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T.J. Cloutier

When you have been around for quite some time, playing the cards on this table or that, you almost become part of the fixtures of the place. The casinos, their ambience and sights and smells tend to grow on you. You sit, stand, walk, eat, and dream the game. And, if, like T. J. Cloutier, you have been playing since 1957 – FIFTY years of poker playing – You become a living, walking poker legend in more sense than one.

That doesn’t mean that Cloutier had to be dragged away from the tables to pursue other indulgences of life, though. In these fifty years, he got married, raised six children, spent beautiful, sunny days on the golf course, and traveled to exotic places. With the riches accumulating in an eventful career at poker – and at sixty-six years of age and still going strong - Cloutier has truly lived life king-size. At the table, if you have played with him just once, them old gray cells might forget your name, but will remember your style of game the next time.

This Albania-born champion didn’t know that poker and the world waited for him when he would dribble the ball on basketball courts in Daly City, California. He was a favorite in the local teams for football and baseball, too, and it was but logical that he took admission in the University of California at Berkeley on a basketball and football athletic scholarship. Having participated in the team that had even reached the Rose Bowl in 1959, T.J. had the stars in his eyes.

There came a twist in life however. His mother’s prolonged illness put a strain on the family’s budget, and T.J. had to drop out of college to take up a full time job in order to help tide things over. Those were the days when the country went to war, and T.J. found himself in the army. During idle times, the soldiers would while away their time playing poker, and soon T.J. began enjoying the game.

After the war, T.J. took up football as a player for the Montreal Allouettes of the Canadian Football League (CFL). He was going great guns as a football pro, and rival Toronto Argonauts even asked for him in their team, when fate intervened once again, and he landed up home with a knee injury. Unfit to take up any physical sport actively, T.J. turned to playing poker. His father and brother-in-law teamed up with him to start “Bets Quality Foods” in Daly City. But the business went bankrupt very soon. Life turned downhill when he underwent a divorce, and deciding that a change of place might do him some good, T.J. came to Texas.

It was in Texas that T.J. discovered the joys of playing full-time poker, when cash started coming in the form of huge bundles. Texas was also the place where he met his second wife – Joy, and they got married in 1984. Has Joy proved lucky for him? From the way life has treated him ever since the marriage, it looks like his wife has been his mascot, taking him to stability, money and stardom. On 13th May 1985, T.J. found himself catapulted to the limelight when he took the second position – after Bill Smith - at the WSOP $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship, taking home a cool $280,000 home for his efforts at the tables.

Two years later, in 1987, he picked up $72,000 and came in first at the WSOP $1,000 Omaha Limit event. His streak of wins has continued ever since. In 1988, he bagged the 5th rank in the WSOP $10,000 No Limit Hold’em event, adding $63,000 to his bank balance. T.J.’s winning streak has been going on without let, since. With 6 WSOP bracelets, wins in 58 major tournaments which took him to the final tables 40 times and in cashes 47 times, T.J. was cruising in the fast lane.

Pause, sit back, take a breath and relax! – Destiny seemed to be telling him. Neglected health problems suddenly blew up in his face when he was playing in Aruba in 2004. Falling unconscious at the tables, he had to be flown back to the US for emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor. After having to contend with one clot, he hit another clot in the form of a heart-attack, again in the same year.

Have these health issues stopped T.J. Cloutier? Well, he certainly has become more cautious, and has begun pacing himself. As if to show the world that vintage Cloutier is still going strong, he came out tops in the WSOP $5,000 No Limit Hold’em game; and has since Jan 2005, already amassed $837,590 in wealth. Some people live by the tables, and die by the tables with their uniform on. We sure wish T.J. a long, long innings at the tables, with many more wins to come.

  Pro Poker Players

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WSOP 2005