Phil Ivey was born in California in 1976, but his family moved to New Jersey when he was just a few months old. Growing in a city famous for its gambling, Ivey’s family wanted to prevent him from becoming another hustler, so his grandfather famously cheated Phil Ivey while teaching him to play Five Card Stud at the age of 8. Ivey, however was not discouraged and played for money as early as 16 years-old.
Young Phil Ivey was working as a telemarketer at 18 when he bought an ID for $50 from a colleague named Jerome Graham. He played so often and so long at Atlantic City casinos he earned the nickname “No Home Jerome” until he was finally able to come with an ID of his own and introduce himself as Phil Ivey, a fitting start for a legend.
Ivey has earned the nickname of “The Tiger Woods of Poker” (which he reportedly dislikes) for his skill, concentration, and great success in the game. Before his 30th birthday, Ivey already had five World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, having won his first at age 23 in a Pot Limit Omaha Event. Thanks to his excellent play and devastating aggression at the tables, he has earned a number of poker accolades, including Bluff Magazine’s Poker Player of the Year.
In spite of his tournament success, Ivey prefers to play high-stakes cash games, which he finds more lucrative. According to Barry Greenstein, “When he has played in a tournament event, he has played tired because of the cash game the night before (I know because I have been in the games with him.) He also has had to adopt a style geared to build up quickly or get knocked out quickly during the event, so that he won’t wear himself out for the cash game later that night.”
The Year of Ivey
While Greenstein’s reasoning might explain Ivey’s lack of resonance in major tournaments leading up to and including 2008, that theory no longer holds water. Why? Because the 2009 WSOP will forever be known as the Year of Ivey. Coming into the WSOP amid rumors concerning his prop bets, Ivey promptly won his first bracelet in the $2,500 No-Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball Event, defeating a field of 147 players to claim his sixth WSOP title. Despite all of the side action being furiously thrown around – $1 million, $3 million, nobody knows for sure – Phil Ivey went out and won another tournament , this time the $2,500 Omaha 8 or Better/Seven Card Stud 8 or Better for $220,538. Once again, the buzz in Las Vegas was all about the side bets and while neither confirming nor denying the chatter, Ivey did go out and play more poker.
In one of the more exciting Main Event developments in recent years, Phil Ivey – already with two bracelets in his pocket – advanced through a field of more than 6,000 players to become one of the 2009 November Nine. While legend has it that he tipped out his first place money in the Lowball event – a mere $96,000 – $8.5 million is a lot of money, even for Phil Ivey.
2009 WSOP Main Event
Ivey was the fan favorite at the final table of the 2009 WSOP Main Event. Any time Ivey was all-in, the Penn and Teller Theater was as silent as a library. When he finally busted in seventh place for $1.4 million, the crowd was completely dumbfounded. On his final hand, Ivey’s A-K fell to Darvin Moon’s A-Q when Moon hit a queen on the flop. He received a standing ovation from the crowd and the assembled mob of poker players in attendance. Ivey refused to speak to the media afterward and instead ducked out the back door into the Las Vegas night. He remained largely quiet for the rest of 2009.
According to TMZ, Ivey and his wife, Luciaetta, petitioned for divorce in December 2009. The couple wed in 2002 and had no children as part of their marriage.