Last week, I wrote about how Phil Ivey was rendering my opinions on him to mud. I owned up to my wrongs and admitted full-out that Ivey is the best player in the world, is unstoppable, jumps tall buildings with a single bound and so on. The man obviously obtains an unbelievable amount of talent at the table, regardless of what you think of him away from it. With the success he's had at the 2012 World Series of Poker, I'd have to know that ever doubting him again would make me look pretty foolish, right?
Well, let's give this one more try.
I've been engaged in a debate for the past few days that was inspired by a Facebook message I received. I was asked what odds I'd put on Ivey to win One Drop, assuming he was going to win. I threw out 30-1 initially, but later I adjusted that estimate and figured it was more like 20-1 or 25-1, somewhere in the range of double the chance of the average player to win the tournament. After all, there are 26 other professional poker players registered, and that's not including the satellite winners who will be clearing incredible gauntlets to earn their spot in this prestigious event. Call it 28.
I kept chewing on the question and opted to take it to Twitter. I asked what I'd been asked: What are the odds of Phil Ivey winning One Drop? The answers that came back were pretty astounding. Even after discarding the high and low answers, figure skating-style, I was still looking at a bunch of 7-1, 8-1 and 10-1 answers. No, I don't buy that it's even close to that, but given the small sample size of my responses, I wasn't satisfied. I took it a step further, asking on Twitter, "Am I the only one who isn't convinced Phil Ivey is the favorite to win a no-limit hold 'em tournament full of no-limit hold 'em specialists?"
And apparently I am.
That's not to say I don't see it as feasible. First and foremost, Ivey is Ivey, the best poker player on the planet. He's midway through a WSOP in which he has five final tables and another cash for good measure. He's not going to be intimidated by the stakes in the way some of the pros will. He's got cash-game experience playing at these kinds of levels and he has an oft-cited history of non-WSOP no-limit hold 'em tournament success. Wrap that all up and you have a pretty good argument, I get that. It's the quick-draw responses I wasn't so convinced by, because there are at least a few arguments against the man as the favorite to take down the $18,600,000 first prize. Here's what I've come up with:
His WSOP hold 'em record
I'm actually not too fond of this argument, but in the list of Ivey's eight bracelet wins, there isn't a "hold 'em" to be found. Maybe it's just chaos creating patterns. After all, he has a WPT win amongst his nine final tables there. Thing is, one win came 54 months ago, in 2008, and his only multi-table hold 'em win since was at Aussie Millions this year, and event that had -- wait for it -- two tables! If you want more than two tables, the last no-limit hold 'em tournament he won before that WPT win was in 2005.
I think the money involved in this tournament is obviously a game-changer, and it's likely to keep Phil much more engaged than he usually is for a hold 'em tournament, but there's a pattern there that is hard to ignore. WSOP structures are slow, a good kind of painful, and the lack of variety might be a factor in keeping his attention, too. Again, I think the stakes involved will keep Ivey's focus, but that doesn't mean we should ignore his track record. He has never won a hold 'em event at WSOP, and this is his 12th year playing (2011 omitted).
This is somewhat a continuation of the WSOP argument. Ask any member of the poker media to tell you about how Phil Ivey plays Day 1 of your typical $10,000 and they will tell you about the massages, about the prop bets he has on whatever sporting event is on and about the fact he'll watch a TV that's broadcasting that event more than he will his table.
Ivey is known far and wide for his intensity and his excellence, so why have we seen him fold a flush at showdown in the WSOP? It may just be that he's human, but considering we're talking about a guy who is so often described as a machine, you have to wonder if the tedium of 15 levels of one game might just cause some lapses.
A master of all games
Simply put, Phil Ivey plays every game under the sun and the vast majority of those 28 pros focus at least the majority of their attention on hold 'em. Ivey's game transcends fundamentals, but he's not actively looking to expand his knowledge base. Most of those 28 are no-limit hold 'em specialists who are constantly looking to improve their knowledge of a singular game they've dedicated their lives to. It strikes me as doubtful Ivey is the best hold 'em player in the tournament, though it's obviously an endless debate.
In that article referenced in the opening paragraph, I detailed Ivey's amazing WSOP. He's played 27 events, he'd played five final tables his life was poker 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Impressive stuff. One problem, though, you can't live like that forever. Ivey is 36 years old, and while he's kept that kind of pace through WSOPs before, it might not be as easy as it once was. Since that article was posted on June 22, Ivey hasn't sniffed another final table, hardly a crime given the span of a whole eight days, but it is at least conceivable that he's burning out a little. We're a month into the WSOP marathon and there haven't been a whole lot of breaks. I can't help but wonder if Ivey might be running out of steam, if only just a little.
The biggest target of them all
The reality is that if you're a professional poker player and your name isn't Andy Frankenberger, you don't run headlong into Phil Ivey. Pros play him with just a touch of fear, because they know that stare can see their souls and because his legend casts an awfully intimidating shadow. Thing is, he's not just playing against the pros this time around.
In a 48-player field with 29 pros, there are 19 wild cards. Those are guys who play casually and for whom $1,000,000 isn't what it is to us. At least some of those guys are hungry for poker glory. With national television cameras trained on them there's a real chance that some of these guys will take aim at the biggest star of them all, Ivey. Ask any world champ what it's like to have the field constantly trying to pick off your bluffs, or hit you with one of their own. It doesn't make poker a whole lot easier. I'd say it's pretty likely that Ivey's minefield will be more treacherous than many of the other pros, especially in the early going when the amateurs are alive and the pros are racing to build their stacks off businessman carcasses.
Look, the arguments for Ivey being the favorite are strong ones. He's the best poker player in the world and he's played at these limits before. I get that. I'm not saying any of that is wrong, nor am I saying he's not amongst the favorites.
What I am saying is that with guys like Erik Seidel (experienced, used to the stakes, too many no-limit tournament wins to count) and Tom Dwan (plays with Ivey's feel with a lot more hold 'em hands logged) and hold 'em beasts like Eugene Katchalov, Jason Mercier, Jonathan Duhamel, Bertrand Grospellier, Sam Trickett, Tom Marchese -- and that list just goes on and on -- there is some incredible competition for Ivey in this event. I see the points, but I just wouldn't be so quick to assume Phil Ivey is the man to beat in the Big One for One Drop.
Of course, he could prove me wrong, and his failure to do so wouldn't prove anything anyway. It's one tournament and variance is king. Maybe I'm just saying that, though, so he won't make me look bad. Again.
Sound off in the comments section. Is Ivey the favorite? What are his chances of winning the Big One for One Drop?