IVEY LEAGUE: A ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEW WITH THE WORLD'S BEST POKER PLAYER PHIL IVEY

JULY 10, 2012 - 10:46:31 AM PST   |   Nolan Dalla

IVEY LEAGUE: A ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEW WITH THE WORLD'S BEST POKER PLAYER PHIL IVEY
Photo by Jay WhoJedi Newnum
 
IVEY TALKS:  PHIL'S FIRST SIT DOWN INTERVIEW IN THREE YEARS
 
Phil Ivey defies description, but we’ll try.  He's been called....“The Tiger Woods of Poker.” “The World’s Greatest Poker Player.” “A Modern-Day Stu Ungar – Without the Baggage.” “Poker’s Most Secretive and Mysterious Figure.”
 
All these depictions fit.  But they also lack any sense of revelation into who this man really is, why he is what he is, and what makes him tick.
 
Okay – perhaps bundles of cash, winning gold bracelets, and high-stakes action makes him tick, at least tick a little faster, but the Ivey clock doesn’t run on conventional time.  In fact, Ivey's time never runs out.  The Ivey watch never strikes midnight.  Indeed, this is Ivey's time in poker history.  We are living in the Ivey era.
 
Earlier this month, Ivey sat down for a rare one-on-one interview at the 2012 World Series of Poker, which is currently taking place at the Rio in Las Vegas.  Ivey was eager to talk about what he knows best – poker.  More specifically, he was willing to share thoughts on how he so often manages to out-think just about every opponent he faces.  He also freely discussed his future challenges ahead.
 
The WSOP’s Nolan Dalla met Ivey in his private trailer, nestled in the parking lot aside the mammoth tournament area at the Rio after receiving a text message which read:  "Meet me in my RV at 6:50.  It's the one parked behind the black Rolls Royce."
 
Perhaps the WSOP should be renamed "Ivey-Land."

Nolan Dalla:  Phil, this seems like a bad time to do your first interview with us in three years.  You just busted out of a $10,000 buy-in tournament [the $10,000 Six-Handed No-Limit Hold'em Championship]. How do you feel when you bust out? What goes through your mind?

Phil Ivey: What goes through my mind? Well, I think about the way I played.  I think about all of the hands I played throughout the tournament in terms of what I could have played differently.  And, you know, it takes about 10-15 minutes to recover, depending on the size of the tournament and how I’m playing and how I’m feeling.

Dalla: I’d like to discuss the word you just used, which is recover. Do you mean recover in terms of disappointment or in terms of putting things in context of 'I should have played differently'?

Ivey: Recover in terms of disappointment. Every tournament I enter, I’m trying to win.  So, when I get knocked out it’s definitely a disappointing feeling.

Dalla: If you’re knocked out of a $1,500 or $2,500 buy-in tournament, that’s like $50 to most people.  I mean, it’s not the money.  So, why are you disappointed, since there’s just going to be another tournament held the next day?

Ivey: Because I want to win every tournament I enter. That’s the bottom line. I mean, when I sit down I’m trying to win and when I don’t I’m disappointed.  It’s just the way I am.

Dalla: Do you ever knock yourself in the head in a sense, saying to yourself “I shouldn’t have done this or that,” or “I played that hand completely wrong?” Everybody talks about you’re the best player in the world, but even the best player in the world probably still makes mistakes -- correct?

Ivey: Yes, I make a lot of mistakes.

Dalla: Really? A lot of mistakes? 

Ivey: Well, there are hands that come up that you could have bet different amounts.  You could have re-raised where you didn’t.  You could have checked where you should have bet. There are tons of mistakes every session, even for me. What separates me from a lot of the other players is that I recognize the mistakes when I make them. A lot of the other players don’t recognize when they make mistakes and I think that’s important for improving your game.

Dalla: What about the other very good players? You’re playing at a level that’s even above them. What about that extra step? Do you work extra hard? There are a lot of great players in this game, but you somehow manage to stay above them. What are you doing differently?
 
Ivey: I don’t know. That’s a tough question to answer, you know? I’m lucky to be talented in poker. I play a lot.  I practice a lot. I’m blessed. I don’t really know what ‘they’re’ doing, so to say I’m doing something differently...I’m not too sure how to answer that.  I don’t really know what it is I’m doing differently. I just practice, I think about the game all the time and am continually trying to get better.

Dalla: When you say you think about poker all the time. Are there times that you’re not thinking about poker?
 
Ivey: Sure, I mean there’s times that I’m not thinking about poker, like when I’m playing golf, playing sports, watching movies or spending time with family and friends, there’s those times.  But most of the time I am thinking about poker -- different ways to play hands, people’s expressions when I’m in pots against them, things like that.

Dalla: What were your goals coming into this year’s World Series of Poker?

Ivey: To win. I want to win a tournament, multiple tournaments. But you gotta’ win the first one to win multiple ones. So, I’m just looking to play well and am happy to be back playing again.

Dalla: I have to ask about your absence from last year’s World Series of Poker. What were you thinking in terms of missing the excitement?  Was it tough to be away from all your peers and your friends? 
 
Ivey: It was very tough missing playing the World Series of Poker. I love playing these tournaments and I missed it.

Dalla: Missed it like -- I can’t wait to get back?
 
Ivey: Yeah, I couldn’t wait for the following year. I’m happy to be back playing this year.

Dalla: And then you did come back – and with an absolute vengeance. It’s almost like letting a lion out of a cage. You come out and you just destroy, literally.  Five final tables in a two-week period, which is astonishing considering the field sizes and difficulty. Do you recognize yourself how impressive that is?
 
Ivey: Yeah, I realize it.  I don’t know if it’s ever been done before, but it’s something I’m proud of. I would have liked to have won. It would have been nicer to win five events in two weeks, but it didn’t fall that way.

Dalla: Do you think the 2011 layoff helped your game?
 
Ivey: No, I don’t think it helped or hurt it. I’ve been playing poker my whole life around the clock.  I would say, if anything, it hurt it a little bit. Because when you’re playing poker, you have to be in stroke, especially when you’re playing against really good players. So, when you first come back and you play against players that have been practicing over the last year and have been playing all the time, you have to make some adjustments, figure out what they’re thinking, what they’re doing. Constantly, the game of poker is changing. Players are constantly adjusting and playing better and better so you have to keep up with the curve.

Dalla: Five final table appearances. Can you take satisfaction in accomplishments like that or is it just about the gold bracelet?
 
Ivey: It’s all about winning.
 
Dalla: Second place -- you can’t take any satisfaction from that?
 
Ivey: No, I don’t get any satisfaction from second place at all.

Dalla: The players that you played against -- any particular players that surprised you or impressed you?
 
Ivey: There were a ton of players that impressed me.
 
Dalla: Anybody that you want to call out by name?
 
Ivey: No, because they don’t need to know that they impressed me.

Dalla: You’re one of the most famous poker players in the world. Do you follow the game? Aside from what you do, aside from the hands you play, aside from the times that you’re engaged in the game -- do you look on the Internet?  For instance, do you care who’s winning the Big One, which is happening right now? (Note this interview was conducted while the Big One for One Drop was still ongoing)

Ivey: I’m watching the Big One, because I just got eliminated yesterday, and it’s on TV. It’s kind of affecting how I’m playing too. I’m seeing the guys at the final table, and I’m like ‘Man I really wish I was there.’ It’s kind of like a sick feeling watching these guys play because I’m just wishing so badly that I was there playing. I would say overall I don’t really follow poker on my downtime because there’s a lot of other things I’d rather be doing.

Dalla: Do you ever watch poker on ESPN? You can’t turn on ESPN without seeing a WSOP encore show, including yourself in a lot of the segments. Do you ever tune in?
 
Ivey: Yeah once in a while, it’s nice to see the old shows and watch the young and upcoming players and stuff like that. I pay attention.

Dalla: When you see yourself appear on TV in like 2005 -- are you the same guy that was there five or six years ago? Or do you think you’ve changed?
 
Ivey: We all change. As you get older, you mature, things change in your life, and you change as a person, but I still love to play poker. I mean I wish this World Series of Poker was going every day, 365 days a year, I’d play every day. I love it. I’m happy to be a part of it.

Dalla: Are there any players you particularly root for? You certainly have many friends and people that you care about in this game.

Ivey: I always root for Jennifer Harman. She’s one of my favorite poker players. Barry Greenstein. Patrik Antonius. So you know, I have my favorite poker players too.

Dalla: Which is better – beating one of them heads-up for a gold bracelet, or to see them win one?
 
Ivey: I’d rather see them win one.

Dalla: Recently, you were playing heads-up for a gold bracelet and in the next room was Phil Hellmuth winning his 12th gold bracelet. That was a very memorable night. But you had more fans at your stage than Hellmuth, which was interesting. Were you aware of the historical significance going on in the other room?
 
Ivey: Yes I was aware of that. I know he was getting ready to take the lead for the most bracelets won, which is a big deal. I congratulated him. I was really impressed. He’s been playing very well this year. It just really made it tougher to come in second at that event. Now, I have four more bracelets to go to catch him.

ND: We just discussed how Hellmuth is now four ahead of you. Do you really believe you can catch Hellmuth? Can you still be the all-time leader in the gold bracelet category?
 
Ivey: Yes, I believe I can catch him.

Dalla: How many do you think you’re going to have? ‘Thirty’ was the answer you gave me three years ago. I’m doing the math on this. Do you think you can get 30?
 
Ivey: If the World Series of Poker is still here, and I’m still alive, I think I will have 30 bracelets. That’s what I believe.

Dalla: The One Drop. This is a special moment in poker history. I know you’re disappointed that you busted out of it.  But, what’s it like to play in that event?
 
Ivey: It’s amazing. It’s unbelievable. They call you out. It’s a big entrance into the tournament. There’s a bunch of great players, businessmen, everybody puts in a million dollars. It’s like so much excitement. Then when you sit down there’s just so much intensity from the beginning. Everyone’s trying their hearts out. It’s an unbelievable tournament to be a part of and the One Drop charity is such a good cause.

Dalla: There are about seven or eight gold bracelet events left this year including WSOP Europe coming in September in Cannes, France.  Right now, let’s say you had a choice to either be one of the 2012 November Nine, this year.  Or, you can win a gold bracelet in some other event.  Which would you chose?
 
Ivey: I’d rather be one of the November Nine -- because it’s a Main Event. It’s the biggest event in poker.

Dalla: Talk about that relationship you have with your fans. I think they’d like to hear how you feel about being a subject of admiration.
 
Ivey: It’s amazing. When I started playing poker, I started playing in pizzerias and people’s houses. Then all of a sudden you put it on TV and now people recognize me on the street. I’m just appreciative of any fan that I have. When I get stopped, I try to be friendly and giving of my time to meet fans. It’s nice to have fans.

Dalla: I’ve seen this with people like Doyle and yourself. I see them just mob Doyle. Sometimes he can’t even get to his car without … it’s almost like poker’s version of the Beatles….
 
Ivey: Hold on, hold on a sec. It’s not like that. It’s only like that here at the World Series of Poker. If I’m in a mall, if I’m walking down the street, I never really get that. People that play poker, they recognize me and they say, 'Hey how you doing.' I get it somewhat, but it’s not really like I’m Tom Cruise.

Dalla: I didn’t know that.
 
Ivey: You didn’t know that?

Dalla: No, I just assumed you would get recognized everywhere, especially in Las Vegas.  
 
Ivey: It may be like that at the World Series of Poker, but on a given day in the street it is not like that, you know what I mean?

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Nolan Dalla – WSOP.com Senior Writer


About the author: Nolan Dalla's work is found all over WSOP.com, as he is the Senior Writer for poker's longest-running poker series and has contributed to the site since 2005.

He is also the longtime Media Director of the World Series of Poker. He's become the lone link from poker's modern age back to the old days when the WSOP was played at Binion's Horseshoe – where Dalla served as the casino's Director of Public Relations.
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