T.J. Cloutier wields clout at the poker table

Jun 17, 2008 7:03 PM

Road to the WSOP by Joe Awada | This past week I had the chance to sit down with a very good friend of mine, T.J. Cloutier, a consummate professional poker player who is one of just several dozen players to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame.

T.J. has played for decades, first as a cash game specialist then, for the past 20 years or so, a top-rated tournament player.

In fact, T.J. is a member of the Player Advisory Board that counsels the World Series of Poker on rule changes and other policies.

His position on the board provided some insights into the WSOP’s decision this year to delay the final table of the main event for four months.

"I was all for it," T.J. said. "For the nine players that make the final table, the extra time off could be worth millions, in the form of endorsements, sponsorships, advertisements and other opportunities."

T.J. added, somewhat surprisingly, that the board’s decision to endorse the move was unanimous.

"We discussed everything, possible pitfalls, and decided that the move was beneficial," T.J. said.

Other members of the board include pros such as Jennifer Harmon, Annie Duke, Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Daniel Negreanu and Barry Greenstein.

Another issue that the board addressed was the crazy antics that some players undertake, especially when the TV cameras are rolling.

"With all the people acting up, we put in an excessive celebration rule this year for the World Series," T.J. said. "So anyone who shouts and screams and jumps around like a chimpanzee will be penalized. You have to show respect for the other players.

"Of course, TV is TV, and you’re going to get ‘characters’ who carry on for the cameras," he continued. "But we should see less of that kind of activity as players will be facing sanctions if they go too far."

 Another "first" this year at the World Series was the closing of registration for the six-handed event a couple of weeks ago.

Like myself, T.J. was shut out at the window because all the places had been filled.

He said, however, that was an aberration, mostly because the six-handed event required more tables (and dealers) than other events.

For instance, for every 90 players, the event required 15 tables (and 15 dealers) as opposed to a standard event, in which 90 players would need only 10 tables.

Nonetheless, T.J. said missing an event shouldn’t create too much hardship.

"Anybody who wants to play, should be able to find a purse," he said. "There are 54 other events to choose from."

As far as how the game of tournament poker has changed over the years, T.J. said the game has seen an influx of new, fast and aggressive players, many of whom cut their teeth online.

But, he added, the game itself hasn’t changed – just the players have changed.

"In the old days, your task was to beat the people at your table – that’s all you had to worry about," he said. "If you could do that five or 10 times, you’d win the tournament.

"The difference today, with the larger fields, you have to beat your table 50 or 60 times to win … but the game is exactly the same."

Although many recent poker players have found their way to the World Series via the Internet, T.J. says they’ll have their work cut out if and when they meet up with long-time players such as T.J.

"Playing in a tournament is a whole different ballgame than playing online," he said. "They’ll find that they have to look me in the eye.

"My advice for these young, aggressive fast-playing online players is this: tournament poker is one race that always goes to the tortoise, it never goes to the hare."

Having played with T.J., I know what he’s saying is true. Moreover, that’s one tough shell he has on his back.