Las Vegas, NV
I stood in the longest domestic security line that I had ever encountered at JFK's JetBlue terminal and in order to save my sanity at 5:30am ET, I was constantly refreshing the live updates of Event #37 $3,000 HORSE. Phil Ivey had made a final table that was certainly no pushover with Bill Chen, John Juanda, 2009 Player of the Year Jeff Lisandro, and David "Not Bakes" Baker all in a pursuit of a bracelet.
Whenever Ivey goes deep in a WSOP event, the vuvuzelas are sounded and everyone and their mother comes out of the wood work, drops what they are doing, and flocks to the Rio to sweat the Man, the Myth, and the Legend himself.
How about another sports cliche? Ivey is the best there is, the best there was, the best there will ever be.
Ivey lacks the competitive fire to play tournaments because they are a waste of time compared to his hourly win rate at cash games (either the nosebleed games on Full Tilt or The Big Game played at the Bellagio, although now, the Aria has successfully seduced Ivey's attention). That's why Ivey needs incentive to play tournaments.
Howard Lederer and Ivey have bracelet prop bets with gross figures that make your head spin. We know that Ivey's affinity for tremendous sums of money is what drives him to achieve his best, so he needed something extra (er, millions of dollars) to motivate him to get up, drive to the Rio, grind it out with the unwashed masses for a dozen hours a day, fight off the autograph seekers, decline all the broke dicks that want a stake, blow off all the media pestering him for an interview, and at the same time keeping track of all of his bracelet bets, prop bets, and sports betting wagers.
The Life of Ivey isn't as cush as you think. It's a full time job. I wonder if Howard Lederer purposely dangled a few million in front of Ivey more as a business decision than a personal challenge of $5 million between two friends. The millions in incentives in the form of prop bets would ensure that Ivey made a cameo at the Rio everyday -- essentially a walking, talking, breathing advertisement for Full Tilt Poker. It's actually an elaborate marketing strategy -- which is obviously working because that's all we seem to talk about in the media these days -- million dollar bracelet prop bets.
There are stars in poker, and then there are superstars, and then there's Phil Ivey. He's the tip of the sword and in a class by himself. Fuck the Tiger Woods of Poker, Ivey is the Picasso of Poker, the Mozart of Poker, and Atilla the Hun of Poker all rolled into one.
When the 2010 WSOP schedule was set, I don't think anyone expected that an innocuous $3,000 buy-in mixed games event would become one of the biggest story of the WSOP (at the least, big enough to have that story rattle around the echo chamber for a week until some other salacious bit of industry gossip grabs a hold of everyone's loins). That's part of the reason I skipped town when I did to take a break. Sure, you never know with poker tournaments, but I was gambling that I wouldn't miss anything this weekend based on the schedule. Of course, I was wrong and failed to take into account the Ivey factor -- that in any given tournament, Ivey is a threat to at least make the final table. Shit, Ivey wins a high percentage of the WSOP final tables that he makes. In short -- Ivey is what we call a closer. And bracelets are for closers.
Ivey's most impressive feat is that he beat a computer heads-up to win. If you don't know, Bill Chen is actually a robot. He's not human, which is funny that he's considered a "friend of PokerStars." Therein lies the truth. Since 2004, I've read almost every single book about poker that's been published and when I came across Mathematics of Poker, I was dumbfounded. Actually, I was Chenfounded. I had no fucking clue what was going on and I pride myself on being somewhat math-oriented as an archdiocese math champion in 6th and 8th grades during Catholic school. Yet, I still had no idea what Chen was talking about. He is operating on such a higher level of intelligence that I was initially convinced that he's an alien. I have a theory that we're not alone in the universe and that some humans are actually alien-hybrids (like Sam Cassel, Bjork, and Dakota Fanning for example) that were a part of a vast DNA-cross-breeding-experiment. After a while, I dismissed Chen as an alien because I had never seen him consume food or liquids. That's when it was obvious... Bill Chen was a supercomputer shoved into the body of a nerdy-looking Chinese dude.
The Chen-2000 Supercomputer
I used to play a little chess when I was younger. I even taught chess to inner city kids for a short stint. For the last two or three decades, an ongoing debate has been raging in the chess community -- is a computer smarter than a human? In 1996, Garry Kasparov took the Pepsi Challenge and played Deep Blue, the most sophisticated piece of hardware that came originated deep from the bowels of IBM's R&D department. Kasparov proved that humans still had the juice and beat the computer in a highly publicized match. The two would play again a year later, but that time, Kasparov didn't fare as well and claimed foul play.
"So fucking rigged," he said.
Sound familiar? It used to be chess, but now it's poker. Anyone who plays online poker at some point has the one moment of suspicious paranoia at least once in their lives after being brutally sucked out on the river. How could the machines not be conspiring against us?
In the ongoing hot war between man vs. machine, the war shifted locales. The new battlefield was the Rio. The combatants -- Phil Ivey and the Bill Chen Supercomputer. When heads-up began, Chen had a 4-1 lead. Ivey eventually evened the playing field and finally took the lead. At that point, I had to shut off my CrackBerry as my flight to Vegas was about to take off. Once we were airborne, I lacked an internet connection. I'm a fan of Murphy's Law, which also seems to conspire against me. I knew that Ivey would win the bracelet while I was in the air, because had I been there live, he would have lost. Alas, Murphy's Law. I accepted that fate and started to pen this piece while hurtling through space at 35,000 feet. At the worst, I'd have a DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN on my hands if Chen came from behind to beat Ivey. Well, more like, COMPUTER BEATS SUPERMAN.
As it was supposed to happen, Ivey defeated Bill Chen and won his 8th bracelet at a final table of a tournament that not too many people even knew existed until they heard Ivey was making a deep run.
Now, the likes of Howard Lederer, Tom Dwan, and other high-stakes pros are sweating their ongoing and open bets with Ivey. At this point in the series, it seems improbable to win a second bracelet, but then again, he is Phil Ivey. He just smashed the most intelligent computer on the planet.
So how long will it take before Ivey catches Phil Hellmuth for most bracelets? I can see Hellmuth winning 13 before he's done. Will Ivey catch him before that? Or will Ivey have to wait until 2015 to hold the "most bracelets" title to add to his already impressive resume?
Scary thing is this -- what if Ivey played more events in the last five years under similar proposition gambling circumstances? Would we be writing about Ivey passing Hellmuth at this point?
Day 25 of the 2010 WSOP belonged to Phil Ivey -- the day that man officially beat the machines. Now what's next? Will Bill Chen have to send a Terminator back in time to Atlantic City in the early 1990s to rub out the skinny kid named "Jerome" who frequented stud cash games at the Taj?
Ivey 1, Machines 0.
Photos courtesy of Harper & Benjo.