About Phil Ivey
It looks like the face of a kid who just roofed his tennis ball - eyes darting left and right, like he's figuring out how to get it down without being sent to the principal's office.
It also, however, happens to be one of the most frightening faces in poker. Particularly if you're on the other side of a big pot from it.
The face belongs to Phil Ivey: deified tournament hero, feared cash-game icon and quite possibly the best all-around poker player on the planet.
He's grown from known and respected to famous and feared, and he reaps the rewards of that status, on the table and off.
And he's earned it.
"No Home Jerome" is Born
Born in Riverside, California in 1976 but transplanted to Roselle, New Jersey shortly thereafter, Ivey was introduced to poker young. His grandfather dealt from the bottom of the deck while he taught an eight-year-old Ivey Five-Card Stud, trying to hustle him out of becoming a gambler.
It didn't work. By 16, he was playing backroom games for money. By 18 he had a $50 ID from a guy at his telemarketing job named Jerome Graham and was playing - a lot - at the live tables in Atlantic City. He spent so much time there players in the casino nicknamed him "No Home Jerome."
His nickname, unfortunately, didn't progress very quickly to "Bringing It Home Jerome." He lost. And often. Things weren't great. There were times the rent was late, the hot water shut off, the electricity cut.
But shortly thereafter, as with all feel-good stories (and you knew this was going that way ... he is Phil Ivey, after all), the tide turned.
He started a relationship with a woman he met at the telemarketing job, Luciaetta, who eventually became his wife. He continued playing poker. He turned 21; announced his name was Phil to the casino floor staff. He continued playing poker. And he made progress.
And then came the World Series of Poker.
Phil Ivey Makes the Leap
In 2000, at the age of 24, he made the leap to the big time and never looked back. In $2,000 No-Limit Texas Hold'em, he finished fifth.
In $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha, he sat down at the final table with poker legends Amarillo Slim Preston, David "Devilfish" Ulliott and Phil Hellmuth and walked away with his first bracelet.
And that was that. The Phil Ivey legend was born.
In 2002, he won three more WSOP bracelets in three different games: Seven-Card Stud, Stud Hi-Lo and S.H.O.E., tying Hellmuth and Ted Forrest for most wins in a single year.
He took his fifth bracelet in a Pot-Limit Omaha event in 2005, putting him almost halfway, at younger than 30 years old, to the standing record of 11.
In 2006, he almost took the total up to seven, placing second in an Omaha Hi-Lo event and third in the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event, cashing in for over $800,000.
It 2009 he blew the minds of virtually everyone inside and outside of poker when he won another two bracelets and made the final table of the $10,000 Main Event. To the dismay of almost everyone equally, Ivey's AK couldn't hold over Darvin Moon's AQ and he was out in 7th.
In 2010, 2013 (WSOP APAC) and 2014 Ivey added to his bracelet total to leave him sitting on 10 career WSOP bracelets - tied with Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan for second overall behind Phil Hellmuth's 15. ]
His five final tables at the 2010 WSOP (2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th) still stands as one of the most impressive summers ever.
He's still not done collecting bracelets, however. After a hiatus for a couple of years Ivey returned to the WSOP in 2018 to cash 4 times including 9th overall in the $50k Poker Players Championship.
By Any Measure a Poker Legend
By any measure, Ivey has proved his poker mettle. Tournament success? 10 WSOP bracelets. Six World Poker Tour final tables. Wins at the Monte Carlo Millions, the Bellagio, the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, the Triton Super High Roller Series, the Aussie Millions, etc, etc, etc.
Cash-game resume? Consistent wins in the "Big Game," the $4,000/$8,000 table at the Bellagio - to some, the pinnacle of poker cachet - where he butted heads regularly with Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Chau Giang, Jennifer Harman, Barry Greenstein and Ted Forrest, not to mention some of the game's brightest young stars.
Not big enough? How about serving as clean-up hitter for "The Corporation" - a collection of the absolute best high-stakes poker players in the world - in their latest match-up with billionaire banker Andy Beal, and reportedly taking him for over $16 million?
The list goes on. His appearances on televised cash games, from High Stakes Poker to Poker After Dark to Late Night Poker, were most-watch. And his exploits online at RailHeaven during Full Tilt Poker's heyday might be even more legendary.
Still, it might be his WSOP success that eventually defines him. When asked how many bracelets are possible before he's done?
"I want to win 30," he says.
In a sport notoriously void of consensus and rife with backdoor excuses (can't compare cash games to tournaments, old to new, Omaha to Hold'em), Ivey's status as one of the best all-around poker players, past, present and future, is as close as it gets.
Fittingly, in 2017 Ivey was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame at the age of 40 - the first year a player can even be considered.
Phil Ivey Edge Sorting Lawsuit, Lasting Legacy
Phil Ivey is a player's player: the one the talkers keep their mouths shut around and the silent talk nervously through hands with. He believes he'll win if he plays how he's capable, and no evidence has ever surfaced to the contrary.
Nothing, likewise, has surfaced to suggest it has gone to his head. While some players have spent more time promoting their image away from the tables than winning tournaments at them, Ivey stays focused on being just a guy who really likes what he does for a living, letting the fame and fortune sort itself out.
He's been involved in any number of "outside poker" ventures throughout the years, from starting his own poker training site, Ivey Poker, to his famed, multi-million, lawsuit-inducing edge-sorting foray at Crockford's Casino in London and the Borgata in Atlantic City, but despite their failures they've done little to distract from his accomplishments at the poker table.
He will forever be considered the best player at the poker table, regardless of where he's sitting and who he's sitting with. And if he plays another 40 years, who knows just how many new poker heights he'll reach?
Aside from poker, Ivey likes videos games and basketball. He likes traveling and going to the movies. His old MySpace profile said he liked the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers; when pressed in an interview he said his favorite team is the one he's got money on.
He likes prop bets, shooting dice, playing golf. But, mostly, he just likes to play poker.
"I'm not a prodigy," he says with his usual humbleness. "I just work at what I do. I work at poker very hard. And I'm always thinking about how I can get better at it."
Barry Grenstein Tells a Phil Ivey Story:
"Phil had started playing in Los Angeles several years back and he asked me, “Where is the best place to live?” I told him, “I live in the best area, but it’s pretty pricey.” Phil always thinks big. He said, “I want to take a look at it.”
"He came over to the house with his wife Luciaetta, and I needled him when I said, 'See, this is how a successful poker player lives.' He said, 'This is out of my league now, but some day I’ll own a big house like this, too.'
"Phil was especially interested in the sit-down Ms. Pac Man game that was in my game room. I mentioned that I bought it for my girlfriend because she was the best that I had ever seen at it. He said he was the best that anyone had ever seen.
"I got a call from someone at the airport who wanted me to pick them up. Phil and Luciaetta were having fun with my kids and I asked them if they minded watching my kids until I got back. Phil asked, 'Can I play the Ms. Pac Man game?' I said, 'Of course.'
"When I returned an hour later, Phil was still sitting playing the game. He smiled and said, 'Well, your girlfriend doesn’t have the high score anymore.'”