Who is the next Phil Ivey? [Monday Editorial]
Monday, 28 March 2011
This article makes sense only if you think that Phil Ivey is the best poker player in the world. It’s not the most strenuous conclusion to draw so hopefully it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for you to read the rest of this piece under that assumption. Of course, for those of you who disagree with that statement (I’d be intrigued by your argument) or who are thinking “who the hell is Phil Ivey?” (hi Mum, thanks for reading!) then let’s just establish things.
Ivey first played poker when he was eight years old. Since neither of his parents are gamblers, his grandfather taught him to play Stud. The old man’s efforts to put his grandson off gambling backfired severely, even when he cheated to ensure that Phil never won. Ivey was in love with the game. By his late teens Ivey was playing under a fake ID in Atlantic City and by his early twenties he was a big winner in both The Big Game at Bobby’s Room in Las Vegas and Larry Flynt’s high stakes games in California.
Since 2000 he has nearly $20m in online cash game earnings; eight figures in tournament cashes with record final tables on the WPT and eight WSOP bracelets; he regularly crushes the highest stakes games the world over and there was, in 2003, the small matter of him beating billionaire Andy Beal out of $16m at $50,000/$100,000 Limit Hold ‘em – money that Beal had won from the best players in the world. Now Ivey travels the poker circuit, though not for the allure of the six- and seven-figure prizes that a World Poker Tour title or a World Series bracelet bring but for the kudos and just to be the best. When he won his last bracelet at the $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. event he collected the glitter before asking “how much is first place, again?” Only a trifling $300,000 plus; that’s just one roll of dice on the craps table for Ivey. He has to make million-dollar bracelet bets just to be arsed to play at the WSOP.
Any doubt in the poker community that Ivey was the best died in 2006 when David “Chip” Reese passed away aged 56 from complications following pneumonia. Reese was and still is considered by many the best poker player who ever lived; though some now argue that Ivey has surpassed Reese Ivey himself denies this. This isn’t just Heath Ledger-esque post-mortem praise, though, as Reese was pretty much regarded the best poker player in the world prior to his early passing, despite a lack of television coverage or big tournament scores.
Regardless of what Phil himself thinks of his poker abilities in comparison to Reese’s, the poker world believes Ivey is the best. The new Reese, as it were. Fiercely competitive, Ivey isn’t going to allow anyone to surpass him while he still breathes but since I just realised an article about Ivey hypothetically dying is in quite bad taste and makes me well up, let’s just imagine that it’s possible. Is there anyone up and coming in the poker world that can take Ivey’s crown?
How many of you are thinking of Tom Dwan? The man they call “durrrr” has certainly proven that he’s willing to play anyone at any stakes even if they are beating him out of $5,000,000 over a 30,000-hand, two-week period. He’s got the sick gamble and he has the poker chops but in a way, he is the anti-Ivey. Ivey tends to sit at a table, quiet and intimidating, building up chips by winning lots of small pots (everyone folds to Ivey) and then making a sick call or re-bluff to scoop the occasional six-figure pot. Dwan, the skinny pasty guy (though surprisingly tall), is about as unintimidating physically as you can get. He makes up for it, though, by bluffing seemingly every hand and having a crazy image. Ivey doesn’t have the image of holding any two cards like Dwan does, he has the image of having the nuts. Unless you have the nuts, in which case he folds the second nuts for one small bet.
Over time there have been others in the online poker world who have been hyped up as the next big thing but so far, only Tom Dwan has truly broken out from Internet poker into Ivey-like levels of admiration off the table and fear on it. Taylor Caby was the first to crush high stakes before realising he made more money from a little training site called CardRunners; Prahlad Friedman was the next big thing before he got superused and also lost millions to durrrr and Caby; Brian Townsend was online poker’s undisputed king before trying his luck at the PLO tables and then trying his luck at multi-accounting.
The thing that keeps Ivey separated from the pack is that for him, it just isn’t about the money. It’s easy to say that now when Full Tilt Poker is writing you a monthly paycheque reportedly in the millions but you can tell from the H.O.R.S.E. bracelet win and the way he can bet $50,000 on a spin of the roulette wheel without blinking (not that he blinks much in general) that he truly doesn’t; for him it’s just about being the best. That’s why he’s trying so hard to take Hellmuth’s bracelet record, it’s not for the relatively small prizes in the mixed game events.
So, yeah, I guess it is Dwan then isn’t it? He doesn’t give two craps about a million dollars either... unless he thinks he can win it by bluffing another million.