Table Talk: Is Ivey the GOAT (Greatest of All Time)?


Since the World Series of Poker Asia-Pacific is still happening in Melbourne, Australia, we’ll pretend to be there again this week. And because of the tension in nearby Korea at the moment, I’m drinking something strong. Cognac, anyone?

The results from WSOP APAC thus far have been exciting. Brian Piccioli won the first event, followed by a win from Jim Collopy in Event 2. Australian Aaron Lim won Event 4, and the Main Event is now underway.

Who won Event 3, you ask? If you’ve been living under a rock, it was Phil Ivey. The $2,200 buy-in Mixed event attracted 81 players and resulted in an all-star final table. Ivey led going into the final day, followed by Daniel Negreanu. Poker fans couldn’t have been more excited to see the action, and more than a few railed in person and watched the live stream from other locations around the world.

It was an exciting final table, truthfully. Ivey had his share of chip troubles, especially during the heads-up match against Brandon Wong. It was touch-and-go for a bit, but Ivey pulled it off and emerged victorious. He claimed his ninth WSOP bracelet, tying with the late Johnny Moss, trailing Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan by only one, and four behind the WSOP leader Phil Hellmuth.

There’s no denying it was a historic poker moment, and Phil Ivey climbed one notch closer to being the greatest of all time (GOAT). It satisfies many poker players and fans who have long claimed that he is the GOAT.

And his focus seems to be firmly on poker these days. With the Full Tilt Poker debacle behind him – in most people’s minds – and his training site moving along with more than 30 pros attached and some movement toward a launch, Ivey is more purposeful in his poker game than in the few years past. It seemed to begin at the 2012 WSOP and move forward with poker at the center of his life again.

Even so, Ivey is humble about it. He doesn’t run around the tables and fall on the floor when he wins a tournament, nor when he loses. He hasn’t yet hired a group of women to escort him into tournament areas, and he doesn’t hold up nine fingers to remind everyone of how many bracelets he has. Those things are not in his nature, but he doesn’t even need to tout his own accomplishments because much of the poker media does it for him.

When Ivey walks into a tournament room, it becomes a tournament update in itself. “Phil Ivey has arrived!” Updates are given when he stares down an opponent, scoops chips, loses his stack, or even makes Day 2 with any chips at all. He makes news by simply being there because many in the poker media are star-struck. There is something about Ivey that turns otherwise professional reporters into the equivalent of giggling groupies. They may as well report, “OMG! It’s Phil Ivey!”

This isn’t to say that he shouldn’t be respected for his poker accomplishments. He is a great player and has proven over the last few years to be in contention with the very best WSOP players in the game. Ever closer now to the bracelet records than ever, it won’t be a surprise if he ties Brunson and Chan or even Hellmuth in the near future. He is a good, all-around, feared, talented, and awe-inspiring poker player.

But let’s keep it real. Brunson and Chan won their bracelets long before Ivey came close to their numbers. Many argue that the tournament fields were smaller then, and Ivey has bested tougher fields to win his bracelets. But Hellmuth still reigns supreme. (And he has no problem telling you that.) By the book, he IS the best in WSOP history, Hold’em-focused or not. He’s the GOAT.

I suppose the GOAT term is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone’s opinions are based on different criteria and statistics. But in general, there is a groupie-like awe surrounding Ivey that defies actual results. Maybe Hellmuth makes it hard to inspire that same awe because he has so much of it for himself, but he has earned the GOAT title.

With that said, I don’t mean to diminish Ivey’s recent accomplishment. The WSOP APAC victory is historic, and I enjoy seeing him win. And I certainly won’t be surprised if he picks up another bracelet this summer in Las Vegas or at WSOP Europe later in the year.

My only point is that some perspective is needed when looking at Ivey in comparison to other players. And some in the poker media might want to take a step back and try to find the “objective reporter” position for which they are supposed to strive. Somehow, Ivey brings out the fan-boy in many of them, and it’s frustrating to watch other players slighted in coverage and praise simply because Phil Ivey enters a room.

Ivey may be the GOAT, but he has to prove it like anyone else. And right now, like it or not, Hellmuth holds that title.

I toast to all of the top players in WSOP history, Ivey and Hellmuth included. Cheers!