In an article she wrote for The Guardian in the United Kingdom, British poker semi-professional Victoria Coren-Mitchell compared 10-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Phil Ivey to one of the living legends of tennis, Roger Federer. Interestingly enough, Ivey is currently prepping for a return to the tournament poker world in 2018 that he is hoping will return him to his once lofty perch in the game.
Coren-Mitchell, the only two-time Main Event champion on the now-defunct European Poker Tour, was writing about Ivey’s recent legal situation with a casino in London and regaled readers with her first meeting against arguably one of the best players in the game. “The first time I played poker against him, I think he found me a little unsettling. People do, the first time,” Coren-Mitchell wrote. “In Phil’s case, I don’t think it’s just that I was female – which is what throws most people – but that I was female and making jokes.”
She continued, “As I chattered and quipped, Phil stared coolly across the baize. ‘What is all this high-pitched noise?’ I could hear him thinking. ‘Is she ill? Is she mad? Is this some sort of complicated bluff?’ And then…gradually…‘Oh! I think she means to be funny.’”
Coren-Mitchell then makes what is obviously an apt comparison in saying, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m a good poker player. But I’m a sort of Tim Henman to Phil Ivey’s Roger Federer. He’s a magical player, a sparkling player. He makes performance art out of the equation between maths and psychology. It’s like he can see your cards.” Returning to her story, she lays out the eventual outcome, “It took Phil about half an hour. Then he laughed, relaxed and – although he continued to regard me throughout the match the way you might an oddly spotted woodpecker – I didn’t win another hand off him for the rest of the day.”
The reason for Coren-Mitchell’s admiring article was the contention of some that Ivey was a cheater because a U. K. court found that he deceived Crockfords in London by utilizing advantage play against them while playing punto banco (to the tune of £7.7 million). “What is cheating?” Coren-Mitchell asks. “Phil and his partner noticed that Crockfords was using cards with an asymmetrical pattern on the back. Persuading the croupier to turn some of them upside down “for luck” – which was eagerly agreed, as the house anticipated fat losses from this pair of visiting rubes – he could basically tell what was coming off the deck.”
“No touching, smuggling or bribing; he acted openly,” Coren-Mitchell concluded. “Any clever person could see the situation. It just so happened that the cleverest person in the room was Phil Ivey. As usual.”
The Crockfords case has kept Ivey away from the tournament poker tables, but that could be changing. According to veteran poker writer Marty Derbyshire, Ivey is set to make his return to the tournament felt in the upcoming year. Derbyshire reports that Ivey will play “more live events” in 2018, although he was vague as to which ones. Previously Ivey enjoyed trips to Melbourne for the Aussie Millions (in fact, his last major score was at the 2015 Aussie Millions $250,000 (Australian) LK Boutique Challenge for $1.7 million), but he’s also shown up on the World Poker Tour circuit (where he has a record 10 final tables and one WPT championship) and the WSOP (where he is tied for second in all-time bracelets with Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan and trails only Phil Hellmuth), so any are likely candidates for Ivey to make a big splash.
If he is to return to the tournament grind in the coming year, he’ll be well-inspired by what has passed since his last big win in Australia. Ivey has won almost $24 million in his tournament poker career, but he has seen players like newcomers Fedor Holz (#5) and Dan Colman (#3) pass him on the all-time money list. Then there’s his old contemporaries such as Daniel Negreanu (#1), Erik Seidel (#2) and Antonio Esfandiari (#4) who sit above him on the rankings.
No doubt about it, the tournament poker world is more interesting when Phil Ivey is a part of it. Now it’s just a case of whether the player that many consider the “best ever” will follow through on his statements.