By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
His composure was typical of the big Texan but still somehow shocking given the stakes. It's not unusual for players, world champions, to "steam" after taking a bad beat like that. To curse the gods, to damn the dealer. One year after losing a hand he felt he would surely win, world champion Phil Hellmuth Jr. sprinted from the table in anger so fast that he tripped and fell on his face. Cloutier, however, told the many well-wishers who crowded him to stop talking about how he should have won. "You should be talking to Chris," he told one interviewer. "He won."
His poise won him many fans that day. Yet even now, more than a year later, it seems in retrospect to be almost unbelievably unlucky.
"I played the best poker I ever played in my life," Cloutier says. "About as close to perfect as can be played. Right after, they asked me how I felt about the bad beat. I said there's one thing you'd better learn if you're going to play poker for a living: You're going to take some beats, so you'd better get used to it."
Still, the Dan Marino syndrome is frustrating--if not to Cloutier, then to others. "Because if you can't put the name 'world champion' after your name," Ciaffone says, "the general public thinks, 'Well, maybe he isn't that good.' But the pros know how good he is. He'll always be respected by them."
"The title would have been worth another half a million to me for appearances and my book, not to mention the extra $600,000 I would have won on the spot," Cloutier says now. "But, you know what? What the hell. It's just poker."
OK, you can't beat him, just like you can't get a hit off Randy Johnson or slam over Shaquille O'Neal. But you can call his bluff. You can believe he wants that title. Believe he's not Dan Marino but John Elway, who also got close four times before breaking through.
You can also wish him luck. Yes, he's arguably the world's best, but he does play poker, and anyone who does so, even T.J. Cloutier, needs a break now and then on the river.