From tourneys to cash games, ’09 belonged to Ivey
IN THE OPENING MOMENTS OF a professional boxing broadcast on Showtime in December, color commentator Steve Farhood was briefing the audience on the fighters competing, and he noted casually that Oklahoma junior middleweight Carson Jones “looks like Phil Ivey.” It was a telling moment in the evolution of Ivey as a mainstream star. Farhood didn’t feel compelled to say, “Carson Jones looks like professional poker player Phil Ivey.” He simply referred to him as “Phil Ivey.” You wouldn’t say somebody “looks like former NBA player Michael Jordan,” but you would say someone “looks like Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.” It’s an important line of demarcation between being good at what you do and being so good that your name alone means something to the average viewer.
In 2009, Phil Ivey reached that point. He crossed over. He began to transcend the game that made him famous, as evidenced by the fact that he became the first poker player to grace the cover of ESPN: The Magazine. Johnny Chan may have been the guy immortalized in Rounders and Phil Hellmuth may be the guy who does the most to promote himself and Chris Moneymaker may have the most famous name in poker, but Ivey is now officially the game’s biggest superstar.
Oh, and he just happens to be its best player too—a point he hammered home emphatically in a dominant 2009 campaign that saw him voted the Poker Player of the Year in a poll of his fellow pros.
The voters included several of the game’s best: Greg Raymer, Howard Lederer, Chad Brown, Joe Hachem, Eli Elezra, and on and on. And the question of who was the 2009 Poker Player of the Year wasn’t even a question to most of them. Asked to vote for his top five players, Phil Gordon initially tried to list Ivey in all five spots and asked, “Can there really be another candidate worthy?” Others put the parenthetical “(obviously)” next to Ivey’s name. While some magazines and web sites rely on complicated points systems to tell you who the Player of the Year is, common sense should tell you there’s only one reasonable choice: Phil Ivey.
He’s a dominant force online. He’s the most consistent winner in the Big Game at the Bellagio. And Ivey probably had the most impressive World Series of Poker of anyone who competed there—better even, in our opinion, than the guy who won three bracelets, Jeffrey Lisandro. Ivey won two bracelets and reached the final table in the 6,494-player Main Event. He showed his versatility by winning a Deuce-To-Seven Draw event and an Omaha/Stud Hi-Lo mixed game and final-tabling two No-Limit Hold ’Em tourneys, including the most significant and richest event on the poker calendar.
He also cashed in the WPT Championship event in April, putting his total winnings over $1.8-million. And that $1.8-million figure is nothing compared to what he won in cash games and prop bets. His online cash-game earnings for 2009 were estimated to be $6.3-million as of mid-December. And it’s believed that by making bracelet bets and winning not one but two WSOP titles, he might have scored an extra $10-million or so.
Obviously, those bracelet bets were critical in terms of
motivating Ivey to play beneath his bankroll at the World Series.
“Without the side bets,” Ivey’s close friend and fellow high-stakes pro Barry Greenstein told ALL IN, “I doubt he would have won either of the bracelets this year, especially because I don’t think he would have entered either of the events he won.”
When Ivey is focused and on his game, it’s almost not fair. And even when he’s not focused and not on his game, everything tends to work out just fine for him, as he explained while playing cash games on his laptop on an October episode of PokerRoad.com’s “Life Of Ivey”: “That’s the thing about No-Limit Hold ’Em or Pot-Limit Omaha, you can make these crazy mistakes, but they’ll all erase if you just bust a guy in one hand. All your mistakes are erased. It’s like they never even happened.”
Normally, it would sound ridiculous to hear Ivey even talking about making mistakes. But in 2009, he made the most famous blunder of his poker career. Ivey was playing at the feature table in the late stages of the WSOP Main Event. He rivered a flush but forgot what his hole cards were and mucked the winner. It was a shocking moment for poker fans. It was a shocking moment even to Ivey, who had no idea what he’d done until the hand aired on ESPN.
But one mistake doesn’t undo the near-perfect poker Ivey seems to play most of the time. We asked Greenstein if Ivey, at age 33, is currently playing the best poker of his career, and Greenstein gave a qualified yes by looking at the present form of the ever-changing poker landscape.
“People seem to judge poker skill these days by heads-up matches of PLO and No-Limit Hold ’Em,” Greenstein said. “And Phil’s results seem to indicate that he’s the top dog in heads-up competition.”
All In Magazine 2009 Voting
We asked our 17 panelists to cast votes for their top five choices for Poker Player of the Year, in order, and we weighted votes as follows: Ten points for a first-place vote, five for second, three for third, two for fourth, and one for fifth. Panelists were asked to consider cash-game results but to put an emphasis on tournaments, to consider online play but to put an emphasis on live play, and to consider all varieties of poker, not just Hold ’Em.
The results were decisive, with Ivey capturing 13 of 17 first-place votes and finishing with more than twice as many points as his next closest competitor. Ivey winning in a landslide should sound familiar; when he won this same award in 2005, a 15-player voting panel gave him 99 points, 64 more than second-place finisher Chris Ferguson.
Here are the final tallies (with number of first-place votes in parentheses):
1. Phil Ivey 143 (13)
2. Jeffrey Lisandro 69 (2)
3. Yevgeniy Timoshenko 27 (1)
4. Bertrand Grospellier 20
5. Daniel Negreanu 16
6. Cornel Cimpan 13 (1)
7. Jason Mercier 11
8. Vitaly Lunkin 10
9. Joe Cada 9
10. Tom Dwan 8
Players who also recieved votes
Patrik Antonius, Eric Baldwin, Greg Mueller, Brock Parker, Viktor Blom, Matt Hawrilenko, Tommy Vedes, Darvin Moon, Kevin Schaffel, Huck Seed, Vanessa Rousso, Shaun Deeb, Alexandre Gomes