Have you ever wondered who Phil Ivey is?
Phil Ivey is the most-known poker player in the world. Many also call him the best poker player that has ever lived.
And it's hard to disagree with that statement. Phil Ivey's net worth can be measured in tens (if not hundreds after some good investments) millions of dollars.
This is the story of a true gambler who started from playing for pennies with his grandfather and flipping burgers in MacDonald's.
Family is the most important thing
"I don't want to be like you and dad; working nine to five, forty hours a week and just living a mediocre lifestyle."
Phil Ivey spoke this words to his mother Pam when explaining why he wants to pursue poker as a career. At that moment, his mother had no idea what was wrong with the life she and her husband have lived for so long.
She worked in an insurance office; he was a construction worker. They both lived a regular life, without any excesses. For Phil Ivey, that was not enough as there was something in his heart which drove him to poker. It was a true passion for gambling.
Many years later, he would say these words in the Poker After Dark TV show:
"I like it when I lose so much money I can barely breathe. That’s the feeling that I go for. I’m addicted to that feeling."
That was the feeling that his grandfather had warned him about when Phil was six. At that time, young Phil was often seen in his grandfather's room which was the only place in the house with air conditioning. While there, both men were often spending time playing 5-card stud, a game without a flop where every participant gets dealt one card face down and one card face up. During the next betting rounds, the following cards are being dealt face up.
His grandfather warned him about getting too much into gambling and wanted to make sure that the bitter taste of failure will leave Phil unwanted for more. He tried to do that by cheating his grandson and winning all games.
But he failed in his mission to discourage Phil to gambling.
'No Home Jerome'
16-year-old Ivey was still dreaming of a life which was different than the one his whole family has ever designed for him. He was flipping burgers in McDonald's for minimum wage at that time, which still is one of the jobs described for people who have turned wrong in their lives (although that may not be the truth).
But no one flips burgers for life. After high school, Phil Ivey became a telemarketer while being active in the other project on the side.
This project was poker. Every week, Phil Ivey was driving to Atlantic City by bus and taking part in the casino games available there. At the age of 18, it was illegal for him to enter the casino, but he wasn't discouraged by such a simple rule. He got himself a fake ID, and every weekend Phil Ivey turned into Jerome Graham.
It was just the beginning of his bankroll building process. He was pushing his body and mind to the limit, making slow progress towards becoming the greatest poker player ever.
"I would play 16-18 hours a day, every day, just around the clock."
He would play the games which his bankroll was not suited for. Every time he was winning on the lower stakes, he tried his hands on the tougher competition and higher blinds. A lot of the times, he would bust his bankroll and went for the walk of shame while going back home with empty pockets.
Sometimes, he would miss the last bus home, as well. He would then spend the night under a boardwalk in Atlantic City.
"It was kind of a disgusting feeling waking up to the sun... but you know, what could you do?"
When these rumours spread, he got himself the nickname 'No Home Jerome'.
But only after turning 21, he revealed everyone that he is not really Jerome Graham. He was already living off poker in Atlantic City, and it was the time when he started to make a name for himself under Phil Ivey.
Las Vegas, I'm coming!
Phil Ivey understood that Atlantic City is not the place to find the biggest poker games in the world. When you want to gamble, which city do you think about first?
Las Vegas. Obviously.
At the age of 21, in 1998, he moved to Las Vegas and became a poker millionaire there. During that time, he got acquainted with Barry Greenstein and entered the hottest private cash game at that time, hosted by the publisher of 'Hustler Magazine' Larry Flynt.
It was close, and he would have never become the high roller we know today. He was backed with $500,000 by Barry Greenstein and almost lost it all on the first day playing 7-card stud there. If he had, he would have never returned there, he promised himself. However, in the last hand, he found the courage to call down Larry Flynt with three sixes, a weak hand for such a game. Larry showed a bluff, and Phil Ivey lived to fight another day.
Next sessions made him rich and ready for the games in Las Vegas.
And the biggest poker event at that time was World Series of Poker festival. In 2000, Phil Ivey entered $2,500 Pot Limit Omaha event and got into heads-up against Amarillo Slim. Not many people believed in the young gun who entered the 1-on-1 match being a 1-to-5 underdog in chips. What's more, Amarillo Slim was hunting for his fifth bracelet, and there was not a time where he got to the final table and didn't win it.
But he did not meet Phil Ivey before, a guy who was patient and apparently, did not want to bow to the 1972 Main Event Champion. Phil managed to take down this tournament and earn his first World Series of Poker bracelet.
It was just the beginning of his great WSOP run.
Phil Ivey has earned millions of dollars at the beginning of the XXI century on poker in all areas: live tournaments, private cash games and online environment.
But before the poker boom happened, he had become a star in a small circle of poker enthusiasts when he won three WSOP bracelets in 2002. He got them in the $2,500 7 Card Stud Hi/Lo, $2,000 S.H.O.E. and $1,500 7 Card Stud events, neither played exclusively in Hold'em alone.
Actually, to this day he has never earned a Hold'em-only bracelet, even though he's already got ten to his name.
During the next years, he became famous as one of the most feared poker players in the world, often referred to as the 'Tiger Woods of poker'. We are sure that he hated this nickname as he wanted to make his own fame.
And there were plenty of moments to do that. In 2003, he was the one who got kicked out of the Main Event in 10th place by Chris Moneymaker. In 2005, he won his next bracelet, in $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha tournament which earned him $635,603. And in 2006, he proved his worth as a cash game player by getting into a group called 'Corporation'.
The 'Corporation' was a collection of fifteen poker high rollers who were playing a billionaire called Andy Beal who was looking for real action in Las Vegas. He took a shot at the biggest names in poker and challenged them to the huge game of Limit Hold'em. He wanted to prove to people that even the greatest in the game will bend under the pressure of big money.
Poker players knew that they couldn't face Andy Beal alone, that's why they combined their bankrolls and faced them in a heads-up format with 5- and 6-digit bets. These were all big hustlers and long-time grinders from Las Vegas, but they've never experienced such a thing. They've been losing a lot of money before finally, Phil Ivey sat down to play the immortal millionaire.
And he made him bleed. $16.6 million of bleeding. 'Corporation' got back into the game and ran Andy Beal dry. Everything that took place there was written in the book 'The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King'.
The big shot
In 2009, Phil Ivey was a full-time celebrity. He was partying with Jay-Z and Puff Daddy. He got an invitation to the White House. He was featured in TV in the big cash game games.
But most importantly, he got to the 2009 Main Event Final Table; and everyone went nuts.
Those were the times when Main Event fields got so big that it was difficult to fight off the variance to get far in this tournament. Many poker players started referring to ME as a 'lottery'. Seeing Phil Ivey making it to the final nine was like a slap in the face to everyone who has said ever said something similar.
He was to establish himself as the greatest poker player ever and win the most precious reward in the poker community:
"This would be my greatest accomplishment in poker. The greatest accomplishment in my life. It’s always been my dream to win this tournament."
He told Bluff Europe in an interview.
"I don’t think you can really put a value on it. I love the World Series of Poker. I love the whole setup. I love the whole structure. I’m playing almost every event. I’m trying to win a bracelet in every event. It means a lot to me."
He added in an interview for ESPN.
He finished seventh for $1,404,014. He was not able to get that precious Main Event bracelet.
However, the same year, he won $7 million playing online.
But it was not all rainbows and butterflies in Phil Ivey's life. The same year he divorced the love of his life, and the poker world has learnt that Ivey was earning almost one million dollars every month from his part in Full Tilt. That's beside what he earned playing poker.
In 2011, after Black Friday happened, Ivey got underground. He hit Full Tilt Poker with a lawsuit, demanding $150 million for ruining his image. He did not participate in WSOP that year, explaining:
"I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed that Full Tilt players have not been paid money they are owed. I am equally embarrassed that as a result many players cannot compete in tournaments and have suffered economic harm. I am not playing in the World Series of Poker as I do not believe it is fair that I compete when others cannot."
He stopped playing so much online and got back to looking for the best private cash games in the world.
After winning $2 million for the first place in $250,000 Challenge at 2012 Aussie Millions, he met Cheung Yin "Kelly" Sun, a female Asian hustler and a high roller who taught Phil Ivey how to get an edge on the casino. She was trouble, but Phil Ivey loved gambling more than anything in the world. He started visiting casinos and making millions. But something happened along the way.
In 2012, Ivey hit Crockfords Club, London’s oldest private gambling club, with a lawsuit for not paying him his winnings. Phil Ivey used something learned from Kelly Sun called edge-sorting. He was able to read the back of the cards to determine which card will hit the board next. He won $12 million in Crockfords Club, but the U.K. Supreme Court ruled that he will not get his money because of cheating. This encouraged Borgata, a casino 'No Home Jerome' visited earlier, to hit Phil Ivey with a lawsuit of their own, claiming that Ivey used the same technic to win almost $10 million from them. The judge ruled in favour of the casino.
Going underground... in the East
This situation made a dent in his (mostly) spotless image of a 'gambler'. But that was not the end of his troubles.
In 2013, he lost $2.5M playing online. In 2015, he was seen again on the virtual poker tables, but he closed that year with $3.7M on the red. New, better players were coming to poker, and the old guard was not prepared for such a thing, Ivey included.
However, someone needed such a great name in his private poker games.
That's how Phil Ivey ended up in Asia, spending his time mostly in Macau and Manila and playing against rich businessmen there, alongside Tom Dwan and Patrik Antonius. He was hosted by the Malaysian gambler Paul Phua who also invited some of the world's wealthy people to the table.
It was something out of a dream! Legends were circulating about these games. The stakes were as high as $12,500-$25,000 for the blinds; pots were counted in millions. Players were told to be winning or losing $20 million in just one hand.
Many high roller grinders were missing World Series of Poker events during that time because there were more lucrative games in the world during that time. They could choose: winning half a million of dollars during 4-day play in one of the side events (while trying to beat hundreds of participants) or winning half a million of dollars in just one hand in Macau.
"Of course I care for bracelets. But you know, sometimes there are games elsewhere in the world and duty calls."
He told PokerNews during the 2015 WSOP.
The decision was easy.
Is Phil Ivey the best poker player in the world?
We can't tell Phil Ivey's net worth as during his latest years he was mostly seen in Asia where millions were changing owners left and right.
We can't tell how much Phil Ivey won in these private games.
We can't even tell how Phil Ivey would fare in today's big cash games where more regular players sit at the tables.
But we can tell that Phil Ivey is the best gambler in the world.
"I like it when I lose so much money I can barely breathe. That’s the feeling that I go for. I’m addicted to that feeling."
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