by Andy Glazer - poker.casino.com
When the two remaining players in today’s thrilling $2,500 entry Pot-Limit event, Amarillo Slim Preston and Phillip Ivey, started going head-to-head, Tom Sexton, the Poker Masterpieces photographer, leaned over to me and whispered that the scene reminded him of the duel between “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Newman) and Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in the classic pool movie “The Hustler.”
“Two problems with that analogy,” I said. “First of all, Slim is slim, not fat, and second, young Fast Eddie won in the movie, and Slim has a big chip lead.”
Make that that one problem. Amarillo Slim is still never going to own a nickname like “Fats,” but Phillip Ivey, 23 years young, and the hottest player in poker right now with a strong showing in Tunica, a final table at this year’s Series in no-limit hold’em, and a supersatellite win, made a fast and stunning comeback over one of poker’s all-time great players to win the bracelet.
To put this win into perspective, consider three facts:
1) Slim has four World Series bracelets. He had only been at four other World Series final tables. In other words, he had won the bracelet every single time he has ever gotten to the final table at the Series.
2) This was the fourth time in Ivey’s life that he had played pot-limit Omaha. He has never played it in a live game. He just started picking it up because he wanted to be able to play it in tournaments.
3) Just to get heads-up with Slim, Ivey had to work his way through one of the strongest final tables we’ve seen at the World Series this year.
It took a minor miracle to get the tournament into this position. Slim had started out fast the first day, winning his first three pots with bets that didn’t require him to show a hand, and got $2,650 of his $3,000 into action on the next hand, announcing a low at the finish. The other players stared in disbelief when they realized it wasn’t a joke: Preston had thought the event was pot-limit Eight or Better Omaha, not just high Omaha. He had $350 left and was so upset that he determined he wasn’t going to rebuy. But you don’t win 4 bracelets without a cool head and some zing in your game, and Slim came all the way back to turn that $350 into the $90,000 he brought to the final table.
When you mix in some of the very colorful play and dry Texas humor that Slim brought to the table along with some of the brilliant play, chatter, and intensity that Phil Hellmuth and Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott added, stir in four Brits out of nine players, and bake for six hours under the stares of the biggest spectator gallery we’ve had so far, you wind up with one delicious poker cake.
When we started play, the seats and chip counts, playing with $1,000-2,000 blinds, were:
Seat 1, Hassan Kamoei, $38,000.
Seat 2, Amarillo Slim Preston, $90,000
Seat 3, Markus Golser, 47,000.
Seat 4, Dave Colclough, $68,000.
Seat 5, Phillip Ivey, $91,500.
Seat 6, Chris Bjorin, $26,000.
Seat 7, Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, $33,500.
Seat 8, Ali “Baba” Shakeshik, $38,000.
Seat 9, Phil Hellmuth, Jr., $55,500.
Hellmuth and Preston, two of poker’s best-known talkers, albeit for different approaches to table discussion, wasted no time establishing their conversational styles. Hellmuth won the first pot with a bet on the flop, but gave the chips back a couple of hands later when Kamoei re-raised a pre-flop Hellmuth bet.
“I’ll give you some credit,” Hellmuth said, showing that he was mucking a pair of kings and an ace. “I know you have aces.”
“How do you know he has that big a hand?” Preston asked.
“Because 9-handed, he knows I’m only raising with a big hand,” Hellmuth replied, in a remark the foreshadowed several other hands and conversations.
Hellmuth knocked Bjorin out a few hands later, when Phil bet Bjorin’s last $20,000 with aces and a diamond draw. The four of diamonds hit on the river, giving Bjorin a straight but Hellmuth the diamonds and some ammunition to move up the chip ladder.
Ulliott, a respected British star, was the low chip man when the buzzer sounded for the last hand at $1,000-$2,000 blinds, got his last $9,000 in on the 3-5-3 flop against Ali, who had aces. Devilfish held 4-6-10-J, and open-end straight draw, but hit running tens on the turn and river to trip up Ali. Ulliott proved to be a late-arriving member of the British rock invasion when he jumped up and started doing a fair Elvis “Bless My Soul” song and dance after the final card.
With the blinds now $1,500-3,000, Ulliott got all his chips in against aces for the second straight hand. Holding A-J-9-6 against Hellmuth’s A-A-4-4, he doubled up when the board came Q-9-10-7-6. His two pair, nines and sixes, aced out Hellmuth’s action, and while the six on the river was his second consecutive last-moment escape, it wasn’t exactly a miracle, as any card eight through a king would have done it too. But when the money went in, Ulliott was a big dog, and he broke into song again (missing a chance to sing Moon River, however).
The two-river parlay got Ulliott to $40,000, only slightly behind Hellmuth’s 50k.
We next lost Ali Baba, fortunately ruining all sorts of jokes I had ready about 40 thieves, when all the money went in against Golser, a handsome, friendly, young Austrian. Ali held A-Q-8-4 and short-stacked he liked his chances with the Q-10-3 flop, but it turned out he was drawing mighty thin against Golser’s K-K-Q-J (“You had him by the short and curlies,” Slim said afterwards); the ace that would have given Ali top two would have given Golser a straight. The 7-10 finish 86’d the colorful Ali Baba.
Preston and Hellmuth next hooked up on a hand instead of a verbal exchange. Phil made it $9,000 before the flop, Slim called, and Golser briefly considered calling from the big blind before mucking.
“Thought for a minute we were gonna pick up a hitchhiker that hand,” Slim told Phil, with a smile at Golser.
The flop came down a beastly 6-6-6, Hellmuth bet $8,000, and Slim called. A ten hit on the turn, Phil bet, Slim came over the top to move Hellmuth all-in, and Hellmuth called so fast that everyone knew at least one of the cards in his hand. Hellmuth flipped the six onto the table, and Preston showed his pocket tens that had given him tens full of sixes on the turn.
“If that ten don’t hit, I can’t lose three dollars,” Preston said. “I’m not putting any more in with the big pairs or six he coulda had.”
If you’re starting to wonder where the star of the show, young Ivey, had been through all of this, it was right where that big pile of chips he started with belonged: mostly on the sidelines. But on the next hand, Hellmuth raised to $10,000, and Ivey came over the top for $23,000 more. Hellmuth showed K-K and threw his hand away.
“That’s twice I’ve had kings and had to throw them away,” he said. File this comment away for future reference.
Colclough then knocked out Kamoei with a good call. Staring at a Js-Jc-10s flop, Hassan, who had raised before the flop, made a huge all-in bet, and Colclough stared for a long while. Finally he called and turned over As-Qs-Kd (plus a blank I missed), and Hassan turned over A-A-9-8 with clubs. Not a bad position: an overpair plus an open-ender, but the 6s on the turn gave Colclough the flush and Hassan’s chips.
Hellmuth, Colclough, and Ivey all now had a bit over $100,000, Golser $70,000, Slim $45,000, and Devilfish $35,000, with the Battle of Britain up next.
Colclough raised $8,000 on the button, and Devilfish popped him back another $17,500 from the big blind. The flop came down Jd-4c-9s, Devilfish bet his last $11,500, and Colclough called. Ks-Kh-Qh-2s for Colclough, A-Q-10-9 for Devilfish. Colclough had the lead but Ulliott had some draws, and the A-A finish was certainly one of them.
Slim then won a small pot from Devilfish, announcing “I’m gonna raise the Devil,” and claiming he’d heard Ulliott whisper something to Hellmuth.
“You got good ears, Slim,” said Tournament Director Bob Thompson.
“I can hear a mouse piss on cotton,” Preston drawled. But Slim didn’t need super-hearing to hear Ulliott after the next big hand.
Ulliott and Golser each got $10,000 in before the flop, and when it came down Jc-10h-5d, Devilfish checked and Golser bet $23,000. Ulliott came right back for Golser’s 23k and everything else Golser had left: $36,000. Golser sat and thought a long while. Finally he called.
Golser held Ad-J-10d-5, three pair, while Devilfish held Kh-Qh-Q-4. A little bit of something for everyone: Devilfish had an overpair, an open-end straight draw, and backdoor hearts, while Golser held two pair (with the fives for backup), backdoor diamonds, and a gutshot straight. A king hit on the turn, giving Devilfish kings instead of queens, but he still trailed Golser’s two pair, and a blank on the river left Devilfish gasping and gave Golser the chip lead.
“It’s fun watching them play, ain’t it?” asked Slim, impressed by heavy action with medium-heavy hands.
The less action-oriented Ivey jumped on Hellmuth again soon thereafter. Phil bet $7,000 at a 10-7-4 &lop, and the other Phil re-raised $15,000. Hellmuth mucked. “How many times have you re-raised me the last two days, ten?” asked Hellmuth.
Ivey didn’t answer, but Slim did. “Every time he raises you, you show him two kings, and fold,” Slim said. “I don’t blame him for raising you.”
“That’s how the money winds up over here,” Hellmuth said. “Three, four, five times they raise big at my little bets, and then suddenly the money’s all in front of me.” File this exchange away for additional future reference.
Just before the blinds were about to go up, the river king got a nasty taste of his own medicine. Preston bet $19,000 at a board of 9-9-4-7, and Ulliott came back over the top for the rest of his chips, about $40,000 more. Slim called, and they turned ‘em over: K-K-J-10 for Ulliott (an overpair and gutshot), Q-Q-J-10 for Preston (a worse overpair and the same gutshot). Slim had two outs for the big pot, and alakazam, a queen hit on the river.
“Did you think queens were good when I re-raised all those chips, Slim?” asked an angry Ulliott.
“Hell, no,” Slim replied, “but I already got all that money in, what am I gonna do, quit?” Ulliott fumed as the players went on break. “If he thinks he’s beat, he’s supposed to have pot odds to make that call,” Devilfish told me, “but he’s getting 2-1 pot odds on a 19-1 shot, that’s how those Vegas guys play.”
I ran into Ivey on the break and mentioned how upset Devilfish had been, losing all his chips on a two-outer.
“Well, he (Ulliott) got lucky on the last card, what, five times in a row?” Ivey said. “It’s pretty hard to complain when you’ve done it to them five times.” Ulliott’s rivers certainly hadn’t all been two-outers, but the ever-cool Ivey had a point.
With the blinds now $2,000-4,000, the chips were pretty even: About $150,000 for Golser, $120,000 for Ivey, $110,000 for Hellmuth, and $105,000 for Preston. We’d started with four Brits and two Daves, and they were all gone. We were left with two American Phil’s, one Austrian Markus, and one Texas Slim (it was established by Doyle Brunson at the TOC last year that Texas is a different country).
Ivey continued to torture Hellmuth, rivering him when his J-J-10-10 found a ten on the river to knock off Hellmuth’s aces and higher flush draw. But Ivey didn’t keep Hellmuth’s chips long. In a major confrontation with Slim, Ivey bet $10,000 at a 10d-7d-5c flop, and Slim raised $28,000. Ivey called.
The turn produced the 4d, and Ivey bet out $40,000. Slim, with $72,000 left in front of him, announced a raise for the last $32,000, and Ivey, who had $70,000 left, declined to call the $32,000. Suddenly the final table master was also the final table chip monster.
Slim won a “middlin” size pot, as they’d say in his home country, from Hellmuth, and Slim had most definitely Philled out his stack, via the two Phil’s. It looked like it might take The Two Jakes to stop Slim’s rush.
Ivey came close to exiting. He got into a tangle with Golser, and with a pretty big pot out there, Markus bet $40,000 on the turn, staring at a 2c-4c-6d-4d board. That was more than Ivey had left (only about $21,000), and he called with A-5-6-7, a pair, a good overcard, and a 3 or a 7 for a straight. Golser turned over the lead with Qd-7d-Qs-8s, an overpair, diamond draw, and gutshot. "I didn't like it," Ivey said, "but if I fold there, with $21,000 left, I don't think I have enough chips to win the tournament, and I was here to win the tournament, not just move up the ladder."
An ace fell on the river, and Phillip Ivey was alive, well, and soon back to his old trick of re-raising Hellmuth, who had led out at a 6c-7c-8c flop.
“Every time I bet, you raise,” said Hellmuth, repeating his earlier remark.
“Why shouldn’t he, you keep folding,” said Slim.
“Slim, that’s why I got so many bracelets, they bet, bet, bet and then BOOM, they got no outs,” Hellmuth said.
“What’s bracelets got to do with that boy robbing you all the time?” Slim asked. Hellmuth didn’t answer.
Perhaps bolstered by Slim’s robbery observations, Ivey raised Hellmuth again soon thereafter, and Hellmuth played with his chips for a long time before finally re-raising Ivey, who folded.
“What were ya takin’ so long fer?” Slim drawled. “Was you a waitin’ for him to faint, so you could reach over and look at his cards, and see where he was at?”
“I’m not trying to play fancy, Slim, just survive,” Hellmuth said with smile.
One big confrontation with Golser probably cost Hellmuth his chance to survive. Hellmuth raised to $12,000 on the button pre-flop, and Golser re-raised $26,000 more. Hellmuth called. The flop came 3-9-3, Golser bet, and Hellmuth, who had only about $12,000 left, folded immediately.
“That was probably the one bad play I made,” Hellmuth admitted afterwards. “I didn’t want to get involved with 8-9-J-Q, but for the size of the pot, I have to call there. I can’t believe I folded. He could have even had ace-high.” And the news was worse than that, because with the hand over and the chips in Golser’s possession, Hellmuth picked up the deck to see what the turn and river would have brought. A nine and a queen, as it turned out. Ouch.
Meanwhile, Linda Johnson was doing a terrific job announcing the final table play, and mentioned that Slim was four for four at final tables.
“Very rarely do the sheep slaughter the butcher,” Slim said.
Hellmuth, down to his last few chips, got them in against his nemesis this day. Ivey had rivered Phil a couple of times, and played back at him a lot, and a lot of times Hellmuth had gotten his money in as the leader only to come out as the trailer, but this time the early leader kept the lead. Ivey held A-Q-Q-6, Hellmuth had A-J-9-8, and the final board of 3-5-J-3-6 sent a disappointed Hellmuth out fourth. He wished the other players good luck and left quickly.
The blinds moved to $3,000-6,000, and Slim started joking and chatting with his neighbor, Golser. Ivey sat all the way across the table, and never once got involved in any of the patter, no matter how much Slim tried.
“That’s his game, not mine, and I’m not going to play his game,” Ivey said afterwards. But the friendly Golser seemed to enjoy bantering with Preston, and the two played a lot of hands against each other while Ivey mostly sat back. Preston got the better of the play, taking almost all of Golser’s chips, although it was Ivey who eventually finished him off, with his A-Q-Q-2 holding up against Golser’s A-K-7-2 when the board came 8-9-9-5-4. I asked Golser if he thought all the chatting with Slim cost him any concentration, but the 26-year old Austrian professional player wasn’t buying it.
“No, I liked it, and I liked him,” Golser said. “He is a very nice man.”
It was at this point that Sexton made his Felson-Fats analogy, and Slim held a not-so-slim $400,000-$85,000 chip lead. They played for a little while, Slim moved his chip lead to $425,000-$60,000, and then they went on break as the blinds went to $5,000-10,000. No deals had been made three- or four-handed, and the players weren’t about to make one now.
The end was near, but it wasn’t the end anyone expected.
Phillip got all his money in when a flop came 3-6-9 with two spades, and they turned them over. Phillip had a flush and straight draw with Js-10s-7c-5h, and Slim had two pair with 3-6-5-J. The flush hit on the turn, and Phillip had suddenly doubled to a little over $150,000.
Slim bluffed Phillip out of a big pot with a big bet, knocking him back down to about $60,000, but that bluff was the last bullet in Slim’s gun. Ivey doubled through when he rivered a straight, and then doubled again when again two Preston pair got run down by a draw, in this case a flush draw that turned into a backdoor straight. The chips were even.
Ivey's defining moment came when he checked a 5s-8s-9s flop. Slim bet the pot, nearly $200,000, and Ivey had trapped the veteran. He had a pretty relaxed call with the As-Ks in his hand. "If I don't check that flop, I can't get his money," Ivey said. "He can't have a hand strong enough to call a big bet from me." Slim had about $65,000 left. Slim bet out a pot-sized $120,000 at a 5s-8s-9s flop, but Ivey had a pretty relaxed re-raise with the As-Ks in his hand. Slim had about $70,000 left.
Ivey ended it a couple of hands later when all the money went in with Ivey holding A-J-9-3, and Slim holding K-K-9-2. The flop came Q-J-10, which meant the lead for Slim, and usually when your overpair leads and you match it on 4th street, good things happen. But the third king gave Ivey the nut straight, and when the board didn’t pair on the river, a 10-minute rush had toppled poker’s most famous player.
Even in the aftermath, Ivey was a cool customer. He was happy with his play, but freely admitted he’d caught some key cards at key times, and it took some jokes from photographers to get him to smile for the traditional post-victory photos. “It feels good,” was about the most emotional reaction I could get out of him.
Ivey has been play poker professionally for only a couple of years, and only started entering tournaments in late 1999. He learns fast.
“I made a mistake at my other final table here,” he said (a no-limit hold’em event). “I wasn’t nervous, but I think I played too many hands. Today, I wanted to wait more and let the game come to me.”
“Let the game come to me.” Those words sounded familiar, and then I remembered where I’d heard them before. Michael Jordan used to say the same thing. Ivey still has a long, long, long way to go before he’s mentioned in that kind of company, or even in the company of multiple bracelet winners like Preston and Hellmuth. There have been other young hot players who have come on like gangbusters for a year or two, and not many of them keep it over the long haul, so I think we have to keep the jury out on Phillip Ivey’s place in poker history for a while longer.
But coolness under fire and a willingness to let the game come to him aside, Ivey does have one thing in common with Jordan. Phillip Ivey is black. It didn’t seem worth mentioning before. I wanted you to learn about him as a poker player before you started thinking about him as a black poker player.
The World Series isn’t even two weeks old, and already we have two women and a black man who’ve won bracelets, to say nothing of the Asians and Europeans who’ve been making their mark for years. I think we can pretty much throw the outdated stereotypes of top-level poker being a private white American male game out the window, close the window, and draw the curtains. Poker doesn’t belong to white American males anymore. Poker books, computer programs, and worldwide legal cardrooms with codes of conduct have cut the head off the good old boy network, even if the body does keep flopping around for a while. Poker now belongs to anyone with the brains, guts and nerves to play it, and there’s something about that level playing field that feels great, even to a white American male writer.
By the Numbers
Entries: 100 (95 Rebuys)
Total Prize Pool $487,500
1. Phillip Ivey, $195,000.
2. Amarillo Slim Preston, $97,500.
3. Markus Golser, $48,750
4. Phil Hellmuth, Jr., $29,250.
5. Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott, $21,940.
6. Dave Colclough, $17,065.
7. Hassan Kamoei, $12,190.
8. Ali “Baba” Sarkeshik, $9,750.
9. Chris Bjorin, $7,800.
10th-12th, $5,850: Allen Cunningham, Tam Minh Duong, David Winston.
13th-15th, $5,360: Chau Tu Giang, Dewey Tomko, Phil Mazzella.
16th-18th, $4,875: Donald Thompson, Danny Dang, Donald O’Callaghan