Keep your aces and kings How I survived a Phil Ivey staredown

Most pros long for the spotlight, making my approach pretty damn easy. Throw around the letters ‘espn’ once or twice and they get the message; I (or anyone writing columns on espn web space) can give them exposure. In that regard, talking to me is generally a good thing for their careers. Like Chip Reese before him, Phil Ivey is the exception to the rule.

Ivey has no use for celebrity. He makes more money than god and values his privacy. Hell, that desire for privacy maintains and even heightens his mystique.

We’ve shared a few momentary conversations over the years and he knows I’d like nothing better than to sit him down and have him chew my ear off for a week or two, but if I’m going to be around for a while, I need to respect the wishes of the guys who want to be left alone. There are plenty waiting to talk if I need someone to take their place.

This all sets the scene for what happened last night. In another solidly positive evolution of the WSOP, the Players Advisory Council came up with the idea for a beautiful eight-game smorgasbord of a tournament that’s being called the$10,000 Mixed Event World Championship.

You’ve got the usual HORSE events to go with three more; pot-limit Omaha, nl hold’em and triple draw 2-7. You want to find someone’s weak points? There’s a lot of exploiting to be done here.

Of course, this event put the pros on the scent. Walking through what remained late last night of the 191 player field felt a lot like hanging out in Bobby’s Room. Six-figure bets flew back and forth along with some good natured trash talk and a lot of frustrated looks from players playing their less-familiar games. It was while walking through that I came upon an ongoing exchange between Ivey and Andy Bloch.

It’s been well documented that Ivey’s been taking action right and left on his winning a bracelet. He’s put up $500,000 to Eli Elezra’s $900,000 and estimates are putting the total he has on the line at around $2,000,000. His bet with Eli was that he’d win a bracelet at this year’s World Series of Poker. His bet with Bloch, according to Ivey, is that he’ll win a bracelet this year. Andy has $180,000 to Ivey’s $100,000 that says he won’t.

See the difference?

It’s important to note that letter of the law –not spirit of the bet—plays more often than not far more often in prop bets like this one, which is important since there are bracelet events this year that won’t be happening in Vegas. Bloch’s feeling was that the spirit of the wager was that Ivey would win a bracelet in the 55 event starting in Vegas in May, June and July.

Standing, watching, I couldn’t help but let out a laugh when Andy told me what the dispute was about. The moment I did, Ivey whipped around faster than words can imply and caught me in his sights. For a second, I knew what the wounded caribou feels while looking in the lion’s eyes. “You think that’s funny?”* He asked me ‘What are you laughing at?”

  • I’ve seen Goodfellas a few times and know that questions like this one are usually followed by the asker shooting someone in the chest. I’m walking on chinaware at this point.**

** I’ve been reading uber-blogger Joe Posnanski’s blog for a little while. You can blame these little asides on him.

Fortunately, I was having a good night. With the twin first-time wins filed by Erick Lindgren and David Singer, the room’s mood was light and it was infectious.

Despite the obvious stoppage of my heart caused by the intimidating barrage hurled at me by the alpha of all alphas, I was feeling creative with a lot of good stuff to work with for my daily 3-6AM write-a-thon and my reflexes were feeling quicker than usual. “I’m not laughing because it’s wrong. I’m laughing because it’s clever.”

Sorry Andy. Kind of threw you under the bus on that one.

The glare dimmed a bit with the realization I wasn’t taking the other side and Phil settled back into berating Andy. He repeated the wording of the bet over and over, keeping the angry façade except when he’d glance over at Barry Greenstein, sitting to Bloch’s right and allow his lips to curl for a micro-second.

Over the next hour, Phil used me to try and prove his point by having me ‘verify’ a few points, each one stabbing Bloch a little deeper in the back “It’s a World Series bracelet, right?” “It’s the same year, isn’t it?” “If Harrah’s went broke tomorrow, I’d have to pay up, wouldn’t I?”

I wanted to help, but when Bloch admitted he didn’t remember exactly what Phil had said when they agreed on the bet, it was all over.

This is Andy Bloch, the nicest guy in the world, who’s always been giving of his time, who I’m feeling badly for because he just came so close to his first bracelet. Andy Bloch, who fortunately for me was probably wrong this time. I can’t imagine the sheer force of will I’d have had to endure if I’d been forced to take the other side.

Over that hour, Phil insisted he’ll be playing in the ladies’ event, challenged Andy’s manhood (and gamblerhood) by telling the world “This is a guy who’s never bet $200,000 in his life!” and finally, after I admitted I wished I could write about the encounter, he granted his permission. Andy did too. That’s why I’m hacking away now, eighteen hours later, the moment indented on my fragile little mind.

Ivey is a force of nature. I called him the alpha of alphas a few paragraphs up, but that doesn’t quite capture it. It feels like if there was a 10-inch brick wall between he and an object of his desire, he’s walk straight through it. Hell, last night, he was ready to walk straight through me to get to Bloch.

The quilting circle that is the poker community is whispering that Ivey is changing. With these bets as incentive, with his newfound appreciation for charity, there might be some small chance that he’s starting to embrace his birthright. Maybe it’s because with Chip Reese’s passing, Doyle has to eventually pass the torch to someone. Maybe Phil is embracing the idea of that being him…I don’t know.

All I do know is that last night, I got a peek into the mind and world of Phil Ivey, one I hadn’t been given access to before now. I’m glad for the moment I got, and that I don’t need to stare back at the table.

On to the links. Today, I’m linking to yesterday’s stuff, with another bog to come later tonight on today’s writings.

  • We start with a write-up on Erick Lindgren’s win over at espn.
  • We talk with a wealthier, healthier Mike Matusow over at
  • I got to chat with Scott Clements before he stormed his way to yet another Omaha final table, also at
  • The Hand of the Day takes a look at Lindgren’s victory…
  • …and so too does the Wise Hand of the Day.

Sorry again that I was late in posting this folks. Hope you enjoyed the read. More tonight.