BLOG – If poker is a game of chance, explain Phil Ivey

BLOG – If poker is a game of chance, explain Phil Ivey

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Seriously, what the hell is up with Phil Ivey? Poker is a game of long-term skill where, in the short-term (such as in poker tournaments which are notoriously luck-based) chance plays a big enough factor for it to be a gamble. The difference between a decent player and a bad player is gigantic; the difference between a good player and a decent player quite small.

So why can Phil Ivey just win tournaments at will? How is he regarded, unanimously by his peers, as the best poker player in the world – not just in cash games where deep stacks and reloads make an edge more obvious, but in tournaments also? Yesterday Ivey won his eighth World Series of Poker bracelet after besting the field in the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event and took home around $330,000 – of course, he didn’t care about that paltry sum of money and it will be likely left uncollected and forgotten in The Rio for several months.

Let’s have a bit of a peep and a gander at Ivey’s WSOP bracelets, all of which have come in the past ten years, mind you:

2000 - $2,500 Pot Limit Omaha ($195,000)
2002 - $2,500 7-Card Stud Hi/Lo ($118,440)
2002 - $2,000 S.H.O.E. ($107,540)
2002 - $1,500 7-Card Stud ($132,000)
2005 - $5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha ($635,603)
2009 - $2,500 No-Limit 2-7 Lowball ($96,367)
2009 - $2,500 Omaha/7-Card Stud Hi/Lo ($220,538)
2010 - $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. ($329,840)

Number one – notice the gap between 2002 and 2005. That was when he didn’t really care about tournaments, and why would he when first prize for most of his bracelets is less than a full buy-in at his regular cash games? In 2009 he decides to make several million dollars worth of bracelet bets and BOOM – two titles. Apparently yesterday’s bracelet was worth $12,000,000 to Ivey in side bets, but this is the Vegas rumour mill – that figure will have hit $50,000,000 within a week. He's well on the way to $5,000,000 from Howard Lederer though.

Number two – notice the variation. How can you possibly be the best in the world at every single damn format of poker? Tom “durrrr” Dwan amazes everyone with his NL and PLO skills but, firstly, he is a lot more lost if you put him in a fixed limit or draw poker game; secondly, Ivey is easily as good as him at both those games.

So, just to sum up Phil Ivey – best in the world at Hold ‘em; Omaha; Stud; Draw; Lowball; mixed games; tournament poker; cash game poker... rumour has it he even has an edge in craps but this is Ivey: he’d find an edge on a sphere. And all this from nothing – he played and lost money for 16 hours a day in Atlantic City with his fake ID before he was 21, sleeping under the boardwalk when he couldn’t afford his bus fare home. And now he’s worth nine figures.

I think this story is a lot easier to appreciate than that of someone like durrrr – Dwan was born into a middle-class family, had an easy life and went to college before sticking $50 online and making millions in online poker’s heyday. Ivey worked for his success in ways that most people can’t comprehend.

To quote Terry Pratchett: “If you trust in yourself, and believe in your dreams, and follow your star... you’ll get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

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