He walked into the ballroom at 5:32 p.m. for a tournament that started at noon, but that's not uncommon: lots of poker players skip the first part of an event.
"You here to play a satellite?" joked a floor man working the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open $10 million guarantee main event on Thursday.
Phil Ivey smiled, took his ticket and headed for his seat. The biggest name in poker had arrived, right here, in South Florida for this inaugural big-money tournament that has drawn hundreds of pros.
His time at Table 33 was less than an hour, because his chip stack of 30,000 dwindled quickly. So he shoved all-in three times in a row, and the third time blind. His 10-7 was called by a K-Q. A queen hit the board so Ivey grimaced, walked to the rebuy station and pulled out what looked like 53 $100 bills to rebuy in time for the 6:30 p.m. dinner break. (This tournament, in what has become a recent phenomenon, lets those who bust out come back as often as they want if they keep dropping down the cash.)
"His appearance makes this tournament big-time legit," veteran poker journalist Matt Waldron remarked, noting that Ivey could be playing overseas right now. Waldron also noted that the last time a non-World Series of Poker event had a prize pool this large might have been in 2007, and the buy-in was much more than the Seminole Hard Rock's $5,300.
Seminole Hard Rock Director of Poker Operations Bill Mason declined to single out Ivey's appearance as a watershed, although he was clearly glad to see him. Ivey had arrived Thursday, and while he's certain to play the $100,000 WPT Alpha8 high roller event on Monday, playing in the $10 million guarantee wasn't for certain.
"The support of the poker community has been amazing and we truly appreciate it," Mason said.
For my part, I did try to snag a quote out of the famously truculent Ivey right at that dinner break. I ran up to him as he was headed toward the elevator to his room.
Ivey took out his headphone and responded, reasonably politely, that all interview requests must go through his people, and I think he even slipped in a "sorry."
I said, "Well, if I did ask the question, it would be about why you are playing here."
He paused for a second, and I wasn't sure if he didn't hear me through his headphones. But no. Out came Ivey's famous "You've-got-to-be-freakin'-kidding-me" look of puzzlement. I am now proud to be part of the club to witness it up close.
I'm not exactly a hard-hitting journalist, but I had to go for that second prod. Maybe he'd say it's about the money, or he likes South Florida, or he has friends in town...
"It's a biiiig tournament," he said, to no one in particular, as he hopped on the elevator.
(Photo courtesy of Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open)
Upated Monday: Ivey, who busted out twice on Friday, also busted again Saturday and is out of this tournament. He's expected to play in the WPT Alpha8 on Monday.