Paul and I have been traveling through Texas this month, visiting card rooms across the state. Recently we visited the Texas Card House in Dallas to play a Tuesday afternoon $130 tournament which drew 435 players, including one road gambler and Poker Hall of famer from Richardson, Texas by the name of TJ Cloutier. Not only was TJ Cloutier in the room, he sat directly next to Paul at our joint table (above, that’s a selfie Paul took). While we only occupied the table for a few hours (we both busted, he remained), we learned much about poker from TJ in that time.

Always Be Friendly

First and foremost, TJ Cloutier was kind and upbeat to everyone who crossed his path. From the other players at the table, to dealers and waitstaff, and passersby. People who knew him dropped by throughout the tournament to say hello and he had a kind word for all. He was quite friendly with Paul and handed out anecdotes of his life and poker tips freely. Never for a moment did he appear cross. He was in his element and enjoying every minute of the evening.

Know the Rules and Follow Them

Surprisingly, perhaps for someone who is known as an old Texas Road Gambler (along with his longtime friend Doyle Brunson, who he mentioned several times), TJ Cloutier is a stickler for the rules. He was aware of each blind level and (kindly) corrected those who entered the wrong number of chips. He was quick to make change for those who did not have the right chips to ante. At one point I threw in a 5,000 chip and said “Raise”. TJ leaned over to Paul and said quietly “You should tell her to make her intention perfectly clear when she bets”. Clearly, TJ knows that the game runs smoother when everyone plays their part properly. And he is happy to grease the wheels.

Tight Play Can Be to Your Advantage

For the first several levels of the tournament, TJ played only his blinds. Paul and I were both surprised at how few hands he got mixed up in. At one point after raising a pot pre-flop, he leaned toward the dealer and said “that’s the first pocket pair I’ve seen all day”. Later, he told another “since you sat down I have gotten 7-4, 7-2 and 7-5 off”. No bluff raises for TJ Cloutier. When he didn’t have a hand, he sat and patiently waited for one to come. He didn’t get antsy and jump into hands due to boredom. He sat and observed, and waited for his time. As he waited he shared anecdotes with Paul. After Paul raised pre-flop with J-4 suited and won the hand, TJ told him, we used to call that the “Done” hand. Because if you play J-4, you’re going to be done. Later when Paul played a J9 of clubs, TJ pulled out a chip to show him, explaining that J9 of Clubs is called the TJ, because Cloutier once got three straight flushes with that hand within one year.

When You Have It, Play It Hard

While TJ Cloutier patiently waited out the bad hands, he played his good hands aggressively. No check-calling, no slow-playing for him. He raised when appropriate and bet when he hit. When I went all in with a small stack and he woke up with AQ, he raised 3x my bet. He announced that he was isolating, to protect my interests (true or not, kind to say). By playing his good hands aggressively, of course, he reduced the chances that another player with a mediocre hand would suck out on a dangerous board.

Come What May, Enjoy the Game You Are Playing

I don’t think I have ever seen a player take such joy in the game of poker. Good hands or bad, win or lose, TJ Cloutier clearly loves this game. You could see the happiness on his face and hear the joy in his stories. Whether he took a bad beat, had to deal with a difficult opponent, or had to wait an hour for a playable hand, he never lost his positive attitude. This is a man who loves this game, and at 84-years-old still takes great joy in playing it.

I learned a lot from TJ Cloutier the other night, and I feel lucky to have spent just a few hours in his presence. I just hope that I have the wisdom to take these lessons to heart on my own poker journey.

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