It is an understatement to say that Phil Ivey is a fan favorite in poker. When he shows up for a tournament, poker players want to watch him play, fans want selfies and autographs, and even reporters stalk him around the tournament room.
Not even his involvement with Full Tilt Poker before Black Friday matters to most poker fans. There seems to be nothing that Ivey can do to alienate his vast group of admirers around the world.
But let’s get real. While Ivey’s poker style may be one that many have tried and continue to attempt to emulate, he doesn’t always make life decisions that others should mimic. His rise to poker stardom and business acumen aside, Ivey has a weakness that poker players would be wise to avoid.
The Baccarat Saga
The story has been covered at length, but a quick recap takes us back to 2012. Ivey and friend Cheung Yin Sun were gambling big at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. They played baccarat and used a strategy called edge sorting, which casinos consider cheating but many gamblers do not (similar to card counting in blackjack). The duo won nearly $4.8 million at the tables that night. Over the course of several visits to the casino in 2012 to play baccarat, he won nearly $9.7 million.
The Borgata took Ivey to court for defrauding the casino and ultimately won in December of 2016, as the judge ruled Ivey and Sun did not cheat but did breach their contract with Borgata. They were ordered to return more than $10 million to the casino.
Of course, Ivey announced his intention to file an appeal. The next hearing is set for February, and Ivey’s attorneys have several strategies left to use. Meanwhile, he is paying quite a significant portion of past winnings in attorney fees, court fees, and possibly in a settlement with Borgata.
Can Poker Players Learn from Ivey?
So many lessons can be taken from Ivey’s actions and reactions to the happenings at Borgata.
Poker is a game of skill. The other games at the casino are not skill-based, and the casino clearly has the edge over the players. Card counting in blackjack and edge sorting in baccarat may be ways to garner an edge, but there are known risks, such as ejection from the establishment and withholding of one’s winnings by said casino. Sure, if you have “Ivey money” and lawyers on speed dial, you can sue the casino if the risk doesn’t pay off. Most of us do not have that kind of cash.
With that said, let’s look at some of the most important lessons learned from Ivey.
- Stick to poker. Learn it, analyze hands, improve, play more, and garner experience to become a better player.
- Avoid leaks, such as casino games that look appealing on the way through the casino but can cost quite a bit more than the entertainment value is worth.
- Accept the losses. When you play a game, know the rules in advance, and lose that game, it’s sometimes best to walk away. Contesting a ruling is one thing, but to continue to fight a losing battle over and over may be a very negative EV situation.
- Keep positive friendships. Find those people in poker with whom you share values in addition to a love of the game. You should be able to count on them to keep you from straying too far from your goals.
- Check yourself. And yes, even check your privilege. Look at what your life is about, and decide whether or not that’s really what you want and how you want to be seen. It’s never too late to change course.