Playing in Ivey's League
Phil Ivey, one of the world’s best poker players, has parlayed his card skills into a high-end, jet-setter’s lifestyle.
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Chris Lorenzo remembers the aftermath of a massive sushi and sake spree at the Bellagio: "Phil had $12,000 in his hands and told the waiter to take his tip. This waiter didn't know what to do and called over the manager. Phil held out his palms full of $100 bills. Finally the waiter dipped in and took like $6,000. As we were exiting, Phil joked, ‘Man, that guy has big hands.' "
Nolan Dalla, the media director of the World Series of Poker, remembers playing a round of golf with Ivey and a couple of other guys at the elite Shadow Creek-which Ivey treats so casually that it might as well be his favorite county course-and somebody in the foursome mentioned that his caddy happened to be the son of a well-regarded Nevada senator. Dalla acted like it was a big deal. Ivey deadpanned, "If the senator was your caddy, then I'd be impressed."
As when he responded to his driver's marriage proposal at the front desk of Aria, Ivey was joking on the golf course. But, on some level, he also wasn't joking. As I've been told by people close to Ivey, it takes a lot to impress him.
Back inside Phil Ivey's suite, wine is flowing. Cigars are being smoked down and Ivey comments that they get better as you go deeper. He's right about that. A businessman friend of his has just popped by, lunch gets ordered, and the two hosts scramble to see if they can score Ivey a couple of seats in a private box for tonight's Black Eyed Peas concert at Mandalay Bay. Ivey's got his driver making arrangements for the private jet that will fly him to Cabo San Lucas for a quick get-away that precedes a string of upcoming tournaments.
In Ivey's world, a heady mix of hard-core gambling, highly calculated poker play, and sybaritic luxuries all meld together and feed off of one another. Thanks to online poker, he can buy into massive games from anywhere in the world and thanks to the largess of casino comps, he can often fly there gratis. So Ivey moves with the wind and has attained a position in life where he only does what he feels like doing. It affords him the air of a cool cat and a free spirit-albeit one who's under a self-imposed gun to keep betting money and continue winning it. To do anything else, seemingly, would go against Ivey's very nature. Almost built into his DNA is an understanding of odds and opportunities and a bottomless desire to continually exploit them.
At the core of it all, though, is Ivey's love of action. He's been out of it for the last few hours, and gambling seems to be on his mind-especially with a casino right downstairs. Ivey talks about wanting to play a little craps. But an impending commitment promises to keep him away from the tables. He gets into a conversation about the security of his suite and potential for the floor-to-ceiling window to be broken, perhaps by a despondent gambler looking to leap.
While others in the room consider the possibility, Ivey reverts to form and tries to create his own action. He looks at the businessman and says, "I'll give you a $50,000 free-roll if you can punch your fist through the glass."
The businessman seems far from game to accept the wager, but there's little doubt that if Ivey really wants to see it happen, he'll happily raise the stakes.
Michael Kaplan is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.