“You get your chips in your way, I’ll get my chips in mine.” – Phil Ivey
Phillip Denis Ivey Jr., known worldwide as Phil Ivey, is one of the most recognizable faces in poker. His staredown has taunted thousands on the felt over the last 20 years. Ivey was born in 1976 in California, but his parents moved to New Jersey when he was three months old. Fast forward to today and he calls Las Vegas, Nevada home when he isn’t taking private planes to play the biggest cash games and tournaments around the world. Ivey has never been a big media personality but thanks to others, many of the gaps throughout Phil’s early life can be filled.
Phil Ivey didn’t just turn up one day and start crushing his opponents immediately. Fellow poker pros Daniel Negreanu and Barry Greenstein remember their early encounters with Phil were unconventional. They believed he was far too aggressive, playing every hand. They certainly didn’t expect him to become one of the most feared poker players in the world, just a few short years later.
Ivey put in the hard yards, however. He’d ride a bus two hours each way to the casino every day starting when he was 17 years old. How did he get in the casino? He used a fake ID with the name Jerome Graham.
Slowly but surely, Ivey grew his bankroll and started playing in larger buying tournaments and cash games. The regulars on the poker circuit began to take notice of his skills, and it was no surprise when he took his first bracelet in 2000: the $2,500 Pot Limit Omaha.
By then he was playing some of the higher stake cash games and the ‘Ivey stare’ started to garner more and more media attention. With poker games starting to be televised (particularly the WSOP), his fame grew.
Ivey is notorious for bluffing his way to amazing pot victories. His stern look and deadpan expressionless face make it almost impossible to know what he’s holding. He has taken down some great flop bets while playing with air. For instance, he once bluffed Patrick Antonius and Tom Dwan off of a fairly miraculous community card set. With AA3 A 2 on the table, Q 7 in Antonius’ hand and Q 3 in Dwan, Ivey held but a 7 5 off-suit. Through a series of larger and larger bets, and all while staring down his competition, Ivey slowly pushed each one off the pot. Antonius bit until the very end, where he had to think long and hard about calling the then $10,000 raise on the river. Ivey made off with $23,000 that pot and left Dwan feeling cold about tossing a full house away to Ivey’s bluff.
His most impressive bluff might have been when Ivey and Paul Jackson were battling at the final table. Ivey held Q8 suited hearts while Jackson held 6 5 off-suit. Ivey, on a flopped 7JJ, raised $80,000. Jackson, also bluffing, re-raised the pot to $170,000. The pot at this point is $426,000. Ivey paused – thought – then re-raised to $320,000. Jackson took no time to raise to $470,000. Incredible playing, considering neither player had a card to go on in their respective hands. Ivey took a moment after that raise to consider his options. Always the tactician, Ivey asked what Jackson had left for chips. Once he knew what Jackson had left ($384,000), he stared him down and raised him all-in – $1,547,000 on the table. With nothing in his hand. Jackson folded, of course, and Phil Ivey walked away with his earnings. This is a testament to the cold, calculated psyche that Phil Ivey possesses and uses to whittle down his competition. He succeeds by following his mantra, “Play your own game.”
In the first decade of the 21st century, Ivey would spend all his time at the World Series. In 2002, he put his stamp on the game, winning three bracelets: the $2,500 7 Card Stud Hi/Lo, $2,000 S.H.O.E and the $1,500 7 Card Stud (his best game) for over $350,000. In total, Ivey has won 10 bracelets, with the remaining six being the $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha (2005), $2,500 No-Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball (2009), $2,500 Omaha Hi/Lo /7 Card Stud Hi/Lo (2009), $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. (2010), A$2,200 Mixed Event (2013), and most recently the $1,500 Eight-Game Mix. His ten bracelets put him in 2nd on the all-time list alongside Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson, and behind Phil Hellmuth.
The World Series of Poker Main Event has seen Phil Ivey finish in the top 25 four times thus far. In 2009, he had a chance to take poker mainstream when he made the November Nine. Unfortunately for poker, Ivey finished in 7th with Joe Cada winning the event.
Nowadays Ivey will only play the largest of buy-in tournaments at the WSOP. He’d rather hunt down the cash games where a lot more money is at stake. This is evident in his Hendon Mob profile. He has recorded cashes in just eight countries outside of the USA. Despite this, he has won three A$250,000 buy-in tournaments in Australia. One each in 2012, 2014, and 2015, with each prize exceeding A$2,000,000.
Phil Ivey is also a feared competitor in the high-stakes games online. In one of the few instances of top live pros successfully transitioning from the live scene to online, Ivey won over $19,000,000 on Full Tilt Poker from 2007 until Full Tilt Poker was shut down on Black Friday. He continues to play poker online today (Polarizing on Full Tilt Poker and RaiseOnce on PokerStars). He enjoys playing online and the different challenges it presents. Of the difference between the two, he says, “The biggest thing when you’re playing live is that you’re sitting across from the player and can get a detailed impression of how they’re acting, and whether they’re expressing strength or weakness. Online, it’s much more about betting patterns and you’re using a much narrower range of cues to what they’re holding and thinking.”
Full Tilt Poker opened for play in 2004, with Phil Ivey one of the initial designers of the platform, alongside some of his fellow poker pros. Ivey never worked deep within the company, but his presence in marketing campaigns, many featuring his famous stare, ensured he was always going to be a valuable part of the brand.
In April 2011, Full Tilt Poker had their .com domain seized by the FBI. It was one of the toughest periods for online poker. Ivey avoided the scathing spotlight of the media and public, with Howard Lederer receiving the largest backlash due to knowing the inefficiencies going on behind the scenes.
Phil Ivey wanted to ensure his role in the whole event was clear. He filed suit against Full Tilt for breach of contract in May 2011, before withdrawing the suit in June. Since then Ivey has had to deal with the courts on two occasions relating to non-poker casino games.
In 2012, Ivey won over $12,000,000 at Crockfords Casino, London. However, they refused to pay him out. In 2014, a UK Court ruled the ‘edge sorting’ technique he used was cheating, and he had to pay the casino’s court costs.
In 2014, Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa filed a lawsuit against Phil Ivey after numerous visits to the casino in 2012 netted Ivey nearly $10,000,000 playing Baccarat with his partner Cheng Yin Sun. Again, edge sorting was the reason given. The courts have not ruled on the decision yet. Ivey also filed papers with the courts in August 2015 saying the casino gains an unfair advantage by supplying unlimited alcohol and waitresses who will flirt with the players in an attempt to distract the players from concentrating.
Given Ivey is regarded by many as the best all-around poker player in the world, any business venture he pursues is going to have thousands of customers as soon as he drops the word. In March 2008, Phil launched his non-profit charity, Budding Ivey Foundation, which raised $260,000 at the first fundraiser. The charity works with homeless kids who need food and literacy projects. Also, he gives to other charities regularly.
In 2012, he launched a poker app, Ivey Poker, which is free to play all over the world. In 2014, he followed up with the launch of Ivey League, a poker-training site featuring over 30 of the most recognizable names in poker. There is no doubt a high percentage of the members would sign up purely to get insights into Ivey himself.
Off the felt, Ivey’s favorite hobbies include golf (3rd place in the inaugural World Series of Golf), video games, and sports. He follows the LA Lakers, Houston Rockets, and the Buffalo Bills. In all of these passions, you can be sure there is a prop bet either active or being plotted. Ivey and Tom Dwan got chatting on a poker show once, with the bet that Ivey couldn’t go vegetarian for one year. The size of the bet? $1,000,000. Twenty days later, Ivey paid Dwan $150,000 as a friendly way to say I can’t take this any longer and went on to eat meat that day.
On the golf course, He and Daniel Negreanu are great friends and have shared some time on the links together on numerous occasions. There was an instance during a very high stakes game among some other poker players that stands out. There was a lot of money to be won on the 18th hole, and Ivey had a 20-foot putt lined up. He asked his caddie where the ball was going to go and was told it was dead straight. Ivey asked again and was assured it was straight. He lined up, hit the putt, and it went straight at the hole.
At the very end, it tailed slightly to the left – but still went in. Instead of being excited about sinking the putt and winning the match, Ivey looked at his caddie and said, “Straight, huh? What the hell was that at the end?” The caddie said “You made the putt, Phil!” to which Ivey replied “That’s not the point! There’s a lot of money on the line, and I need good reads, man!” This, of course, was all an act meant to rile the other guys up after losing their money. Phil, ever the tactician, knew the caddie very well and milked the scene for all it was worth.
“If you can’t pull a $100 bill out of your pocket and light it on fire I don’t think you can play poker for a living,” Ivey is famous for saying. Ivey will continue to play poker, the staredown will continue to terrorize players everywhere, and Phil Ivey will continue to build his legacy as one of the best poker players to ever play. “