Born in Riverside California, in 1976, Phil Ivey has become one of the fiercest forces in poker. He actually grew up in New Jersey and was taught to play poker at eight years old by his grandfather, who hoped to teach him a lesson about gambling. By 16, Ivey was playing in backroom games for real money and by 18, he had acquired a fake ID for $50 and playing in Atlantic City at live tables. The ID, which came from a man named Jerome Graham, earned Ivey the nickname “No Home Jerome” at the casinos because he spent so much time there.
While he was passionate about the game, he wasn’t a winner right off the bat. He lost a lot and saw times when his power and water were shut off because he couldn’t pay the bills. But that didn’t last for long. He continued playing poker, married Luciaetta, a woman he met at his telemarketing job, and then turned 21. At this point he announced his real name to the staff at the casino and his game improved. At the 2000 WSOP, at the mere age of 24, he finished 5th in the $2,000 No-Limit Texas Hold ‘em event. He then sat down at the $2,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event final table against Amarillo Slim Preston, Phil Hellmuth, and David “Devilfish” Ulliott and brought home his first WSOP bracelet.
At the 2002 WSOP, he took three more gold bracelets one in Seven Card Stud, one in Stud Hi/Lo, and one in SHOE, tying with Ted Forrest and Hellmuth for most wins in one year. In 2005, he won his 5th bracelet in Pot-Limit Omaha, almost halfway to owning the most bracelets of anyone else in WSOP history and not even 30 years old yet. His goal is to win 30 WSOP bracelets.
He missed out on the bracelets in 2006, but finished 2nd in an Omaha Hi/Lo event and 3rd in the $50K HORSE tourney, bringing home more than $800K. He made a comeback in 2009, though, adding two more bracelets to his arm and making the final table of the main event, taking 7th place… there’s always next year.
In addition to WSOP successes, though, he’s made six WPT final tables, had successive wins at the Monte Carlo Millions, Los Angeles’ Commerce Casino, and the Bellagio, seated against such poker greats as Doyle Brunson, Chau Giang, Jennifer Harman, Chip Reese, Ted Forrest, and Barry Greenstein on a regular basis.
In 2007, he outlasted Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, Andy Bloch, and Tony G. on NBC’s Poker After Dark. Howard Lederer says Ivey just might be the best poker in the history of the game and Barry Greenstein says his talent is “unmatched.”
Ivey says, "I'm not a prodigy. I just work at what I do…I work at poker very hard. And I'm always thinking about how I can get better at it."
As Ivey gets older though, and the poker pros seem to just get younger and younger, literally, he’ll have to come to terms with his game at this point in his career. He’s part of an elite group of online high-stakes players; in fact, he’s somewhat the Godfather of the younger sect of the poker community, which is something he may or may not have yet come to terms with.