The Rise and Fall of Phil Ivey

The last few weeks were possibly the first time Phil Ivey has breathed a sigh of relief rather than exasperation for a long time, the legendary poker player winning close to a $million at the WSOP Europe. The past few years, and even months, however, have not been kind to the 42-year old – and here is why…

By: Andrew Burnett

Take a time-machine back to April 2011, a date that seems set to dominate poker history forever, and Phil Ivey was on top of the world.

With $15million+ in live tournament earnings, close to $20million in online winnings on Full Tilt and a stake in the company, Ivey was considered poker’s GOAT in just about every respect.

Eight WSOP gold bracelets studded his resume and the previous summer he topped a public poll for the Tournament of Champions, ahead of fellow legends Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth.

Ivey was, to coin a phrase, on top of the poker world. A reputed $100million fortune, the face of poker and the greatest poker face known to the game.

Fast-forward almost a decade, however, and Ivey’s fortunes have turned upside down.

A costly divorce, lengthy and unsuccessful legal proceedings in two countries, a ‘mere’ two more WSOP bracelets, years in the ‘wilderness’ and news that he is now being staked for the highest buy-in events.

A Costly Divorce

A seemingly amicable, though expensive split from his childhood sweetheart Luciaetta in 2009 was revisited after Black Friday. Massive alimony payments of $180,000 per month may have seemed like pocket change while the Full Tilt money was flowing, but nothing lasts forever.

Ivey had assumed $15.1 million in “gambling and other debt” during the divorce, his ex-wife given millions in jewellery and property over-and-above the monthly stipend.

Ivey’s Baccarat edge Backfires

While some of his poker income may have been cut off, Ivey was still crushing the live tournaments, massive wins at the 2012 Aussie Millions and the following year in Macau, with decent WSOP cashes inbetween.

It was at the gaming tables that Ivey really crushed it, however, his edge-sorting technique leading to $10million Punto Banco wins in both London and Atlantic City. The amazing runs would, however, return to haunt him to this very day.

London’s Crockfords Casino refused to pay out, while the Borgata launched legal action to recover their $10million.
Multiple and hugely expensive trials on both sides of the Atlantic followed, Ivey losing every single battle despite the ‘public’ seeing it as a gambler rightly sticking it to the casino after discovering an edge.

Three years in the Wilderness

While the legal wrangles grinded slowly, for over three years between 2015 and 2018 Ivey avoided the very tournaments he had once crushed.

In the meantime, he played the biggest cash games in Macau, but found time to chuck almost $2.5million into a PokerStars black hole online.

Throw in another $6.32million loss on his post-Black Friday Full Tilt account Polarizing and the online game had just taken back half of Ivey’s remarkable winning run.

There’s no knowing how much Ivey won or lost in the nosebleed Asian cash games, of course, and you’d think he’d have a huge edge over even the best of the ‘whales’, but even one downswing at that level could mean multiple $millions lost to the east winds.

That brings Ivey’s story up to recent times, reappearing at last year’s Triton Poker Montenegro series and landing a couple of massive paydays, with a brief sorte to the WSOP.

The Borgata Bombshell

However, by this time the Borgata were eyeing up whatever remained of Ivey’s wealth, and by the turn of the year they had been allowed to chase the legend into Nevada, after turning up empty-handed in New Jersey.

"Ivey’s holdings have been estimated at $100 million, and the above shows these holdings, at least those that are ascertainable, are based in Nevada,” was the official legal line.

What that meant for Ivey in practice shocked the entire poker world.

This summer’s WSOP saw Ivey cash for over $120k in the PPC, but lawyers for the casino group turned to the Rio, writ in hand, and Ivey hasn’t seen a penny of his money.

Staked by Jungleman?

Stranger still was what followed, with Dan 'Jungleman' Cates and Ilya Trincher filing their own legal claim that they had fully backed Ivey for his WSOP run, and were thus due a chunk of the cash.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, if true and because Ivey couldn’t fund his own buy-ins, it would be an incredible low point for him.

Recently, huge Kings Casino cash came from a €100k buy-in. Ivey’s winnings are safe from any Borgata ambulance-chasing, but then again, in light of his WSOP staking we don’t know how much of it belongs to Phil.

There’s one thing that is certain…Phil Ivey remains a legend, and there are plenty of people across the world willing to stake their reputations and money on him bouncing back from a decade he’d much rather forget.


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