In the weird and wonderful world of professional Poker; many big names have taken unusual paths to the top. Few of those stories are as intriguing as that of Phil Ivey; who rose from humble origins to become the most feared player in the game’s history.
Ivey was born in California but raised in New Jersey, where he was first introduced to the game by colleagues at a telemarketing firm. He then began to play while underage at Atlantic City, under the alias Jerome Graham, his fellow Poker players nicknamed him “No Home Jerome” as Ivey never seemed to leave.
By 2003 Ivey was already one of the world’s most respected pros and made a deep run in that year’s WSOP Main Event. History records that Ivey was then eliminated by the eventual winner, an amateur named Chris Moneymaker. Moneymaker’s triumph kickstarter the world’s Poker boom, bringing millions of new players to online card rooms where Ivey made the bulk of his income.
Those were the glory years, between 2003-11 millions flocked to online tables and Ivey was squarely on top of the pyramid. It wasn’t just his winnings – over $20m, but also remarkable consistency despite his aggressive and entirely unpredictable playstyle. Fellow pros were so cowed that they’d rarely give Ivey any action leaving him free to dismantle the rich “whales” with money to burn at high stakes.
Unlike many modern players, Ivey’s playstyle is more intuitive than mathematically based. Other professionals try to “balance” their hands and seek a game theory equilibrium where many decisions are predictable. Ivey has always been a “soul reader”, taking advantage of his opponent’s frustrations and reading the game flow to make perfectly timed moves.
So what makes Phil Ivey so good? Simply put, its practice and lots of it.The older generation of Poker pros played mainly in Vegas cardrooms; which deal a maximum of around 40 hands per hour, for around 12 hours a day. Players with an online background may play up to 36 tables online simultaneously and so gain far more experience in a shorter period.
There’s no way to master Poker without first playing the game. Most players begin with a small deposit and play at the lowest stakes, moving up as they win. To get an idea of the very basics, like hand rankings, it may be preferable to start with a game like Video Poker, available at Black Diamond Casino. Video Poker uses the same hands rankings, but is played against the house, and will help you understand hand strengths and the probabilities involved in card games. Once you’ve got the basics an introductory text like Sklansky’s famous guide will help you learn basic concepts.
High profile gamblers are used to a certain level of fame (or notoriety); but Ivey’s charm and “presence” has left household names in his thrall. Actors, sports stars and other celebrities love spending time with “the coolest hand in Poker”, with Ivey’s dry wit and cool demeanour contributing to a “Superman” image. He is known to be friendly with many card playing celebrities, including Leonardo di Caprio, Matt Damon and Tobey Maguire and recently hosted a charity tournament with George Clooney. Aside from the kudos acquired by rubbing shoulders with celebrities, they also open doors to the richest and most exclusive private games in Hollywood.
Being a successful player is as much about finding the right games as the level of ability you possess. Many of the most successful attempt to parlay fame into invitations for private “home games” or the infamous deep stack games in Macau. If there weren’t already enough positives to the life of a professional high stakes gambler, you can add mixing with the great and the good!
Recently however, legal battles have kept Ivey away from the casinos he usually calls home. Ivey was involved in a famous “edge sorting” scandal, which has seen him be sued for over $20 million. Edge sorting involves studying playing cards for tiny imperfections, allowing the player to identify the value of a face down card. Armed with that knowledge Ivey took a casino in London, Crockfords, for $12.4 million and another casino in Atlantic City for $9.6 million.
Phil Ivey was, for a time, the world’s greatest and most respected Poker pro. It wasn’t just his talent that won him plaudits but also his incredible cool under fire and willingness to bet on literally any proposition – as long as he saw “value” in the bet. Whether or not his best playing days are past a character like Ivey won’t disappear from the spotlight for too long, lets hope that next time its for the right reasons!