This week’s classic Poker After Dark episode features two of the biggest names ever to sit down and play a hand of poker. They’re also two of the biggest all-time winners of World Series of Poker bracelets. Oh, and they’re also both called Phil.
It’s Ivey vs Hellmuth in another fantastic cash game showdown. It doesn’t take long for the sparks to fly, recriminations to explode from the Poker Brat’s mouth and even an exclusive Phil Ivey anecdote about Hellmuth to get an airing in the Director’s cut interview after the hand. It all goes on PokerGO.
Like everyone in poker, I’m fascinated by both players. I’ve only met Hellmuth, but Phil Ivey is a legend to anyone getting into the game. Dubbed the ‘Tiger Woods of Poker’, I always thought this ran Ivey down more than built him up – the man is too good to be compared or named as anyone else. Would Roger Federer be called the Lionel Messi of Tennis? No, he’s just Roger Federer. Ivey is Ivey, and his name is more than enough to carry his legend. Hellmuth, of course, is completely different to Ivey, and therein lies the fascination with this clash between the Poker Brat and Ivey. When I met Hellmuth two years ago, I wrote a piece about him taming the brattishness that has made his name. He hasn’t changed, and we all love him for it!
While both men have a well-known reputation in poker history almost thirty years since the first of them won their first of 15 WSOP bracelets, it took time for both men to establish themselves. Hellmuth lost to Johnny Chan a year before he beat him heads-up while Phil Ivey grinded in Atlantic City prior to turning 21, earning him the nickname ‘No Home Jerome’ for seemingly not having a home and living at the casino.
Jerome also happens to be the middle name of a certain Mr. Hellmuth, so the Phils have that in common too. But where are the differences in character? Phil Hellmuth has been married to a psychiatrist for 27 years in 2019. Ivey divorced after seven years of marriage in 2009. There’s one disparity. But perhaps the biggest difference has been to what both men have aspired to achieve in poker.
If Phil Hellmuth’s maiden WSOP bracelet was, by definition, his most important – it was the WSOP Main Event against Johnny Chan, after all – then his legacy has been built painstakingly upon that strong foundation. Over the past 30 years, Hellmuth has averaged a bracelet every couple of years to rack up 15 of them. By comparison, Ivey, who won his maiden WSOP event in 2000, has clocked up 10 WSOP bracelets. Also impressive, of course, but is it enough? Could, even should, Ivey have won more? Many in the industry believe so, and I’m one of them. I’m not criticizing his record in any tournament – Ivey plays almost impeccable poker. But I wish he’d played more of them. So do most of us, with Ivey’s WSOP comeback worthy of a letter from the heart when he returned to the RIO last year.
I was editor of BLUFF Europe Magazine when the news of Phil Ivey’s trial in London broke. Crockfords Casino, owned by Genting Casino, wasn’t letting Ivey cash out his £7.7million winnings from a game of Punto Banco. Edge-sorting was the reason. There were internal meetings about how much to cover the court case, what our ‘take’ on it should be. But my personal opinion on it all was just sadness. Sadness at the fact that Ivey wasn’t interested in playing WSOP bracelet events, focusing on carving out the tournament legacy his incredible skills deserved but instead finding an edge in the design of playing cards to make a few easier million.
Before last year’s epic WSOP return, like most poker fans, I’d almost given up hope that Ivey would seriously challenge Phil Hellmuth’s poker legacy for bracelet wins. But Ivey was back, and not just in the Main Event or the $50k Poker Player’s Championship. He played $2,500 Mixed Game events, he got down in the dirt and traded blows. Hellmuth’s 15 WSOP bracelets are merited. He’s earned them, putting the time in over the years, enduring long, hard summers of bricking when approaching final tables, of not even cashing in dozens of events than getting up the next day to do it all again. For a long time, Phil Ivey didn’t put those hours in, but he may do in the future. I hope so because it really is up to him to choose what his legacy is – he’s that good.
Hellmuth and Ivey may well clash in a future Poker After Dark episode. But for now, I’m digging into the hours and hours of On Demand shows available on PokerGO. It’s great to see the two Phils mixing it up. Watch more from Phil Ivey right here.