Most poker players consider him to be the most dangerous opponent on the planet. He possesses an unrivaled blend of aggression and fearlessness that most competitors can only hope to imitate. He owns eight World Series of Poker bracelets. He’s also the proud owner of a World Poker Tour L.A. Poker Classic title. But most importantly, he has a poker face that every professional in the world wishes they could emulate. He’s the best all-around poker player in the world; and he’s Phil Ivey.
Phillip Dennis Ivey Jr., 35, was born in Riverside, California. While Ivey still refers to Riverside as his home, he and his family moved to Roselle, New Jersey shortly after his birth in 1976. Immediately immersed in an environment heavy in gambling and overbearing competitiveness, it was only a matter of time before Ivey began to wrap his head around the concept of being a professional gambler.
Although Ivey’s parents and neighboring relatives were adamant about him choosing a more subdued career path, Ivey was persistent in his goal to become a professional poker player. After several afternoons spent learning Five-Card Stud with his grandfather, he was addicted to the game’s unique characteristics, and saw each and every session as an opportunity to exploit his grandfather’s tendencies. Although his grandfather made numerous attempts at hustling a young Ivey to discourage him from pursuing his dreams, as his opponents would realize later, there’s nothing that can stop a courageous Ivey.
At the premium age of 16, Phil Ivey was already spending countless hours playing illegal backroom and back-alley card games for money. Ivey’s results during this time were trivial, although as most young players realize, he needed to spend more time consumed by the game’s intricacies to become successful. Ivey did just that, eventually buying a $50 fake ID from a fellow employee, so that he could sit down in the small-stakes cash games religiously, in nearby Atlantic City.
Ivey’s fake ID read “Jerome Graham,” and because of his unyielding determination to become proficient, the hours and days he spent at the tables eventually earned him the nickname “No Home Jerome.” Despite Ivey’s propensity to sit for hours at the live poker tables, his long sessions didn’t translate into stellar results. He didn’t seem to be learning much from his mistakes, and wasn’t able to adapt to his opponent’s tendencies. While an uber-aggressive approach would often be successful against weaker competition, against worthy adversaries, HE was usually the fish. Life soon became troublesome for the aspiring poker star. He wasn’t paying bills. He didn’t have a home. He was often left restless, catching up on sleep at the New Jersey shores.
But as most could predict, Ivey wasn’t down for long. Great players come back, and they come back with a vengeance.
Phil Ivey continued to play poker for several years, progressing slowly, until he finally reached the euphoric age of 21. The most important age for a poker professional, Ivey finally introduced himself under his real alias, to both casino staff and the players whom he’d been playing with for years. Although the reception of his revealed identity was mixed, the jury was unanimous on Ivey’s poker ability — he was phenomenal.
In Ivey’s first World Series of Poker, in 2000, he won a bracelet. He cashed three times that year, in $1,500 Seven-Card Stud, $2,000 No-Limit Hold’em, and of course $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha, the event in which he secured his gold bracelet. His younger peers and older adversaries now had to respect him, and he would continue to cause headaches for them for years to come.
In 2002, Ivey went on to win the $1,000 No-Limit Hold’em event at the L.A. Poker Classic for $79,550. In the 2002 WSOP, he won an astounding three bracelets, one in the $1,500 Seven-Card Stud event for $132,000, a bracelet in the $2,500 7-Card Stud Hi/Lo for $118,440, and another $107,540 in the $2,000 S.H.O.E. event. Ivey’s three bracelets not only helped etch his name forever in poker history, but it also established him as one of the best all-around poker players the game has ever seen. Only two players before him at that time, Phil Hellmuth Jr. and Ted Forrest, had ever one three WSOP bracelets in the same year. In fact, it was only by years end, that players were referring to Ivey as the “Tiger Woods of Poker.”
It would be an insult to stop here, despite a tournament resume thus far that would have several poker professionals jealous. Ivey’s tournament results progressed, and in 2002 he earned publicity with two wins at the World Poker Tour Legends of Poker. At the 2003 WPT Championship Five-Star World Poker Classic, Ivey took titles for $58,782 and $66,930 respectively in the $1,500 Seven-Card Stud and $2,500 Omaha Hi/Lo tournaments. During the same event, he finished the $25,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Championship in 3rd place for a monstrous $253,313.
In 2004, one of Ivey’s best years, he earned three six-figures tournament scores, one which clipped the $500,000 mark.
Ivey went on to absolutely dominate 2005, with a $163,908 third-place finish in the $5,000 WPT World Poker Challenge, and another deep run in the $25,000 WPT Five-Star Classic NLHE Championship worth $264,195. In a WSOP Circuit Event in Lake Tahoe, Ivey finished 2nd for nearly $300,000. He continued his success throughout the 2005 World Series of Poker, where he won his fifth bracelet in $5,000 Pot-Limit Omaha, and made a lucrative finish in the WSOP Main Event for $304,680, which is still one of his brightest tournament moments to date. Ivey finished his 2005 campaign by winning the Monte Carlo Millions title for a cool $1 million.
2006 saw Ivey get close to more WSOP bracelets with near wins in H.O.R.S.E. and Omaha 8 or Better. Ivey finished 2nd during Season III of the EPT Barcelona’s $6,500 Championship event for $470,072. Shortly after his big EPT win, Ivey took a little time off from tournament poker. Because of the grind, and his love for cash games, much of his focus was redistributed to that arena.
Ivey continued to play in the biggest live and online cash games that could be found anywhere, and also returned his energy to tournaments in the 2007 World Series of Poker, where he made two final tables. He finally took a World Poker Tour title in 2008, something he had been aching for since the start of his tournament career. At the L.A. Poker Classic, Ivey earned his biggest career win to date, $1,596,100.
2009 saw Ivey climb the rankings for the most World Series of Poker bracelets, by adding two more to his resume from Event #8 and Event #25, $2,500 No-Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball, and Omaha/7-Card Stud 8 or Better. In what seemed to be another historical moment in Ivey’s career, he nearly three-peated once again at the 2009 WSOP, by making the final table of the Main Event. Despite Ivey finishing in 7th for $1,404,002, he went into the “November Nine” as the odds-on favorite to take down the title, and undeniable prestige as the best poker player in the game.
Despite having very successful years online with Full Tilt Poker, in 2010, Ivey managed to find time to grab his 8th WSOP bracelet in Event #37, $3,000 H.O.R.S.E., and also finish 3rd at the 2010 Bellagio Cup VI (WPT Championship) for $363,650.
Because of Ivey’s relationship with his primary sponsor, Full Tilt Poker, Ivey has yet to record a losing year online, and remains as one of the biggest winners in the history of online poker. Consistently recording multi-million dollar year-end profits through 2007-2010, Ivey’s legendary poker ability translates equally as well on the virtual felt. Having taken on the likes of Viktor “Isildur1” Blom, Tom “durrrr” Dwan, and Phil “OMGClayAiken” Galfond, over the past few years Ivey has truly showed little hesitance in taking on the best the game has to offer.
To further justify his intrepidation, Ivey was also one of the primary members of “The Corporation,” a pool of professional poker players who took on the infamous businessman Andrew Beal for a series of poker sessions from 2001 to 2006. The Corporation consisted of players Jennifer Harman, Howard Lederer, Chip Reese, Ted Forrest, Doyle Brunson, Barry Greenstein, Gus Hansen and others. Gathering $500,000 from each player to take on the billionaire business banker, a series of battles erupted between Beal and The Corporation, with Ivey eventually dealing the final blow. Although Beal took the collection of players for over $11 million dollars during previous stages of war, it was the swing of over $16.6 million that went in Ivey’s direction that eventually sent Beal back home to Texas.
With all of Ivey’s successes, it’s very difficult not to call him the best all-around player of his generation. While some of his peers, such as fellow Full Tilt Poker pro Howard Lederer, would suggest that Ivey’s on a path to become the greatest player of all-time, what did Ivey reply with when asked what he could do to further his career?
“I want to win 30 bracelets,” he said.
The bar will consistently be set at unreachable heights for the most dangerous player in the game. Ivey has long since managed his financial instabilities, and between his cash game and tournament results, should be easily prepared for any challenger or high-stakes opportunity should it become available.
He’s always been a player who has spoken more through actions than words, and this trait is what arguably has set him apart from a field of upcoming players that are distracted with individual acclaims and extreme notoriety. Although there are great, young players who have earned their stripes throughout their poker evolution, there’s also a growing generation of players that have achieved success through habits that are void from most of the long-standing pros.
What makes Ivey special, however, is his ability to conform to any situation, and over time, he’s become the perfect hybrid of styles. Both of the old, and new.
He regularly plays in the biggest cash games available in Las Vegas, Nevada, the games in Bobby’s Room, which can reach limits of $4000/$8000 and up. Also, Ivey has recently opened up a trademark room of his own in the Aria Casino & Hotel deemed Ivey’s Room, which also features a variety of limits and poker types.
Ivey has appeared in multiple seasons of several different television shows, including GSN’s High Stakes Poker, NBC’s Poker After Dark, and the Million Dollar Cash Game. He’s known well for his big laydown against Brad Booth in Season 3 of High Stakes Poker, and also an unbelievable near-call with a pair of sixes against Tom Dwan’s pure bluff in a $677,000 pot on Season 6.
As a philanthropist, Ivey has donated thousands of dollars to charitable organizations such as Empowered 2 Excel, which is a organization that raises money for underprivileged children in Las Vegas. Ivey also created the Budding Ivey Foundation, in respect to his late grandfather Leonard “Bud” Simmons, where they collect sums of donations for other worthy charities and causes.
In May 2011, Ivey filed a major lawsuit in Clark County, Nevada against Tiltware LLC, the company which runs Full Tilt Poker, because of their inability to re-disperse U.S. player funds in the wake of “Black Friday.” Despite Ivey being a shareholder, he filed the suit for $150 million, about the amount in which Full Tilt Poker owed its U.S. players overall. The lawsuit garnered mixed reviews from both poker professionals and critics alike.
In spite of the events, Ivey also chose not to participate in the 2011 World Series of Poker.
Phil Ivey has a total of $13,859,944 in career tournament earnings, putting him third on the all-time money list. He has 21 career titles, along with 111 tournament cashes, and 8 World Series of Poker bracelets.
While Ivey managed to get married during his years as a professional poker player, in 2009, he was granted a divorce from his long-term girlfriend and wife Luciaetta Ivey.
Ivey is an avid sports fan, and has been seen at several Los Angeles Lakers games. He also spends time watching the Houston Rockets and Buffalo Bills.
During his free time he enjoys prop betting, and playing golf.