To the delight of the entire poker world the consensus best player in the game made the final table of the biggest tournament on the planet Wednesday night.
Already fourth on poker's all-time leading money winners list with over $10 million in earnings and a total of seven World Series of Poker bracelets, including two this summer, Full Tilt's Phil Ivey is widely regarded as one of poker's best and brightest minds.
But despite all he's accomplished in the game, Ivey said earning a spot in the November Nine at the 2009 WSOP Main Event is his biggest to date.
"So far I've just made the final table, but this tops the list," he said. "It's definitely up there."
Ivey, who was weened on the game in Atlantic City casinos playing with fake ID before he was old enough to get past security, has been close to Main Event glory three times before.
He finished 23rd in 2002, 10th in 2003 and 20th in 2005, and had a little trouble putting into words just how much he wanted this.
"You have no idea," he said.
Ivey Making Final Table Huge Boost for Poker
Railing him almost the entire way, fellow Full Tilt pro Mike Matusow said Ivey making the final table should be a huge boost for the game of poker itself.
"It's absolutely ridiculous how big this is for poker and it'll be even bigger if he wins," Matusow said. "Ivey making the final table is as big as if (deceased Main Event champ) Stu Ungar made the final table these days."
'This guy is the greatest.'
Matusow believes a player of Ivey's stature making the November Nine could even help change online poker's legal status in the United States and overturn the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
"If the best player in the world wins the biggest tournament in the world, it'll be tremendous for the argument that poker is a game of skill," he said "And Phil Ivey is the best player in the world.
"Phil Hellmuth talks like he's the greatest, this guy is the greatest. He doesn't need to talk; he lets his poker do the talking."
The rest of the November Nine consists of a spectrum of professional players, online qualifiers and home-game amateurs.
Ivey will come back for the final November 7 sitting seventh in chips with just French Everest Poker qualifier Antoine Saout and British "Hit Squad" pro James Akenhead behind him.
The current chip leader is Maryland local casino qualifier Darvin Moon, with young yet seasoned pro Eric Buchman sitting second, American home-game pool winner Steven Begleiter third and CardPlayer Magazine editor Jeff Shulman fourth in chips.
Rounding out the final nine are online pro Joseph Cada, who had two cashes at the Series this summer, and Floridian Kevin Schaffel, whose biggest cash to date came in the 1994 WSOP Main Event where he finished 42nd for $60k.
But even the chip leading Moon feels Ivey is the man to beat.
'If he even looks at me, I'm mucking.'
"I'll stay away from him," he said. "I'll hide in a corner when I'm against him. I'm concerned about all of them, but if Phil Ivey is on my left, if he even looks at me, I'm mucking."
Ivey Changes Cell Number, Leaves Country
Partly to help take advantage of his image, Ivey said he would have rather played out the final nine now instead of taking the planned three-month break.
"I'm really in a groove right now playing against some of these guys," he said. "I'd love to just finish this thing right now."
Without revealing many details about how he will adjust his strategy, Ivey did say he would watch a few of the hands on TV in the months leading up to the final.
"I'm a little short," Ivey said. "I'm just going to do my best and trust my reads."
Already one of Poker's biggest superstars, Ivey claims the tremendous media attention that comes with being a part of the November Nine won't change much for him.
"I'm just going to change my cell phone number and leave the country," he said. "I'm serious too."