Phillip Dennis Ivey Junior was born on February 1, 1976 in Riverside California and moved to one of the biggest gambling states, New Jersey, when he was three months old. Before you start to wonder if the likeness to Tiger Woods is merely racial, it might be interesting to know that Ivey has also participated in the World Series of Golf where he finished in third place. While he is a self-proclaimed golf enthusiast, poker remains his first love and also his profession. It is in this that he has gained a formidable reputation of being the most dangerous opponent in the world.
The Making of a Professional Gambler
It is said Phil Ivey first learned to play poker from his grandfather who taught him 5-card stud. However, he tried actively to dissuade his grandson from playing professionally, warning him against the various dangers involved. Ivey Jr. was not to be deterred. Having been brought up in Atlantic City, he had plenty of opportunities to play poker, even as he worked in a telemarketing firm during his teens.
Not wanting to wait till he reached the legal age of twenty-one, Ivey played using a fake ID in the name of Jerome Graham, thus giving rise to another famous epithet – No Home Jerome. However, his is not a story of natural born talent. It is said that when he started out, at the age of 17, Ivey was considered to be a loose player, too eager to play every hand and easily bluffed. But he showed the tenacity to learn from his mistakes and by the time he was twenty-two, he had developed his trademark stare that made it extremely difficult for his opponents to bluff him. He strived hard and finally got where he wished to be.
Phil Ivey holds no less than 10 World Series bracelets, tying him with Dolyle Brunson and Johnny Chan at second position. His namesake Phil Hellmuth may hold the maximum number of WSOP, but Ivey is the youngest player to have won the tenth bracelet at age 38. He is also the fastest to have accumulated so many bracelets, having taken only 14 years since he turned professional. He is also the record holder for winning the most bracelets in non-Holdem events, when he overtook Billy Baxter in 2010.
Ivey also holds the WSOP record for the most mixed-game bracelets, having won for five different games in his career – S.H.O.E. in 2002, Omaha Hi/Lo / 7 Card Stud Hi/Lo in 2009, H.O.R.S.E. in 2010, WSOP APAC Mixed Event in 2013 and Eight Game Mix in 2014. Therefore, he also has the distinction of being the most diverse poker player in the international circuit.
It is estimated that his total winnings from poker amounts to $19,500,000 in just live tournaments. He has won the title of Poker Player of the Year by the All In Magazine twice, once in 2005 and then 2009.
The Crockford Decision
Phil Ivey was recently in the news again regarding an ongoing lawsuit. In August 2012, Ivey won £7.7 million at a game of Punto Banco, a form of baccarat, in London’s Crockford’s Casino. The bone of contention was the technique that he used to his advantage – edge sorting – a defect in the manufacturing of cards which helped to identify their face value. While Ivey insisted that this was a legitimate technique, a judge in 2014 ruled that it was cheating. However, he has recently been allowed to appeal against the ruling when appeared in court on December 10, 2015. The results of this hearing could redefine the very course of legality and gambling.
Phil Ivey’s story is, at an individual level, that of personal grit and tenacity leading to success. At the same time, when his story is contextualized within the history of the development of gaming in New Jersey and consequently in the rest of the country, his story takes on an additional dimension and becomes a tale of opportunity and economic growth. He becomes representative of the potential that there is in the industry as a whole.