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Phil Ivey - The Tiger Woods of Poker

Dominic Field

Sep 18, 2023

Phil Ivey

During the poker boom era, Phil Ivey was the hottest property in the poker world. Young, handsome, and unbelievably talented; the “Tiger Woods of Poker” was all over our screens. 

After some time out of the spotlight, he’s now back on the high-stakes poker scene and, of course, he’s absolutely crushing it. Let’s learn a little more about the great man and his rise to prominence.

No Home Jerome

Phillip Dennis Ivey Jr. came into the world on 1st February 1977. Born in Riverside, California, his family moved to Roselle, New Jersey just a few months later. 

He was taught to play poker by his grandfather at the age of eight and showed immediate promise. An early tendency to think deeply about the game and devise his own strategies would serve him well throughout his future career.

As a young adult during the 1990s, he joined a telemarketing company. It was here that Ivey started to hone his skills, taking on his colleagues in small home games. At the age of 18, he famously began to play at casinos in Atlantic City, despite the legal age being 21. To facilitate this, he acquired a fake ID card bearing the name Jerome Graham, leading to the nickname “No Home Jerome”.

Instant Success

Ivey turned 21 in 1998. Now legally able to hit the casinos, it wouldn’t take long for him to blow up. Interestingly, the first entry in his Hendon Mob record was an invitational tournament that year, for regulars at the Tropicana, Atlantic City. Naturally, Ivey won this Seven Card Stud event for a $1,000 score.

Now playing poker much more seriously, Ivey broke out in 2000. A $53,297 return at the Jack Binion World Poker Open in Tunica funded his first visit to the World Series of Poker later that month. And what a successful trip it proved to be. A 12th-place finish playing Seven Card Stud secured his first-ever WSOP cash, followed by his first final table just five days later. 

However, Ivey wasn’t done yet. He would go on to snag his first bracelet within a week in a $2,500 Pot Limit Omaha tournament. In doing so, he had to overcome Amarillo Slim, becoming the first player to defeat the poker legend heads-up in a WSOP event. That success earned Ivey $195,000 and cemented his reputation as one of the hottest up-and-coming poker properties.

Three In One

Ivey returned to Vegas in 2001 and secured a couple more cashes. But in 2002, he was catapulted to global prominence after an unbelievable WSOP. His seven overall cashes included his first deep run in the Main Event, where he placed 23rd. Far more incredibly though, he secured three bracelets in that same series. 

This remarkable feat had only been achieved previously by three poker greats: Phil Hellmuth Jr, Ted Forrest, and Puggy Pearson. Astonishingly, Ivey would almost repeat it later that decade at the 2009 WSOP. The poker phenom secured two bracelets and made the final table of the Main Event, finishing 7th for $1,404,014.

Just a year prior, Ivey had picked up his first World Poker Tour title at the L.A. Poker Classic. It’s hard to believe, but that was his first major No Limit Hold’em tournament success. Like the WSOP, he’d enjoyed deep runs in WPT Main Events, such as the 2003 WPT Championship in Las Vegas where he finished 3rd. But to date, of all his staggering achievements, this remains his only NLH major.

Nosebleed Games

Ivey’s high-stakes antics are legendary. Back in the Full Tilt days, the most famous players would all compete in online nosebleed games. There was also the TV show High Stakes Poker, which helped popularise big money broadcasts. But it was Full Tilt’s Million Dollar Cash Game in which we saw the first ever televised million dollar pot. 

It’s no great shock to discover that Ivey was involved in such a monster hand. However, what might be a surprise to learn is that he didn’t win it! That honour went to fellow high-stakes pro Tom Dwan, who dragged the $1.1 million pot. On a J 3 5 4 board, the two went toe-to-toe, with Ivey 3-betting all-in. His A 2 and five-high straight was crushed by Dwan’s 7 6.

Poker is not the only game for which Ivey has a high-stakes penchant, however. In the latter part of the 2010s, he disappeared from the public eye. Aside from his very public legal battles, that is. Accusations of cheating at The Borgata in Atlantic City and Crockford's in London led to lawsuits totalling around $27 million. The cases revolved around the controversial technique of edge sorting. Ultimately, Ivey lost out, including subsequent appeals.

Poker GOAT?

With an incredible 10 WSOP bracelets, only one poker player has more - the great Phil Hellmuth. But Ivey didn’t earn the nickname “the Tiger Woods of poker” solely because of a passing resemblance to the golfing GOAT. The man is arguably the best poker player to have ever played the game.

As insane as Hellmuth’s own achievements have been, his first eleven WSOP titles all came in Hold’em. On the other hand, Ivey has won multiple mixed game titles, plus bracelets in Seven Card Stud, Omaha, and Deuce to Seven Draw. Aligned with his consistent successes in the world’s highest-stakes cash games, few would make the case against him being the best all-round poker player in history.

A Glittering Résumé

Phil Ivey’s tournament record is second to none. Here are just some of the highlights from his outstanding career.

Year Series Tournament Result Prize
2000 WSOP $2,500 Pot Limit Omaha 1st $195,000
2002 WSOP $1,500 7 Card Stud 1st $132,000
2002 WSOP $2,500 7 Card Stud Hi-Lo 1st $118,440
2002 WSOP $2,000 Limit S.H.O.E. 1st $107,540
2005 WSOP $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha 1st $635,603
2008 WPT L.A. Poker Classic 1st $1,596,100
2009 WSOP $2,500 Omaha/Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo 1st $220,538
2009 WSOP $2,500 No Limit Deuce to Seven Draw 1st $96,367
2009 WSOP $10,000 No Limit Hold'em Main Event 7th $1,404,014
2010 WSOP $3,000 H.O.R.S.E. 1st $329,840
2012 Aussie Millions $250,000 Challenge 1st $2,058,948
2013 WSOP APAC A$2,200 Mixed Event 1st $54,252
2014 WSOP $1,500 8-Game Mix 1st $166,986
2014 Aussie Millions $250,000 Challenge 1st $3,582,753
2015 Aussie Millions LK Boutique Challenge 1st $1,710,854
2022 Triton Poker $75,000 No Limit Short Deck Hold'em 1st $1,170,000
2022 WSOP $100,000 No Limit Hold'em High Roller 2nd $1,172,659
2023 Triton Poker No Limit Hold'em Turbo 1st $1,007,000

Image Source: Pokernews.com