors, the backers had one important condition – they always collected the prize money themselves. They shared them quite generously – they kept a third for themselves, a third was received by Cloutier, and another third by his wife. The partnership ended at the end of the 2000s, and since then TJ rarely plays tournaments over $1,000, his average buy-in is $200-$300. Cloutier is famous for the fact that he will ask for a loan of $300 from the first person he meets, and repayment of the debt, as a rule, is not included in his plans.
A couple of weeks ago, TJ made the final table of the $365 mini-tournament in Texas and finished in 3rd place ($6,000). The game was broadcast live.
The appearance of the legend on the screen gave rise to a new wave of memories on 2 + 2.
“He scammed me for $400,” user jrr63 shared. – ''In the 90s, we crossed paths in a satellite when I was still new to the WSOP. During the game, we chatted at ease, and when it was all over, he said: “Listen, lend me $400, the money is in the room, I’ll give it back as soon as I get up.” I did not think for a second and calmly gave him the money. Then he sat down to play cash and told his neighbors about it. All the players at the table began to laugh. Naturally, I never received the money. Fortunately, I got off cheaply, compared to other cases known to me. We met a couple of days later, and T.J. said he didn't have any money with him. But after stories from other regs, I already said goodbye to this debt. I understand that at the first meeting I would have given him more if he had asked.''
“It’s probably hard for the younger generation to understand,” mrmr writes, “but I know a lot of old school players, and none of them consider him a thief or a scammer. He even pays back debts if you catch him at the right time, when he really has money with him. Many of those to whom he is indebted still treat him with sympathy. He never asked for $10,000 or $50,000, it was always a modest couple hundred. TJ never behaved like the same Chino, about whom they say that he asked for a loan for a rebuy during a cash game, claiming that he was already carrying the money, and he himself ran away from the casino as soon as the creditor went to the bathroom. Back in the 80s, everyone knew that TJ was a terrible gambler and owed everyone. But his financial situation improved markedly when the backers began to take the winnings themselves.''
“And I'm proud that TJ Cloutier owes me $600,” King Fish said. “In the old days, it was considered a kind of rite of passage.''
Does he still owe you? – readers have asked.
''Yes, it hasn't even been 20 years yet. I'm sure he'll give it back as soon as he gets big. It's not his fault that the downswing drags on. In those years, I often crossed paths with him in tournaments, but I knew nothing about the love of playing craps. He asked for money when I was chatting with friends during a break. Without thinking twice, I just handed him the bills. As soon as he disappeared, my friends started laughing and warned me to forget about this money. They added that I finally "lost my virginity." On the next episode, I reminded him of his duty, but didn’t push too hard. Times were different. Players lent each other huge sums because almost every game was a printing press.''
“I heard a story about a guy from Canada who was owed $300 by Cloutier,” recalled EastCoastBalla. – ''It was in 2005 or 2006. A couple of years later, this Canadian came to the WSOP, waited until TJ reached the finals, came there and started shouting to the whole room about the debt. He received my money right away.''