EPT9 Monaco Day 1B: Is that Ivey? Or is it a wallflower?
There's a quote by the writer CLR James about cricket, but which really examines life in general. "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" It implies a need to look outside what we know to really understand what we do. To understand cricket you had to understand life, and to understand life would help you understand cricket.
The same question could be asked of poker players. "What do they know of poker who only poker know?" What does a young poker player really comprehend who has never known anything but the intricate world of poker? It's a mystifying question, bringing philosophical aspects to a world that is good at creating as many questions as answers, and it applies to all of us, deeply immersed in the poker world.
Except Phil Ivey. Absolutely none of this applies to Phil Ivey.
When Phil Ivey plays there really should be an alarm that sounds, because the effect it has on people suggests they should have a few moments in which to brace themselves.
Sound the alarm: Phil Ivey
Maybe there is an alarm, triggered directly from the registration desk. Because when he arrives a tournament changes. Plans get torn up, people's personas change. Camera teams, free to roam before, now find themselves camped in a spot a few feet away from him, ready to leap into action at a moment's notice. Royal pregnancies don't get this level of attention.
The single-minded Ivey is among today's 400-plus field that was partly responsible for the heart attacks among staff whose job is was to report back to base on field size yesterday. He sits at a table, headphones on, with Fatima Moreira de Melo and Michel Abecassis. Both, in the CLR James sense of the phrase, know poker, having come from the worlds of sport and journalism respectively, playing for the love of the game. But against Ivey, who projects something else, that changes.
Fatima Moreira de Melo
There's silence at first, nobody says anything. Then follows a gradual relaxation in the players at his table. It's like Ivey plays from inside a glass box. He can see you but he can't hear you, and he won't talk to you. So those outside the box start talking again. Then they start to joke about the guy in the glass box. Pretty soon they start throwing food at the glass box. All the while Ivey doesn't flinch. But you're never sure whether the glass box is locked or not.
But Ivey left them all to it as they talked among themselves.
Moreira de Melo joked with Victor Shuchleib from Mexico, who took two pots from Ivey earlier, beaming with pride before immediately sending a text to someone. Another player taking him on was Tamar Kamal, in the worst spot, on Ivey's right. Kamal is a finalist from EPT London, now graduating to the European stage. He's the only one who attempts to match Ivey step by step - not in his play of course, I mean in his appearance. Kamal keeps his headphones on too, doesn't talk and does his best to look serious. Try to scare the hell out of people.
But then what is there to be afraid of? Ivey only has two EPT cashes. He keeps himself to himself and doesn't bother anyone. Ivey? He's more a wallflower. Then there's that stare he has, the open-mouthed one, wide-eyed looking at the board. Or the yawn, which seems to separate the top and bottom half of his head. Is he even paying attention? Of course he is. Those are your chips he's riffling.
Of course you should be afraid. This is the man who evidently takes the casinos to court, for crying out loud, not the other way around. This is the man who can play an entire day of tournament poker without removing his headphones, not even in that awkward way some people are forced to do, popping up to ask "what did you say?" The man's oblivious to outside interference. Opponents steal a glance at him quickly before looking away. If he catches them they say sorry. It's why Ivey can ask a World Champion for his name. It's why it would be more accurate to call Tiger Woods "The Phil Ivey of Golf".
What do they know of poker who only poker know? A lot, it seems. Ivey up to nearly 70,000. There should be an alarm.
Stephen Bartley is a PokerStars Blog reporter.
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