In just five years Phil Ivey has gone from relative obscurity to poker god
Ivey admits that Lindgren is currently a much better golfer but the way he says it leaves you with the feeling that you’d be a fool to back anyone but Ivey.
He sounds like the hero in a summer blockbuster admitting the leading lady is currently someone else’s gal, but with the knowledge that come the final reel he’ll be the one rutting in a penthouse with fireworks exploding across a Manhattan skyline. ‘I predict that he won’t be able to play with me in two years,’ warns Ivey.
It’s this confidence and intimidating talk which stands him in such good stead at the poker table. But this intimidation doesn’t come from hiding behind accessories.
‘I think that if you’re so uncomfortable with yourself that you have to wear shades maybe you shouldn’t be playing poker.’ There might be a touch of sour grapes about this – Ivey lost a $100,000 pot at a World Poker Tour event when a pair of sunglasses caused him to misread his hole cards.
The $1,000 designer glasses soon found their way into the bin. Since then, Ivey’s had little time for sunglasses or the people that wear them. ‘You don’t see many of the top poker players wearing shades. If you come to my poker game at the Bellagio’ – he pauses to correct himself – ‘to the poker game, you won’t see any of them wearing sunnies. That’s saying something.
Phil’s been playing at the highest level with the Bellagio big guns for two years now but it took him a while to get a handhold. ‘I wasn’t really nervous the first time, I was just eager to learn. I wanted to see why they were playing at that level and I wasn’t. I lost in that first session. Actually, I think I lost my first four or five sessions.’
Losing a few sit-downs at that level is going to damage your bankroll and Ivey was no different. But Phil recouped and rebuilt his funds and then sat back down with the big boys. He’s now as regular a fixture at the game as poker’s other top names, which include Chip Reese, Gus Hansen, Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson. At a game where there’s $4,000-$8,000 action and a host of WSOP bracelet winners there’s not much room for self-doubt.
Chan and Brunson between them hold 20 world titles. Ivey has averaged one a year but hasn’t played as many events as he could have, which is something that may change over the next couple of years. ‘I believe I could catch them if I really bear down and play at every WSOP tournament,’ he says. ‘It’s fun when you get down to the last few players and the countdown begins. I like the competition but I’m going to have to practice as I don’t feel that I’ve done as well as I should have. I want to get more experience so that when I’m deep down in a tournament I don’t make the same mistakes.’
You’d think from the way that he’s talking he was new to the game. The focus and dedication is scary. But despite this does Ivey think that he’s the best player in the world? ‘I wouldn’t say there is a “best” player in the world. It’s whoever it is on that day. I feel that when I’m playing my best no one can beat me, but I don’t play my best all the time.’ It’s a line that doesn’t offer many crumbs of comfort. Even off his best Ivey is streets ahead of most mere mortals. Phil recouped and rebuilt his funds and sat back down with the big boys.
Ivey is just one of a group of elite players who regularly shuffle up for the biggest game in town, found at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas. It’s a home from home for the highest of high rollers, which is hardly surprising when the blinds are routinely set at $4,000 and $8,000. At this level millions of dollars can change hands in a single night. And regularly do. And the stakes can get even higher when the right kind of player is in town.
As well as allowing the top pros in the world to play at the highest limits, The Big Game acts as a honey pot to pull in big money amateurs like Andy Beal. Amateurs that are more than happy to drop huge sums of money for a crack at poker’s biggest legends. Needless to say the likes of Ivey, Chan, Brunson and Negreanu aren’t complaining.
IVEY’S TOP TIPS:
1. Losing Streaks
Accept that you’ll have losing streaks as well as winning streaks. Take each day individually and learn from what you’re doing. It’s all part of poker. If you’re feeling really frustrated, it’s time to quit. I tell a lot of players that they have to learn themselves about when to walk away. It’s one of the most important aspects to becoming successful at poker.
You can’t let the same thing happen to you over and over again in poker. If you keep getting bullied off the pot then you have to start being the bully. If you’re bluffing too much then you must change your game. It’s hard to give advice to players that I don’t know because there’s more than one way to win at poker and everyone’s got their own style.
3. Mental Stamina
You have to fight the whole time you’re playing. It’s so important to be alert. You have to pay attention to what’s going on and understand your surroundings if you want to keep playing solid all through the night. You’re going to have ups and downs but when you’re playing long sessions the people you’re up against are playing long sessions too.
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