We know Phil Ivey is now playing for the most coveted prize in poker, the WSOP Main Even bracelet. What we don’t know much about is Ivey’s personal life, until now. Ivey allowed ESPN’s E60 crew to follow him around the globe from north America to Europe for a busy four days in September.
The first stop was Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. Ivey ignored the lavish villa prepared for him and proceeded to bet up to $50,000 on craps before leaving on his private plane. Rhyeem McCutchen, Ivey’s childhood friend, knows firsthand Ivey did not start out living the high life. Both grew up in Roselle, New Jersey where Ivey worked at a McDonald’s restaurant and shot dice in the bathroom to earn money.
After graduating from high school Ivey took a job as a telemarketer, but soon began to play poker in Atlantic City for days at a time. Phil Ivey developed a love for poker at the age of 8. To escape the heat of his parents home, which wasn’t air conditioned, Ivey would sneak downstairs where his grandpa lived. His grandpa taught him the game and Phil took an immediate liking to it. Eight year old Ivey loved poker, despite the fact he was playing for mere pennies and his grandpa was cheating him. Ivey’s grandpa cheated in an attempt discourage Phil from gambling.
Unfortunately, love for something doesn’t translate to immediate success. Ivey admits when he was 18 he sometimes lost all his money during the night at the casinos and was forced to sleep under Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. Ivey described waking up to the sun as a “disgusting feeling.” Despite the setbacks, Ivey was determined to make a living at poker and expressed his desire to be unlike his parents, working 9-5 jobs.
The crews next stop was the Casino de Montreal in Canada. Ivey nonchalantly wrote a check for one million dollars in chips so he could play on another private high stakes craps table. Ivey started out down $365,000 but soon was up to $1.500,000. Ivey allowed a member of the E 60 crew toss the dice for him, but he lost, costing Ivey $240,000. Despite the loss, Ivey finished up $750,000 in about half an hour of play.
At the age of 21 Ivey moved to Las Vegas to become a professional poker player. In just three years Phil Ivey amassed $550,000 by winning 4 WSOP bracelets. Not feeling satisfied, Ivey decided to play in a high stakes cash game at the Hustler Casino near Los Angeles. The pots in these high stakes games could be massive, reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars. Phil was soon down to the last $50,000 and called his friend McCutchen to sit behind him for his last stand. McCutchen conveyed to E 60 that Ivey was going to quit poker if he lost that last $50,000 to his name. That day Ivey destroyed the opposition, like he did in the WSOP tournaments, and finished with about two million dollars.
Amsterdam was the E 60 crews third stop. Phil expressed to the crew that today was a day off, which meant no gambling of any kind. The crew simply wandered around, taking in the sights and sounds of the beautiful city in the Netherlands.
Ivey continued to destroy Las Vegas cash games and tournaments. In 2006, Ivey and a group of players, deemed the Corporation, pooled their money together to each play billionaire Andy Beal heads up. In three days Ivey earned the group $16,600,000. The magnanimous Ivey bought his mother a condo, and provided his sister enough money to go to college and law school. Phil got a little something for himself too, a half-million Mercedes-McClaren SLR sports car.
The final stop for the E60 crew was an arena in Salzurg, Austria where Ivey was promoting Full Tilt poker. Thousands of fans cheered when he was introduced. He signed autographs and took pictures which could become more valuable if Ivey takes down the Main Event back in Las Vegas.
Phil Ivey has gone from sitting under the dark and cold boardwalk to sitting under the warm bright lights of the Main Event Final Table. His Main Event victory would be incredible, never has such a big name navigated its way to victory in a nearly 6500 player field. With all the obstacles Phil Ivey has overcome, it may be unwise to bet against him, it may be destiny.