The Time I Met TJ Cloutier
OK, so this is for AlienGenius who was interested in some of the stories I have when I was covering poker as a journalist a few years ago. I do still have my contacts active and met up with a few 2 weeks ago at Commerce during the LA Poker Classic.
Anyways - here's a quick story about the time i met TJ. I'll try to post one of these a week.
TJ Cloutier "The Bear"
It's impossible not to think tournament No Limit Texas
Hold'em and *not* think of TJ Cloutier. During a session at the WPT Poker "Champions" Camp that I was covering, I got to sit with TJ and talk poker with him. Meeting the man in person is drastically different than seeing him on TV. For those of you that don't know, TJ is a big dude. He used to be a linebacker (if memory serves right) in the Canadian Football League, and his size is definitely imposing if you aren't expecting to meet a large guy with huge bear paw hands when shaking his hands.
Speaking with a "good ole boy" country accent, you get a sense that TJ has seen way more than he lets on, since his past goes back to the days of backdoor saloon games in Texas and Oklahoma when poker was totally illegal. He quickly remarked about guys getting (literally) shot at the table, but it seemed the type of tired subject he didn't care to revisit. He did love talking about other pros, and somehow we came on the subject of Phil Laak.
"Phil's an incredible poker player, but everyone knows how to beat him. You just sit back, wait, and then wait for him to beat himself. It works every time," comment Cloutier. He did explain his admiration of Laak's poker abilities and non-stop brain activity. (Yes, I have met and actually played poker with Phil Laak, and he'll be in a future article)
"Phil, and his girlfriend too (actress Jennifer Tilly), are just from another planet people haven't discovered yet," were TJ's final comments on Laak.
At the tables I got to watch TJ play in a tournament with some students from the "Champions" Camp (with students far short of championship ability). There is no doubt that TJ wears his emotions on his face, and when someone made a bad play, he had a eye-roll or a head-nod in response.
At the end of the day, TJ is a decent guy with a past that would be sure to be a Hollywood movie, if you could ever get close enough to him for him to tell his stories. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting his wife who was a darling to say the least. A true poker legend and a good instructor at the camp.