By Christopher Cosenza
When you have a milestone accolade bestowed upon you, it’s only natural to look back at what you’ve accomplished throughout your career.
Not Dewey Tomko.
“I don’t believe in the past,” said the Haines City resident who will be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame during the World Series of Poker’s final table hoopla on Nov. 10. “I don’t even think about what I did in the past. However you play your next hand is what matters. What difference does it matter how you did years ago?
“But it’s an honor and a privilege to get into the Hall and I’m looking forward to it. Funny thing is, a lot of my friends thought I was already in there.”
So, just like a crafty poker player, a trap had to be set to get the three-time WSOP bracelet-winner to talk a little bit about the “old days.” Does he think the “poker boom” was a good thing?
“I think the boom is great for poker in some ways and some ways it’s not,” said Tomko, who turns 62 in December. “Popularity-wise it’s great; we’ve got more players now. If I was coming up, like I was in the old days, I would’ve loved it because the side games are unbelievable. I don’t play much poker anymore like I used to, so now when I play in some of the bigger tournaments I think the skill’s gone out compared to the way is used to be. So it’s bad in that way. But it’s good in the fact that anybody that’s ever played poker once in their life can win a poker tournament.”
And how juicy are those side games?
“When I was a kid, I would’ve swam the English Channel under water to get to some of these games,” he said. “I used to have to fly to Dallas to play in a poker game to try to win $500 or a $1,000 and fly back. Now you can just go anywhere and the game is just sitting there waiting for you. Hell, (back then) I’d have to worry about … of the 10 hands we were playing I’d have to play about three of them because seven of them were cheating. We didn’t have a dealer in those days … you had to worry about getting robbed. Now the card rooms are here for you. If you’re an up-and-coming player it’s great. I’m just used to the older style. If I chose to go back to playing in the side games it’d be great for me. I just choose to do other things now.”
Clearly Tomko, who has more than 40 WSOP cashes, isn’t shy about his confidence, especially when discussing his younger days as a rounder.
“I always thought I could jump over the moon. When I sat down with players, I didn’t think anybody could beat me. I didn’t think I was gonna die until I was 50, either, but you learn; you’re gonna die,” he said with a laugh.
You can’t mention Tomko’s past without bringing up his teaching days, a bittersweet subject to say the least. There was no way a school system could pay him enough to keep poker on the backburner. And that changed his life forever. Though he’s getting inducted into the Hall as a poker player, you can see in his eyes that teaching was a great passion for him and he’d be more content being honored as a teacher.
“I quit because it was costing me too much money,” he said. “I couldn’t play poker, but I loved teaching. (To stay a teacher) it would’ve had to have been a lot more money. But I loved it. There was nothing better than teaching kindergarten. It was great. Being a teacher is very rewarding, way more rewarding than beating someone in a poker game.”
Tomko was invited to play in the Pros vs. Joes H.O.R.S.E. tournament at One-Eyed Jacks in Sarasota, so he made the drive as a favor. But until that tournament, Tomko hadn’t played a hand of poker in Florida in more than 10 years. Suffice to say you won’t find him in a card room near you.
“I wish they would get it higher,” he said, referring to the state-mandated betting limits. “I think it’s way too cheap. My opinion is I wish they’d get high stakes. I think it would help everything about Florida. More people would come in, Florida would get better and everything would get better.
“I like to play a little bit higher so what am I gonna do? You only play so many hours in a year, and I’m gone six or seven months a year anyhow, so when I’m home I just play golf.”