Murphy James - Poker's Best: Phil "Poison" Ivey
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Poker's Best: Phil "Poison" Ivey

Murphy James
Phil "Poison" Ivey

It’s just too easy to add “Poison” in front of the name, Ivey. Since he’s African- American, it’s just too easy to call him, the “Tiger Woods” of poker. He doesn’t like either moniker. Since he’s probably the best poker player in the world right now, here’s what’s not easy: beating Phil Ivey at poker.

The time is right for poker players. They are on constantly on TV. They are lining up endorsements, talk shows, poker camps, instructional DVD’s, and other ways to cash in on the poker craze. Some are hardly playing poker any more.

Not Phil. Like most of the top players, he has affiliated with an online casino, Full and almost nothing else. Why? He doesn’t want anything to break his concentration from his first love: playing poker.

In golf there is an expression: drive for show, putt for dough. The equivalent of this in the poker world is: play TV tournaments for show (exposure, marketing), play “cash games” for dough. Cash games are the ones that take place at the top casinos like the Wynn and the Bellagio in Vegas where the pros compete with each other, but often a mere mortal will sit down and try to beat them.


Born in southern California, Ivey spent his formative years in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He began playing poker at 17 as “Jerome Graham.” Because he played so much, he got the nickname, “No Home, Jerome.” Finally, when he became of legal age, he finally told the other players and casino personnel his real name (and real age).

He slugged it out for a time as a telemarketer in New Brunswick, N.J. Working the phone by day and the poker tables by night, he learned his skill as all the top pros did: winning at a low stakes table, moving up, losing, moving down, winning, moving up, winning, etc.

The World Series of Poker takes place over about a month each summer in Las Vegas and consists of many different variations of poker. A win is rewarded with big bucks and a coveted gold bracelet. The pros measure success by the number of bracelets in their trophy case. Phil has five, and he has just turned 30!.

He won his last one in 2005 but only after a friend woke him and said, Phil, get down here and register for your best event: Pot Limit Omaha. What a wake-up call: he registered, he played, and he won $635,606.

But 2005 wasn’t over yet. He ventured to Monte Carlo at the end of the year and picked up two more wins for a combined total of $1.6 million dollars. On the way home in Larry Flynt’s private jet, he and a bunch of fellow pros played poker at $400/$800 per hand and, while none will report on exactly how much they lost, they all agreed that Ivey deplaned the winner.

Phil married his high school sweetheart, Luciaetta, and moved from Atlantic City to Vegas to be close to the action. Of his wife, he says: “Without Luciaetta, I wouldn’t be nearly this successful. She’ll never know how important she is to me.”

His idea of action is to play at the Bellagio Hotel at $2000/$4000 stakes, and up. He has a $425,000 Mercedes Maclaren (the doors open up, not out) and a knock-out mansion in Vegas and no idea how anything works. His wife shows him how to turn on the TV, the sprinklers, and the security alarm. He has another posh condo on the beach in southern California for the frequent trips he makes there for more action.

Phil makes just about everyone’s list of “one of the top pros in the world,” and among his peers, he is often named Numero Uno. This is because he plays in the toughest games against the toughest opponents at the highest stakes . . . and wins.

© 2005 Murphy James