Global poker legend Phil Ivey is the most fearless player around and we find out out why: “Ivey spends his time at the table eyeing every movement an opponent makes”

Phil Ivey has an unrivalled reputation as the most feared poker player on the planet

Perhaps the most illuminating fact about Phil Ivey is that, unlike many other high profile poker players, he requires no nickname. No added persona is needed to strike fear into his opponents – the man alone carries a presence that is enough to intimidate all but the most impassive of players. Ivey’s name is on everyone’s lips when you ask them which player they most respect and would least want to play. But just what is it about him that causes even the strongest of player’s knees to crumble?

Perhaps the closest Ivey gets to being granted a nickname is when he is lazily referred to as the ‘Tiger Woods of poker’. But on closer inspection, the comparison between the two certainly holds weight. The poker great embodies many qualities similar to the legendary golfer: a mixture of constant and focused aggression, a cool and impassive demeanour and a fierce determination to win. Both men have also relentlessly ignored the media hype surrounding their respective achievements. Their business is winning – and they both do plenty of that.

According to his close friend and fellow Big Game player, Barry Greenstein, Ivey has an ‘unmatched raw talent’. In a hold’em obsessed world this is borne out by his ability to excel in all of poker’s different variants. He has won pot-limit Omaha and seven-card stud events, and most notably recorded a third-place finish in the inaugural $ 50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event at the 2006 World Series Of Poker.

Cash King

Ivey remains reluctant to accept the mantle of genius and instead puts much of his success down to sheer hard work. Similarly though, his rise as a poker celebrity has been dismissed by none other than Ivey himself, whose typical nonchalant response is that ‘I’m just a poker player’. But he’s more than just a poker player. He started out playing sixteen-hour days in low-limit stud games in Atlantic City on a fake ID – where he learned tirelessly from his own mistakes.

During his early days he had a voracious appetite for knowledge of all things poker, which he carries to this day. But this is hardly unique among poker players – so how has he managed, over the course of a decade, to do what only a few manage in an entire lifetime? He’s made final tables at six WPT events, won major tournaments at home and in Europe and has five WSOP bracelets. He’s also widely regarded by his peers as one of the most consistent players in the Big Game at the Bellagio. Indeed, cash games are where Ivey is at home the most, hidden away from prying eyes, playing free from distractions. But he’s no one-trick pony and performs equally adeptly in front of the full glare of the media that is so fascinated by his every move.

He arguably has the most impressive record in tournament poker since Stu Ungar, with three bracelets in three WSOPs from 2000-2002 and a relentless series of six and seven-figure results. The countless hours of thoughtful, considered play has soaked into his subconscious, giving him a ‘feel’ for where he is in a hand. He applies the same razor-sharp analysis to his own game and it’s rare you’ll see him making a mistake in a hand.

Despite his best game being seven-card stud, his celebrity status has arisen from his hold’em game. And even under the unflinching gaze of the TV cameras, what is clear from his performances is a level of attentiveness that few other players possess. Ivey spends his time at the table eyeing every movement an opponent makes, or lost in his own head calculating the odds of a dozen possible scenarios for a hand he is involved in. He is never rushed and, it would seem, is too absorbed in the moment to worry about table banter or showmanship from those around him. As his opponents attest, Ivey’s style of play is impossible to pin down, except for an aggressive streak that allows him to control the table without ever seeming to place him in extreme danger.

Peer Pressure

One hand in particular illustrates Ivey’s poise and tenacity at the table, even though it ended with him losing a lot of chips. Facing off with Andy Black at the WSOP main event in 2005, an incredible display of high-level thinking occurred when, with the blinds at $ 20,000/$ 40,000, Ivey made it $ 140,000 in late position with K-5 before Black re-raised to 420k. The viewers knew Black had A-2 – but Ivey didn’t. He wasn’t ready to relinquish the role of aggressor and re-reraised to 920k, after which Black thought for a while before pushing all-in. Ivey rolled his eyes and folded. On this occasion he had met his match in the only player ready to pass the test. But, the important factor was that Ivey was prepared to force Black to risk his tournament.

And, no doubt Ivey learned something from the confrontation, as best displayed in his legendary Monte Carlo Millions hand against Paul Jackson. In the reverse position facing a re-reraise with Queen-high, he correctly surmised that Jackson had either a massive hand or nothing and took the risk by pushing all-in. Jackson – who had played superbly – folded and no doubt Ivey added another nugget of information to be used at a later date. Perhaps this is truly what makes Ivey legendary among his peers. He is as fearless as he is ruthless. And, just like Woods on the golf course, Ivey remains fiercely competitive and determined to win. He’s beatable – for sure. But in many respects remains a peerless poker player.

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