Phil Ivey's New House of Cards

By Michael Kaplan Photography by Edward Kinsella

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Phil Ivey is on a cooler. The world’s greatest poker player can’t do anything right. He has been contending with bad beats, bad cards and bad luck at the 2013 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Thus far, the closest he’s come to winning is a 14th-place finish in one of the 61 lesser tournaments that lead up to the World Series of Poker Main Event, which decides a world champion of no-limit Texas Hold’em.

For most poker players, the cash, gold bracelet and prestige that come with finishing first in any tournament at the WSOP are their own reward. But not for Ivey, 37, who has already won nine bracelets, poker’s equivalent of Super Bowl rings. To make the tournaments and their multimillion-dollar purses more interesting, he has initiated a series of side wagers known as “bracelet bets” that total in the seven figures. If he wins a tournament, any tournament, at the World Series, he collects a windfall from a consortium of high-stakes gamblers. If Ivey fails, he loses significant money, much more than the buy-in for the tourney.

With just seven tournaments left to play, Ivey finds himself pressed to produce as he keeps from getting bogged down in his losses, which include some $300,000 in entry fees alone. “Time is running out,” he admits as the year’s series of tournaments nears its end. “But when you play these things, you can’t think about yesterday. Even though I’m disappointed with how it’s going, I bring no baggage to the poker table. I live in the moment. And when I win, we’ll have a nice little celebration.”

Ivey after winning his sixth World Series of Poker gold bracelet in the $2,500 2–7 Draw Lowball (no-limit) event in 2009.

By the time I catch up with Ivey inside a ballroom in the Rio Hotel, where the World Series of Poker takes place, he’s playing tournament number 56, low on chips and holding on for dear life.

The hangar-size room is wall-to-wall felt-topped tables. Poker celebrity Daniel Negreanu kibitzes with fans. Johnny Chan, a two-time World Series champ who had a show-stealing cameo in the movie Rounders, rehashes a past hand. Male model turned high-stakes gambling millionaire Patrik Antonius poses for pictures with a couple of nervous-looking girls. But Ivey, a cipher at the table, remains oblivious. He’s hunkered down and playing hard, having no fun at all. A pair of white Beats by Dre headphones sandwiches his head and rap blasts into his ears. His eyes dart around suspiciously, sponging drops of information from opponents. Baggy jeans hang loose, and he sports a sweatshirt fronted by the Coca-Cola logo. (“Are you getting paid to wear it?” “No. I think it’s funny.”) His feet, shod in gray leather Nikes, are pulled back under his seat. His six-foot-two frame sits mostly erect, but from the shoulders down he spreads out to occupy as much of the table’s real estate as possible.

After Ivey pushes in all his chips and busts out of another event, his only show of emotion is a tight grin and raised eyebrows. His life has been devoted to taking money from other people in what resembles a mug-or-be-mugged environment, so Ivey views poker, cash and the inevitable beatings in a way that softer men cannot.

Money, he decided a long time ago, is a thing to be deployed, not savored when it’s won or mourned when it’s gone. The summer he was 23, Ivey says, he started with a $200,000 cushion of poker winnings. “It was the largest bankroll I’d ever had up until that point. By the end of the summer, though, I’d lost all of it playing poker.” Told that he must have been devastated, Ivey looks uncomprehending. “I didn’t view it as money lost,” he says. “I saw it as money used to play bigger games. I thought it was worth playing in those games. Now I see money as what gets me into the biggest game in the world. Wherever the biggest game is, that’s where I want to be.”

Dave, an ex-cop turned bodyguard, slinks into the Rio’s poker room and locks step alongside Ivey. Together they purposefully walk toward a side exit, thus avoiding autograph seekers who would besiege him if he left through the front door. Ivey passes service staffers and cocktail waitresses loading up on drinks. He looks amused after he asks one of the waitresses for a water and is denied, told that it’s only for players. Deep inside a world where he reigns as a superstar who routinely gets what he wants, Ivey seems to appreciate a powerless woman standing her ground—even if it’s because she doesn’t know who he is.

Then he steps out into blinding desert sunlight. His driver, a muscled-up, tank-top-wearing friend known as A.P., waits alongside a black Range Rover. Ivey climbs into the front seat and doesn’t need to say he’s going to the Bellagio.

Ivey’s adeptness at cards has earned him an unwieldy nickname: the Tiger Woods of Poker. That moniker underscores something that goes beyond Ivey’s winning ways. Like Woods, he’s an anomaly, a black man who dominates a game largely played by whites. But because the biggest games take place publicly, in casinos, they’re open to anyone with enough money to afford the buy-in—black, white, Middle Eastern, Asian, nobody cares.

So, unlike the way it might be in golf or tennis, being black in poker has never stopped Ivey from competing at the highest levels. Although he has encountered his share of racism—including the enmity of a grizzled gambler who would refer to Ivey, behind his back, as “the nigger”—prejudice provides just one more way for Ivey to take advantage of people. If opponents choose to play him differently because he’s black, he capitalizes on that. He plays those opponents in ways that exploit their prejudices.

Personally, he says, “it’s a nonissue. What do I care what somebody at the poker table thinks or if they’re prejudiced? I worry about myself. In poker, either you have the money to buy in or you don’t. Either you can play or you can’t. Those are the only things that matter.”

Ivey has the money. He competes at stakes so high that a bad night at the table could easily cost him $1 million. And his penchant for financial risk is not limited to poker.

He once won $200,000 by landing a single, seemingly impossible shot on a golf course in Aruba. Ivey once bet $1 million that he could go vegetarian for 12 months. Last August, he initiated a similar bet that forbade him to drink alcohol. So prodigious is Ivey’s gambling at craps that the Bellagio has been known to fly him on its private jet. Ivey earns the wherewithal for this by being more cutthroat, more aggressive and cagier than anyone else in the casino. Everyone aims to win, but as the son of a struggling prizefighter, Ivey has more of the killer instinct flowing through his blood than the average poker pro does. He maintains a street-smart edge to everything he does. It bubbles below a persona that has been carefully polished to be warm and polite when it serves his purposes, but whatever the circumstances, Phil Ivey rarely allows himself to have the worst of it.

That said, Ivey acknowledges it’s tough for many of his better-heeled opponents to really compete against him. Unlike a lot of them, Ivey knows what it means to ride a bus to casinos, to go broke gambling, to go hungry and spend nights sleeping under the Atlantic City Boardwalk because he couldn’t afford a motel room. “I’ll never forget the smell of those gas fumes on the bus. It’s why I’ll never ride a bus again,” says Ivey, who more recently was mistaken for Jay Z while getting off a helicopter to attend a Coldplay concert at Wembley Stadium. “People who come in wealthy can never get that good at poker. When you have to win if you want to eat, you play your ass off and go after every pot. If all your money is on the table and you’re hungry, you figure out ways to win. It’s a different kind of motivation when you’re playing with money that doesn’t mean so much to you.” Because of what he has gone through on the way up, says Ivey, “I know what it takes to win, and I know how to bear down and do it.”

These days, Ivey’s balance sheet reads more like that of a tight, privately held corporation than that of a gambler who has developed a reckless image. Beyond the untold millions he has won in cash games, Ivey has raked in some $20 million in tournaments and netted in excess of $19 million playing online since 2007. He grossed $8 million in 2008 alone. This past February, Ivey took home more than $3.5 million from a single tournament in Australia. He has put an estimated $1 million to $1.5 million of his own money into bankrolling Ivey Poker, a Facebook app through which you can play no-limit Texas Hold’em for fun and watch instructional videos from a coterie of top pros, known as Team Ivey, who also compete at the tables.

But that investment is dwarfed by the nearly $22 million he managed to win during gaming sessions at Crockfords, the most venerable casino in England, and Atlantic City’s posh Borgata. Ivey won that combined sum by playing baccarat and punto banco, a variant of baccarat; both games are based purely on luck and favor the house. According to statements from the casinos, Ivey and a female accomplice achieved their winning sessions by recognizing subtle patterns on the backs of cards. They never touched or marked the cards but supposedly used those patterns to identify cards that had been dealt. Spokespeople from Crockfords and the Borgata maintain that Ivey took unfair advantage; Ivey leaves the impression he did what any smart player would do. At the moment, $12 million from Crockfords sits in escrow, and the Borgata is taking legal action to try to recoup its $9.6 million.

The incidents underscore Ivey’s win-at-any-cost mentality—many poker players would just as soon avoid negative publicity and bad blood with well-known casinos—though the allegations don’t seem to cramp his style. And they shouldn’t: Ivey did nothing illegal. You can easily argue that his ploy falls into the gray area known as angle-shooting, the equivalent of, say, intentionally sitting at a blackjack table with a dealer who has a habit of unwittingly exposing his cards. However, despite what actually went down in the casinos and the legality of Ivey’s actions, you need to wonder how much these claims will tarnish the reputation of a gold-standard poker player in the process of promoting a play-for-fun poker site, which may one day become an actual online-gambling destination. On the other hand, of course, casino gamblers who’ve been hosed by the house games at any stakes consider Ivey a hero who should get his money without a hassle.

Inside the Bellagio, Ivey leads the way to a sleekly designed Japanese restaurant called Yellowtail. The pretty waitresses and hostesses all know the poker mogul notorious for over-the-top tipping. He asks if a particular girl is working tonight and grimaces good-naturedly upon being told she isn’t. While we’re still looking at the menus, a lanky Wall Street stockbroker turned golf gambler named Jimmy Arvanetes bounds over. A buddy of Ivey’s, he wears white Bermuda shorts and sneakers. His hair is thick and carefully groomed. A perma-smile plasters his face.

Ivey has chosen a table on the restaurant’s perimeter, which provides an open view of the casino. He opted to sit here for a reason that trumps the privacy of a spot in back. When a good-looking brunette strolls by, obviously fresh from a shopping spree, Ivey shouts to her, “I’m a part-time bellhop. I can help you with your bags.” It’s not the worst pickup line in the world, but she keeps on walking.

Soon after, though, the same woman enters Yellowtail and sits down solo at the bar. Ivey signals the hostess. “Tell her that whatever she wants”—he points to Arvanetes—“it’s on him.” The hostess walks off. Arvanetes balks at potentially getting stuck with a big tab. Ivey lets him fret for a few minutes, watching him squirm and keeping up the heat. Then Ivey smiles tightly and says he’ll pay the bill if the woman agrees, and he gives Arvanetes four-to-one odds that she will. Assuaged, Arvanetes takes the bet for $100.

Satisfied with what seems like a can’t-lose proposition, Arvanetes recounts meeting Ivey for the first time. “It was the greatest. Phil asked if I wanted to go to dinner. We flew on a private jet to L.A. and ate at Phil’s favorite sushi place. Then we went to a club, and Phil had the best pickup line: ‘You want to get on my jet, fly to Las Vegas and party in the number one villa at Bellagio?’ Sure enough, some of the girls there did.” Right: With Tiger Woods in Las Vegas last year.

Arvanetes recalls that the only downside came the next morning when he needed to get his date back to Los Angeles. Those at the table make jokes about Arvanetes providing her with cab fare to the Vegas airport. “I’ll never forget that night,” he says with legitimate wistfulness. “It was the best night of my life.”

Ivey looks up from a plate of salmon. He matter-of-factly says, “I don’t even remember it.”

Meanwhile, the hostess approaches the shopping-bag brunette at the bar. She gestures toward our table, and a brief conversation ensues. A minute later, looking a little sheepish, the hostess comes back to tell Ivey his offer was rejected. It’s in line with how things have been going at the Rio. Ivey, who seems to be coolered everywhere these days, takes a wad of hundreds out of his pocket, peels off four and slides them toward Arvanetes as carelessly as someone buying a Hershey bar. I get the impression Ivey got off easy, that with a flusher friend the bet could have been for $1,000 or even $10,000.

A couple of days after Yellowtail, Ivey summons me to his home, which occupies a full floor of a luxury high-rise in one of the affluent suburbs that radiate from the Vegas Strip. More mansion in the sky than mere apartment, it boasts a screening room, wood paneling, designer furniture and many bedrooms. The chef, who normally heads the kitchen at M Resort, a sharp casino-hotel south of the Strip, whips up breakfast. Ivey’s personal trainer, a petite but muscular Argentine blonde named Regina, waits to work him out.

Working on Ivey right now is a stocky barber in a red T-shirt with a glittery straight razor and scissors across the front. He runs an electric buzzer along Ivey’s head. At first I feel a little sad for Ivey. I heard he got his hair cut a couple of times each week in the luxurious salon at Bellagio. Now he has this joker with a goofy T-shirt and a suitcase full of barbering tools. A.P. later tells me the guy is actually the master barber at Bellagio and makes house calls for Ivey and company. “You want a haircut?” he asks. “We’ll put it on the house account.”

Over scrambled eggs, I ask Regina if she minds hanging around. “It’s my job,” she says brightly, explaining that she met Ivey in Barcelona, where she trained him while he waited for a poker tournament there. “Then he told me I should move to Las Vegas. I told him I had no clients there. Now I’m here and he is my only client.” Ivey pays Regina what she’d make with a full roster of people, but he keeps her under his control: She must be available whenever he wants to work out. Sometimes that means sitting around, eating eggs and toast, watching him get a haircut.

Done, Ivey takes me on a quick tour of the place, proudly showing off his well-stocked wine cellar, the screening room and a terrace large enough to live on. Downstairs in a private garage he has a Rolls-Royce, the Range Rover and a gorgeous Aston Martin. One of the guys involved with Ivey Poker marvels at Ivey’s propensity to loan out his six-figure autos as if they were clunkers. Ivey shrugs them off, insisting they’re holdovers from a different time in his life, maybe a time when he was still coming to terms with the person he had been, the person he was becoming and the person he now hopes to be. Although Ivey is good friends with a number of black athletes, rappers and actors, it’s no coincidence he eschews the bling they embrace.

As a poker player, he recognizes that advertising your success does not necessarily help you in life. As a man who routinely wins and loses millions, he’s learned that the pleasures of shiny things can be fleeting. “You buy a $100,000 car and it makes you happy for three days,” he tells me, settling into a little sitting area with a view of his cellar loaded with wine that somebody was hired to pick out and procure for him. “I bought plenty of cool wristwatches—Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet—but they did absolutely nothing for me. I saw people around me getting them and thought they were cool at the time.”

Ivey has clearly been through a lot recently: divorced four and a half years ago from his high school sweetheart, who’d kept him in cash during his early days as a frequently broke poker player (she later unsuccessfully accused him of paying off the judge with political contributions); accused of cheating by Crockfords and the Borgata; stiffed on countless wagers; thrown into the center of a controversy involving the website Full Tilt Poker. (Ivey had been the highest-profile sponsored pro on the site, which went under in 2011 owing some $150 million to American players.) It has all caused him to suddenly grow up.

That last event seems to have cut the deepest. “I had absolutely nothing to do with what happened at Full Tilt,” Ivey says, speaking of an incident that has since been resolved, with most of the poker players getting what they were owed. “But because my name was splashed all over the site, people thought I did, and I felt terrible about it. I was up day and night, trying to find an investor who could save the company. When I couldn’t, I decided not to play in the World Series of Poker that year. In fact, I was literally on my way to the tournament when I turned around and drove back home. I thought of how I would feel if I was a young player with all my money on the site. My heart wasn’t in it after what happened. I didn’t want to play in the World Series when so many other people couldn’t because of what happened with Full Tilt.”

In fact, he spent much of that period, between 2011 and 2012, lying low, hanging out in his Cabo San Lucas villa and making forays to Macao, which has grown into the hub for so-called nosebleed games of poker. To give some perspective on how much can be won or lost, during a single hand there Ivey took down nearly $1.3 million when the king he needed materialized.

Later, on the same day as my tour of Ivey’s apartment, as I wander around a Rio tournament room trying to find Ivey’s table, I get a text from A.P.: “Come to Caesars, Mike.” Ivey, I learn, is in the high-limit room, the chandelier-lit wagering spot where you go to gamble for thousands of dollars at games such as blackjack, baccarat and roulette. I race out of the Rio and into Caesars Palace, giant legal pad in hand—I thought I’d be taking notes at the tournament. Immediately I spot A.P. Twenty feet away, Ivey sits alone at a baccarat table with about $200,000 in chips.

“Go up to him,” A.P. tells me.

But I don’t want to spook the guy, so I hang back a little until Ivey notices me, resignedly waves a hand and says, “Come on over, buddy.”

I step toward the table and slip into the seat next to his. Ivey sees the giant notepad. “This fucking place goes on high alert when I come in to play,” he says, alluding to the controversy surrounding his big wins at Crockfords. (The Borgata issue had not yet gone public.) “You can’t take notes.”

I stash the pad behind an empty blackjack table. Ivey pushes forward a $50,000 bet. The dealer slides him two cards. Ivey squeezes them into visibility: an ace and a picture card. “Blackjack,” Ivey says with disgust. “Terrible in baccarat.”

He loses and puts another $50,000 into the betting circle. This next hand is a dog as well. One hundred thousand dollars quickly gets vaporized. As annoyed as I’ve ever seen him, Ivey stands up, clearly done playing. He negotiates some paperwork with the casino, then turns to me and suddenly explodes: “I don’t like people fucking with my mojo. I thought A.P. was sending you to the Rio.” He shoots a withering glance at his driver and goes on: “I had won a couple of hands and was thinking of leaving. Then, all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye I see you!”

I apologize and tell him I didn’t mean to mess him up, that I just wanted to watch him gambling high. “Look,” he says, “I’m not so fucking stupid that I think you.…” His voice trails off, but I think he means to say he understands I didn’t jinx him. “I just don’t like fucking surprises,” he says. Then, suddenly, he softens in an almost physical way, as if he’s trying not to be this kind of guy. “Look, don’t worry about it. It was only $100,000.”

He’s definitely not being sarcastic; that really is a modest swing for Ivey. While he finishes sorting things out with the marker people, A.P. comes over with a warning. “Don’t let Phil think you’re a black cat,” he advises. “Phil thinks his uncle is a black cat. Now Unk is not allowed to go anywhere near where Phil is gambling or playing poker.”

“I bring no baggage to the poker table,” says Ivey. “I live in the moment.”

It’s not quite the level of action Ivey saw when he was exposed to his first card game at the age of eight. That took place in the back room of a New Jersey barbershop. The scene piqued young Phil’s curiosity and led his grandfather to teach him the rudiments of poker. As a deterrent, Granddad cheated, never allowing Ivey to win and hoping to keep him away from gambling. His father, who turned to construction when boxing failed to work out, wasn’t crazy about Phil playing poker, and neither was his mom, who worked in an insurance office.

But they held little sway on young Phil. Growing up in the lower-middle-class town of Roselle, New Jersey, the California-born Ivey had gambling all around him. He didn’t bother much with school, spent lots of time playing basketball in the park and regularly shot dice with his friends. “We played craps and a game called cello, which uses three dice,” remembers Ivey. “I’d been around all that for a long time and always liked being in action. It was just there, right out on the street.”

Ivey began playing poker with his friends at the age of 15. A year later he was busing down to Atlantic City with a fake ID. After squeaking through high school, he got a job as a telemarketer and was so good he was made a manager and might have had a future in sales. “To be honest with you, I never thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have a plan,” Ivey says, insisting he never had a fallback to gambling. “I liked to play poker and figured I’d give it a shot. I knew I didn’t want to be a telemarketer.”

Slowly, he ascended from the cheapest seven-card-stud games in Atlantic City to the highest. During long sessions at the casinos there, becoming adept at other poker variations as well, he evolved from loser to winner. “The aha moment comes when you sit down to play against a player who others think is great; he’s been doing it for a long time and has won a lot of money,” reflects Ivey. “Suddenly you realize that you can play with that person. Then you see yourself beating that person. It happens and you recognize that you can do well at poker.”

What allows Ivey to be so good and why he evolved into the game’s most gifted player is difficult to quantify. It’s a little like parsing what makes Michael Phelps better than the second-best Olympic swimmer. Ivey chalks it up to simply paying attention. Barry Greenstein, who’s known Ivey as long as any of the other top pros, goes deeper: “Phil thought about poker all the time and asked a ton of questions. Phil has the ability to quickly recognize what his opponents are doing and to play against that. It’s soul reading. Then, by the time they shift their style, Phil has already anticipated what they will do next and made the necessary adjustments. Phil beats people into submission. He plays them until they give up.” Erik Seidel, a gifted games player and options trader turned poker champion, looks toward Ivey’s sister for a hint. “The key to Ivey is that he’s got a sister who speaks six languages,” says Seidel, referring to Cheyanne Ivey, who was put through law school by her brother. “She didn’t have any special training for learning them, but she’s managed to pick them up. Phil has that same kind of intelligence, but he applies it to poker.”

Besides just playing the game, Ivey has had some success investing in, or “backing,” other players. At one point he bankrolled the pros in a gargantuan poker game that was put on by Larry Flynt. Sometimes things have gotten out of control. At various times, Ivey backed so many players simultaneously he couldn’t keep track. “He had to have [pro player] David Williams functioning as bookkeeper,” says Greenstein. “One time Phil was backing a player by the name of Nenad Medic. He won the tournament for nearly $800,000, and people were congratulating Phil. After about the 10th person, Phil asked, ‘Why is everybody telling me he won it?’ Phil knew Medic only by his online nickname—Serb—and wasn’t even paying attention to the tournament.”

Although Greenstein points out that the only way Ivey can go broke is by investing in things outside poker, that hasn’t stopped him. With the help of Jeff Fried, a Washington, D.C. attorney, he has put money into restaurants, real estate and the stock market. But his current obsession is Ivey Poker. Ivey says he personally bankrolled it to prevent a repeat of the Full Tilt folly. Now he has final say, with no layers of management above him (though a former banking executive runs the enterprise on a day-to-day basis). Putting up the money and putting his name on the site combine to place Ivey at an inflection point. The poker pro who has made a living by being opaque is now discussing strategies online.

In Vegas, on the day his app launches, Team Ivey is invited to the boss’s apartment for a cocktail party. Laptops pop out, tequila and wine flow, and pros dominate the Ivey Poker tables. Online, players freak out and comment like crazy. I manage to get a virtual seat next to Ivey and luckily win a bunch of chips off him. “I really am running bad,” he mutters, creating the impression that even losing play money leaves a nasty taste in his mouth.

As the hours progress, laptops disappear, Ivey’s chef turns up and starts to lay out a feast, booze flows harder and hot-looking girls in sexy outfits begin to replace the poker players. Earlier in the day Ivey tipped me off that we’d probably be hitting a club tonight. He punctuated it by promising lots of girls, “all eights or better.”

He wasn’t kidding. Girls outnumber guys three to one, and they’re all gorgeous, with gym-toned bodies and hair that seems to have been coiffed 20 minutes ago. When Ivey spots me checking one out, he comes over and razzes me, saying, “You are a sick fucking guy. I know what you’re thinking, and it’s fucking sick.” Then he laughs.

While mentally writing it off as Ivey’s way of being funny and maintaining the upper hand in our relationship—not caring what I think and treating the experience as another poker pot he wants to scoop—I protest, and it gets even worse. He turns to one of the women, points to me and says, “This guy told me he’s not going to need YouPorn for at least a month.”

It’s as if I tried to raise him at the poker table and he suddenly shoved all-in.

Before I can refute things, the woman smiles and replies, “At least he’s honest.”

By the time we get to the club, transported in Ivey’s luxury fleet, he plays consummate host, leading his group to a pair of prime tables at Hakkasan, the hottest, glitziest nightclub in town. While superstar DJ Tiësto keeps the crowd going, Ivey maintains an endless stream of Patrón and Dom Pérignon. When he sees my glass empty, he taunts, “You drink like a pussy,” and presses me to do a shot with him. This time it sounds like friendly ball-busting banter, the kind of thing Jersey guys do to one another. Anytime I’m alone and looking awkward, a hot girl materializes at my side, flirtatious as can be and sent there, no doubt, by Ivey.

Which is the real Ivey and which is the bluff? Is it the guy who goes out of his way to embarrass me or the one who spoon-feeds me good-looking women? I’ll never know, but his actions are whipsawing and in line with how he treats A.P. as well as his other friends and hangers-on. Maybe he can’t figure out how he wants to be. Or maybe it’s the privilege you take when you bankroll everybody around you.

The next afternoon, Ivey is in good spirits. Regina works him out in his building’s gym, pushing him hard with resistance training. He’s groaning and improvising profane lyrics to the romantic pop songs playing on the gym’s sound system. He claims he feels good about the next two tournaments, which represent his final chances to win those millions in wagers, take home another bracelet and get a step closer to the immortality he now desires. “Last night,” Ivey says, “was just what I needed.”

Besides the bets, which motivate him to play tournaments, I wonder what is driving Ivey in that direction. After all, high-stakes cash games are where the consistently serious money gets won, so much so that some pros actually left the WSOP and flew to Macao when the big games heated up there. In past years Ivey would have been on the plane with them. But his priorities have shifted. He likes the idea of focusing on the more publicly recognized world of tournament poker. If the money isn’t the same, he’ll make it close enough with his bracelet bets. “As I get older, I think about my place in poker history,” he says, pointing out that he’d like to eventually become player of the year, a designation for poker’s most consistent tournament winner. “It would be nice to have the greatest number of World Series of Poker bracelets. I have the potential, so why not focus on that and go after it?”

He won’t get closer today. Ivey unceremoniously busts out in the afternoon. In the Main Event, the longest-shot tournament of the entire World Series, he fares no better. But before losing all his chips, he makes clear that he’ll be working hard to leverage the next year into his big season. At one point he turns to Erick Lindgren, a fellow poker pro who is known for betting on just about anything.

Ivey tells Lindgren that in 2014 he’ll shoot for player of the year. He wants to know what kind of odds Lindgren will give him on making it. Knowing Ivey and his desire to always have the best of it, Lindgren quickly responds, “Whatever you think it is, just cut the number in half and that’s probably about right.”


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