Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.
There is a “would you rather” question that gets thrown around in the sports world from time to time that I think applies to Dewey Tomko and the poker world. The question asks: would you rather get to the championship game and lose in an agonizing way or would you have rather have never had a chance to play for it at all, because despite being agonizing in it’s own way, you at least don’t have to be there to witness the champion take down said event. Dewey Tomko has been in both positions, twice. He has twice finished second in the World Series of Poker main event and he has twice been the last one out before the money at the WSOP main event. However, this story isn’t going to be a sob story about Tomko. Despite those emotional results, Tomko is one of the most successful tournament players of all time. While he has said these results have hurt his psyche from time to time, it hasn’t stopped him from participating in every WSOP since 1974, the longest streak ever.
Dewey Tomko, born on December 31, 1946 in Glassport, Pennsylvania, probably never thought he would end up in Las Vegas based on his first career choice. As a kid, he was indeed interested in poker. In what he has called boredom, he would wander down to a local pool hall to see what was going on. There he started playing poker with some regulars, and despite being only 16 years old, he was holding his own against players with much more experience. In time, Tomko was able to save enough money to attend Salem College in West Virginia to pursue a degree in Education.
While in college, Tomko continued playing and continued financing his college bills with money he was making in side games. He has said in interviews that he would usually play in games with returning Vietnam vets, and more often than not would walk away with his opponents pay checks in hand. Tomko differs from a lot of the other poker players we’ve chronicled in this series, as he was able to find a balance between poker and school, and did indeed graduate with his Education degree.
Tomko worked as a kindergarten teacher after earning his degree, but the calling of poker was never far behind. Often times he found himself staying up all night because a hot streak at the poker table was too hard to walk away from. While doing that he learned a couple of things. One was that the kids deserved to have a teacher who was awake and alert during the school day, and two, that some nights he was making more money from poker in just one session than his entire yearly salary for teaching. After a few years of teaching and continuing to clean up local cash games, Tomko made the more profitable decision and quit his teaching job to take up poker full-time.
While turning to poker full-time, Tomko was also able to lend his hand in some business ventures that would ensure that even if he had a bad run at the poker table he still had plenty to live on. Tomko originally enjoyed just playing cash games, but the excitement of tournaments drew him in, and as mentioned he’s played every WSOP main event since 1974.
Success in big tournaments took a few years, but when they first came they have never stopped coming since.
The year 1979 can be considered his breakout year. In the first WSOP event he cashed, he also won, earning his first bracelet in a $1000 No Limit Hold’em event and earning him $48,000. In 1982, Tomko’s first of two disappointing second place finishes came at the hands of Jack Straus, but the $208,000 pay day was enough to keep Tomko trucking. Good thing he did, because he won two more bracelets in 1984, in the $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha event and the $10,000 Deuce to Seven Draw event. These two bracelets combined added $240,000 to his bankroll.
Tomko has been unable to win another bracelet since then, despite coming close a number of times. The most disappointing of those was when he once again got second in the Main Event. This time, in 2001 he was holding aces against Carlos Mortensen heads up, but the board was unkind, and once again he left in second place. The prize of over one million dollars was a nice consolation prize, but having finished second for the second time in the big one, this time holding aces, had to be tough.
Tomko’s WSOP results speak for themselves. He has 42 cashes, with of course the three bracelets. He has won over 2.6 million dollars from the WSOP, and has had success in other tournaments as well, to bring his lifetime total winnings to just under five million dollars. However, after his second place finish in 2001, Tomko took a bit of a break from tournament play to focus on cash games, so he said he can “feel like a winner again.” It was his son Derek, who his dad says is a better player than he was at his age, who got him back into tournaments over the last few years. Good thing, because at the 2007 WSOP he finished 10th in the H.O.R.S.E. tournament, showing he still has what it takes to hang with the big boys of poker. Also, in 2008 he cashed in three events, including 23rd in the Main Event.
Tomko has another love besides poker though, and it involves golf. In fact, Tomko is so good at golf that some people have called him the best putter in the game. That’s right – a full-time poker player and part-time golfer has been called the best putter in the game by the best golfers in the world. Professional golfer Rocco Mediate has said that if he had one person to putt for his life it would be Tomko. No pressure there. Tomko has also said in interviews that many of these top golfers refuse to play Tomko for money. In short, the man has ice in his veins. He apparently is also one of the most clutch golfers in the world. Not bad for one of the best poker players in history, as documented by his 2008 induction into the Hall of Fame of Poker. Sports columnist Rick Riley wrote about his day of golf with Tomko in his book, “Who’s Your Caddy?,” where he wrote that if there’s no money on it, then there’s no interest from Tomko.