Las Vegas, NV
Editor's Note: Hey kids. I'm still on the road. Will be back to Vegas shortly. For now, I'd like to introduce someone that really needs no introduction. BJ Nemeth is one of the best in the business at poker reporting. If I had to start a Hall of Fame of poker writers, BJ Nemeth would get the first nod (along with Andy Glazer and Mike Paulle).
These are the nights that you never forget. These are the nights that wind up in a book like "Lost Vegas." This was the night that Phil Ivey won his sixth WSOP bracelet -- and untold millions in side bets.
There was an unusual vibe in the ESPN final table arena, partially because ESPN wasn't there. Fortunately for fans around the world, Bluff had cameras set up to stream the final table online, and they made the risky -- but genius -- decision to *not* use any commentators. They just let the cameras run with whatever sound came from the table. With a game like deuce-to-seven draw, there's not really a lot to talk about anyway.
Unlike no-limit hold'em, deuce-to-seven isn't a fan-friendly game; there's no board for the audience to look at and only two rounds of betting. Some players consider it to be one of the most pure forms of poker you'll ever play; with so little information, reads become that much more important. Any donkey can figure out and play hold'em, and get lucky and win. Those donkeys would be completely lost in deuce-to-seven.
The final table area was reasonably full of fans, but there were some empty seats available. Most in the audience were confused, unsure of the game they were watching, but they felt compelled to be there. The audience was quiet even when Ivey would win a pot, and the only time there was a crowd reaction was after an all-in situation -- resulting in either a double up or a bustout.
Surprisingly, there were only one or two pros in attendance. The night before, when Steve Sung won the Stimulus Event ($1,000 No-Limit Hold'em), the stands were packed with players like Erick Lindgren, J.C. Tran, Nam Le, and about a dozen others. Steve Sung is a great guy, but let's face it, he's no Ivey. Yet the only two players I saw in the stands were Paul Darden and Allen Cunningham (and his photographer girlfriend Melissa Hayden).
Why weren't any of the other big pros there? A simple reason -- they didn't want Ivey to win.
Photo by Flipchip
You may have heard that Ivey bet a lot of money on himself to win a bracelet at last year's WSOP, and he came up short. (His best finish was 9th.) Rumors swirled that he increased the action on himself this year in a wider variety of bets. There were the standard bets on whether or not he would win a bracelet, and he also has several head-to-head bets with players like Erick Lindgren to see who could win more bracelets. (So those players still have a chance to tie Ivey by winning a bracelet of their own this year -- which could save them hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.)
For the record, Allen Cunningham was in the stands because he's a friend and he didn't bet against Ivey. Again, Cunningham proves he's one of the smartest poker players in the world.
So the fans were confused and the pros weren't there -- sounds like a pretty lackluster crowd. But Media Row was *electric.* WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack was there, of course, as was one of the non-player bigwigs from Full Tilt. Joe Sebok and Amanda Leatherman were there, with Amanda sending out the official Twitter messages for Ivey. (If you see something from @PhilIvey, and it's signed by "Team Ivey," then it's likely from Amanda.) Bluff's top brass showed up, excited that this final table was being streamed on their website and not on ESPN 360. And a variety of other reporters were there in standing room only, taking advantage of their press passes to witness history.
Media Row was packed because unlike the audience, we all knew the stakes. Officially, first prize in this event was a paltry $96,361 -- at least, that's what it would have been for the other guys. But poker insiders knew Ivey could potentially make 100x that much -- around $10 million.
You'll hear a lot of numbers thrown around about how much Phil Ivey won in side bets. The number I heard most often was $10 million. The number Melissa Hayden confidently gave me was $5 million, but she may not have known about all the action he had on himself. I have a reliable source (one that Pauly uses as well) that heard Phil Ivey say last night that it was $12 million. So that's the number I'm going with until I hear it from the man himself.
Whatever the final number, this ultimately turned out to be the biggest tournament score in poker history. And there are now rumors that Ivey is betting on himself to win another bracelet this year at increased odds. (Not sure who would take those odds, but there are probably some players eager to recover their losses from this bracelet.)
With one bracelet already under his belt this year, and big money being bet on a second, Ivey is the early favorite in the WSOP Player of the Year race. While few people paid much attention to POY points in the past, that won't be the case this year -- some of the biggest prop bets among the top players (particularly Daniel Negreanu and Erick Lindgren) are based on who scores the most POY points.
By betting POY points instead of just bracelets, it changes the entire dynamics of what these guys are playing for -- I've never seen Daniel Negreanu celebrate the money bubble bursting until a few days ago in the $10,000 Seven Card Stud event. It was surreal to say the least, as he was as excited as a midwestern donkey cashing in his first WSOP event.
I won't get into the full details of the POY points bets until my next Tao of Poker blog, which will be a recap of the first dozen days of the WSOP. But that's just around the corner, so stay tuned.
BJ Nemeth is originally from Atlanta, GA. He's the lead tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour. He's also a key contributor over at Poker Road. Check out his sensational WSOP photos.
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