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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – T.J. Cloutier

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There are topics in the “Where Are They Now” series that when I see them I wonder how it will keep the story from trailing on for pages and pages.  Not trailing on in a bad way, mind you, but finding a way to fit the best possible stories for a player who has literally thousands of them makes you want to be sure you do the story justice.  T.J. Cloutier obviously fits that description.  Cloutier is a throwback to the poker days of old, where if you won a hand you looked around to make sure nobody was reaching into their jackets for a firearm, something of which he saw a few times.  

Thomas James Cloutier was born on October 13, 1939 in Albany, California.  Despite many of Cloutier’s stories originating in the south, particularly Texas and Louisiana, Cloutier’s early years were spent on the West Coast.  As a teenager Cloutier excelled in athletics, and earned an athletic scholarship to play football and baseball at the University of California, Berkley.  In 1959 Cloutier was lucky enough to suit up with his team to play in the historic Rose Bowl.  Cloutier was seemingly on his way to a career in the National Football League, but because of a financial crisis in the family, Cloutier would have to leave school to help his family make ends meet.  Shortly after returning home though, Uncle Sam would call, and Cloutier was drafted to the Army.

It was in the Army that Cloutier was first introduced to the game of poker.  By all intents and purposes, Cloutier’s days in the Army were pretty straight forward, other than the fact he was introduced to the game that has been responsible for the course his life has taken.  However, at this point, poker was just a game and a way to pass the time.  What he really wanted to do was go after his dream of playing professional football.

When Cloutier’s stint in the Army was done he got his wish of playing professional football, but it came in the form of the Canadian Football League.  Cloutier spent a few years playing with teams in Montreal and Toronto, but a knee injury ended his dreams of ever making the NFL.  Back home he started a food company, but when that went under rather quickly, Cloutier headed east, to the oil fields of Texas.

All of these negative events in Cloutier’s early days would of course end up being a blessing in disguise.  On his off days and down time at the oil rigs Cloutier participated in games with some of the other workers.  A lot like a large majority of the stories in our “Where Are They Now Series,” Cloutier eventually saw that he was making more money from his hobby than his “real” job.  Just like that, Cloutier was a professional poker player, a label he has kept for nearly the last 50 years.

As mentioned, poker in the south during this era could be a risky proposition.  There is one particular story Cloutier likes to tell from his early poker days when he hears a player complaining about a bad beat.  At a game with a bunch of notorious thugs and gangsters one of the others accused the other of cheating, and just like that guns were blazing.  Two men were shot dead, while another man who was shot in the chest went outside of the house looking for help and knocked on the house of another man.  The man, thinking he was being robbed, had his shotgun in hand and ended up shooting the man looking for help.  Now, that’s a bad beat.

Through the 60’s and 70’s Cloutier spent the majority of his time looking for cash games in the south, and trying to stay out of the way of gunfire.  It’s weird to say that a lot of players in these games actually found safety in Las Vegas, but they did, as there was some sense of security inside of the casinos.  Cloutier began making trips there when he could, and starting in the early 1980’s Cloutier started spending a lot more time in Vegas, particularly playing in the bigger tournaments.

As you can see, his tournament success is amazing, and there is no way we can center on each one of his major victories, so instead we have a bit of a summary.  He is the only player in the history to win events in all three variants of Omaha offered at the WSOP.  His first victory in Omaha was also his first bracelet, coming in the Hi event in 1987.  His next bracelet, and Omaha win was in Omaha 8 or better in 1994.  In 1994 he won two bracelets, the other one in Pot Limit Hold’em.  In 1998 he won a third Omaha bracelet in Pot Limit Omaha.

All said, Cloutier has won a total of six WSOP bracelets, with the most recent one being in 2005 when he took down the $5,000 No Limit Hold’em event for $657,000.  The one bracelet that has been elusive to Cloutier is the Main Event.  No player in history has come as close to Cloutier as many times as he has.  Four times he has finished in the top five.  In both 1985 and 2000 he finished second, with the 2000 finish giving his biggest tournament cash to date, $896,000.  All said, Cloutier is second to Phil Hellmuth for making the WSOP final table, and in all tournaments combined he has made nearly ten million dollars.  And T.J. was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2006.

Because of his success, Cloutier has been asked numerous times for his advice, and because of that he has authored or co-authored a total of six books.  His most recent effort “How To Win The Championship: Hold’em Strategies For The Final Table” was published in 2006, and is considered a vital read for any serious tournament player, particularly live tournament players.  Cloutier was also a regular contributor to Bluff Magazine for a number of years before recently giving that gig up. 

Despite being nearly 70 years old Cloutier continues to be one of the most dominating players on the circuit.  In November of 2007 he took down the $5,000 No Limit Event at the Scotty Nquyen Poker Challenge, winning $240,560.  In April of last year he made a deep run in a WPT championship event, finishing in 34th place.  

There are no real formal polls out there saying who are the best tournament poker players of all-time, but it’s my guess he would be included among the Mount Rushmore of Poker Greats.

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