Poker has been a popular game for over a hundred years. Its enduring appeal can be largely attributed to its incredible competitive scene, drawing large audiences worldwide and captivating even casual fans. With televised events, huge cash prizes, and talented players battling it out at the table, the world of professional poker is a non-stop thrill ride. Competitive poker’s fame has spread to the players, too, with the best of the best leaving their mark on the game. There are numerous household names in poker, and the list is ever-growing. This article will cover another legend of poker: Dewey Tomko.

Player Overview

Dewey Tomko is an American professional poker player and former kindergarten teacher. He’s mostly known for his tournament exploits, having earned over $4.9 million in hislifetime. Most of his impressive showings were at poker’s biggest tournament series: The World Series of Poker (WSOP). Tomko has three WSOP bracelets, which is doubly impressive when you consider that he won each of them in a different poker format. He’s also finished as the Main Event runner-up twice.

Beyond the WSOP, he has two final tables at the World Poker Tour (WPT), and numerous good results at other high-profile tournaments like Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker. For all his accomplishments, he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2008.

Early Life

Duane ‘Dewey’ Tomko was born on December 31, 1946, in Glassport, Pennsylvania. He found his way into poker very early and started making money at 16 playing at various Pittsburgh card rooms. His poker habit actually financed his schooling, allowing him to pay for four years at Salem College. Upon graduating, he became a kindergarten teacher but did not stop playing poker. After balancing poker on the side and his teaching gig, Tomko quickly realized he made far more money from poker than teaching. He quit his job and began playing poker full-time while investing some of his winnings into other businesses.


Unlike other pros who focus on the mathematical aspect of the game, Tomko prefers to use his excellent intuition to read other players and exploit them. The first time playing poker, he “didn’t even know that… ya know flush beat a straight… or two pair beat a pair… I didn’t know I had a card in front of me… and to tell me what one I didn’t.” 

“I still beat the game… because I knew the people… ya understand what I mean? In other words, I had a look and see what won… and I still won all the time, because just the fact is… I could read people, knew what they had and what they didn’t have. I just always had a knack of reading people.,” he recounted in an interview with Pro Player Insider.

Poker Career

Tomko’s professional career began in 1976, with a second-place finish at the WSOP $2,500 No Limit Hold’em Event earning him $20,775. Three years later, he took down the 1979 WSOP $1,000 No Limit Hold’em Event for his first bracelet. Due to the low participant count, this first-place finish was only worth $48,000. Still, the prestige of a WSOP bracelet mattered far more than the actual cash prize. 

In 1982, Tomko came in second against Jack Straus in the WSOP Main Event, becoming part of Straus’ famous “chip and a chair” comeback. Still, Tomko’s performance earned him $208,000 and signaled more to come.

1983 and 1984 saw Tomko’s career really take off. He demolished the WSOP those years, cashing in five times and finishing top 3 in all of them. 1984, in particular, gave him two additional bracelets. He won the $10,000 No Limit Deuce to Seven Draw and $5,000 Omaha Pot Limit events for $240,000 in total. 

From there, Tomko maintained a relatively consistent spree of tournament cashes. The Grand Prix of Poker in 1985 and 1986 saw him collect wins in $5,000 No Limit 2-7 Draw, $10,000 No Limit Hold’em, and $2,500 No Limit Hold’em for a total of over half a million dollars. He also had a fourth and second-place finish at the WPT, with the latter netting  him $552,853.

In 2004, Tomko cashed in five times again at the WSOP. He continued cashing in multiple events in 2005 and 2006, and was welcomed to invitational events like the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament Season 2, where he placed third. He made the final table of the first-ever $50,000 H.O.R.S.E event in 2006, claiming $343,200. Tomko finished 10th the following year in the same event, earning $131,424.

The H.O.R.S.E event, now known as the Poker Players’ Championship, is one of the most prestigious events in the WSOP, especially among pros, some even consider it a tougher challenge than the Main Event. The challenge stems not from the massive $50,000 buy-in, but because the poker variant: H.O.R.S.E. is a mashup of five different poker variants: Holdem, Omaha, Razz, Seven-card stud, and Eights or Better, a variant of seven-card stud. The changing game mechanics make it exceedingly difficult, as players must master a wide range of poker games. 

Golf on the Side

An interesting tidbit of trivia about Tomko would be his golf career. He was incredibly skilled, often playing with other poker players like Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey off the felt. On NBC’s poker TV show Poker After Dark, poker pro Greg Raymer mentioned that Rocco Mediate, a professional golfer, said that if he had to pick one person to putt for his life, it would be Tomko.