Column: Phil Ivey - Hero or Villain?

Following the response on several poker forums to Phil Ivey's return to tournament poker on home soil, Barry Carter asks if Phil Ivey is still the poster boy for poker?

Ivey last week at the LA Poker Classic
Last week, Phil Ivey ended his self-imposed exile of the US tournament circuit by playing (and bubbling) the LA Poker Classic. We all wondered what sort of reception he would get in the US after his eight month hiatus, given that his name has been dragged through the mud during that time.

Although the tournament itself went without much fuss for Ivey, there was something of a backlash against him on the poker forums. This is largely due to rumours that he owes Full Tilt Poker $4 million, which he has not confirmed or denied, but it is said to be one of the factors holding up a takeover by Groupe Bernard Tapie.

It is remarkable how Ivey was once the universally most admired player in the game, but is now being demonised by some sections of his former fan base. He appears to have lost his enigma status much in the same way that the man he is most often compared to, Tiger Woods, has in golf (for completely different reasons, of course).

So is this backlash warranted, or should we still let Ivey do what he does best, play poker, and stand back and admire him like we did before?

Just an employee?

The poster boy for FTP
Ivey was not one of the names indicted back in September when the DOJ first revealed the full extent of FTP's financial woes, and I don't think anyone particularly thinks he had any major role in how the company was run.

One of the biggest arguments made by people who are still his fans is that ultimately he was just an employee of the site, and should not be held responsible for its downfall.

I, for one, happen to agree with that stance. Just because someone has been considerably well paid, does not mean they should feel guilty about it. If Ivey knew nothing of what was going on in the back office at FTP, and carried out his duties in good faith, then he was just unlucky it was for a company like FTP. This is why it was particularly admirable for someone like durrrr to pledge to give the money he made at FTP back to the players.

He has probably been advised to keep quiet by his lawyers for his own good, and for the proposed takeover by GBT. Nobody wants this deal to fall through, and we certainly don't want any former pro with a profile as big as Iveys to start disrupting the takeover. Indeed, Matt Glantz and Doyle Brunson both blogged last week saying that former FTP shareholders are afraid to make public statements and then be perceived as negatively influencing the outcome of the takeover.

$4 million influence

Winning $2m last month at the Aussie Millions
But here is the problem, Ivey has already influenced the takeover. He is rumoured to owe $4 million to FTP, which according to GBT is one of the factors holding up the deal. It does seem inconceivable that $4 million is going to massively influence a takeover worth hundreds of millions, but he will still be perceived by the poker community as one of the main culprits holding up the deal until he clears the rumours of this debt up.

This is made much worse by the fact that we know he has money to burn. He started the year with a $2 million win, in a $250,000 buy-in event, at the Aussie Millions. He has also been seen playing in Macau, this week in LA, and is heavily rumoured to be RaiseOnce on PokerStars, who is involved in all the biggest cash games on the site.

The $4m he is rumoured to owe may be a drop in the ocean compared to his personal bankroll, and he may indeed have good reason not to have paid that money back yet (Like Barry Greenstein, who has said he is holding out to make sure the money goes back to the players) - but when millions of dollars of player's money is stuck on FTP and the takeover with the DOJ is in limbo; it is very difficult for any of us to be able to separate this from the fact Ivey appears to be living the high life at our expense.

Let us also not forget that it was Ivey who supposedly had the player's interests at heart when, back in June 2011, he boycotted the WSOP and filed a lawsuit against Tiltware. The reasons he claimed he did this was because he was embarrassed that FTP had not paid back the players the money they owed and wanted to force them into action. He stated:

"I am not playing in the World Series of Poker as I do not believe it is fair that I compete when others cannot. I am doing everything I can to seek a solution to the problem as quickly as possible."

That statement does seem laughable right now. Ivey is now competing in the biggest games around, winning seven-figure sums and pictured wearing a $90k watch, while FTP players have made no progress since. Not only has he not found a solution; he is potentially holding one up by not paying back money he is said to owe.

There are of course other FTP shareholders who are remaining quiet, as well as players who are said to owe money to FTP who have not confirmed or denied their debt, but continue to play. Ivey has the focus on him because he is the highest profile, is rumoured to owe one of the largest amounts, has publicly won the most money since rumours of his debt, and most importantly has previously claimed to be acting in the best interest of FTP players.

Hero or villain?

Hero or villain?
Phil Ivey was the poster boy for Full Tilt Poker, he was without doubt their biggest ambassador, brought in thousands of new players, and was clearly one of the shareholders who profited the most from the site.

Although he currently has no legal obligation to address the speculation surrounding him, he really should. The poker players he claimed to be defending when he filed the Tiltware lawsuit are not only still wondering if they will ever see their money again, they are also wondering if Phil is part of the reason why the GBT deal still has not happened. And all this while Phil is making headlines for living it up with money which appears to have been made at our expense.

No, he has no obligations at all, but if he ever wants to return to being the hero of poker we all once knew and loved, the hero he purported to be when he boycotted the WSOP for our benefit, he needs to address some of the speculation and uncertainty around him, instead of pretending that Full Tilt never happened.

Tell us your opinion. Is Phil Ivey still a poker hero? Do you think he owes the poker community some of the money he made at FTP? Tell us your thoughts in the comments box.

by Barry Carter

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Comments (27)

newest first
  • surfwell1818


    Villain.....signed The Former Mrs Ivey.
  • RoManZ


    I was clearly surprised to discover Chris Ferguson as a greedy vilain. But Ivey... not. Defly vilain. Hopes he disappears from the scene.
  • M1rCea


    lol @ #1
  • ipeaceonu


    Maybe if a few more players who are involved in this would come out and give their side of the story then people would be more forgiving. There has been almost total silence from former FT pro's, this shows they have no consideration for players that FT still owe money to.
  • datsmahname


    lol... this article is pretty disappointing. How long till we're reading about Mike Matisows's alien abduction?

    Rather than trying to bandwagon everyone who owes full tilt using Ivey to set precident, maybe we should look at it the other way.

    Unless he knowingly supported a site that was stealing money or was clearly negligent and ignored all the signs then he's no more a villain than anyone else.

    After 2006 when wire transfers for gambling were not easy to handle, its of zero surprise that the highest stakes players would need to find an alternative means of getting the money. A loan from FTP makes perfect sense.
  • chenny8888


    whatever anyone may believe, he still needs to pay back money that was borrowed.
  • MichaelGotAA


    I agree with #6
  • bbosstjan


    #6 +1
  • JohanRember


    Wow - great article. Hats off to Barry
  • jackinbeat


    anyone involved and I include sponsored players, in full tilt is a villan unless they are actively trying to help players, in hte UK the Hendon mob kept adverts up after black friday and nearly until they had another sponsorship deal.

    If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem.
  • BoyRobot777


    I wish him to drop on every bubble for eternity.
  • HorribleHank


    Lets not forget that Ivey with unlimited resources at the time (Full Tilt)could play his fearless styl. No question his skill level is top notch but add a Casino style bankroll and a Mike Tyson like image (Before Mike Was beaten) is quite formidable. Ivey is not the poster boy for poker anymore. Daniel Negreanu for my money is honest,opinioniated and has not screwed anyone out of cash. He is my choice and pokers best hope.
  • HansTheGreat


    I would agree that he is not the best person but we all have to admit that he has awesome poker skills(I can t say poker player because it is arguable). I think we should make difference between jobs and their personal(media)life. If it is true what is rumoured then he should pay his debt and we now then that we should not believe to his statements.Poker players are poker players on the tables, privately are tehy whatever they want. Like myself I dont like Ronaldo but I have to admit he is a great player. I think we should treat Ivey like that.
  • 11029384756


    he played on ft with an unlimited bankroll no wonder he made so much money online......villian
  • pokerprons


    I believe Ivey is innocent in all this. He was a sponsored player and later a share holder at FTP. Would any of you pass on such an opportunity? He didn't play with players' money, he played with sponsor money, wouldn't all of you do that too if you could? No one had a reason at the time to believe FTP wasn't loaded with cash and could easily afford such deals with their sponsored players. Unless he knew about the whole scam, and it seems that he didn't, he has nothing to be ashamed of. He tried to put pressure on Tiltware but obviously he couldn't do much on his own. The only thing that annoys me is that he too is silent about the whole situation. I'm sure there is no way the deal between GBT and FTP would fall through if he just told everyone what he knew about the situation.
  • DukeXIII


    Personally I don't care about anyone. If he is villain, hero, star or anything else. Those who care about the lives of others and discuss about it and even some times get passionate and defend them by any means are retards and should get a life. :)
  • BoyRobot777


    #16 thats a bit not true. He represent poker community, which most of pros do. Thats their privilege when they become pros. You can't get away from that, you represent what you do. And if he's a scum who borrows millions from innocent players and gamble them away without any repercussions that just represent whole community. No wonder everyone who doesnt have any idea about poker calls us degenerate gamblers or "YOU SHOULD NEVER TRUST A GAMBLER". Those saying come from somewhere. And even if at the peak of their performance they do same shit as low life assholes, that sums about everything. Why Daniel, Greenstein acts differently?
  • BoyRobot777


    #16 Its not like we're talking if Britney gain 20kg or she cut her hair off... We're talking about loaning money and not even stepping up.
  • circoflax


    Yeah, just watch those Poker After Dark episodes.... "Guys, let's ship 100k in the dark!" Easy to do when playing with other peoples money...

    Just give me back my 2k from FT!
  • Tancev987


    Ivey should repay 4m$ to FTP, but why do you want him to help other players who have some money stuck at FTP. He was the face of the company, He was an employee of FTP. He didn't was the Sole reason of FTP going down, or he wasn't the sole owner of FTP. Yea he wear the FTP shirt on tournaments, but that was only for cash so he can promote the site.
  • RoManZ


    Hero or vilain ? None - just an asshole.
  • vinjak


    #21 +1
  • DukeXIII


    17, 18, of course I understand your point and from one side you are right. But here is the thing. 1st As 17 said ''He represents a hole community, which most of pros do'' concluding with ''everyone calls us degenerate gamblers''. So my point here is. Personally I do not want anyone to represent me or represent what I do cause simply I do not need them. I m happy for what I do and I would keep doing it with or without them. So I don't care if they are legends, gods, dead or alive. And by complaining and voting if someone is villain or hero is completely waste of time. If for example they would say to collect votes to hang the guy then ok my vote would mean sth but now what ? Vote just to agree all that he is a villain and then what? Is this going to bring our money back? I don't think so :) So waste of energy. And 2nd and most important since you point that the problem is that through them people shape their opinion about poker. My friend the 97% on this planet are worse than retarded. And you want to tell me that I should care about what these retards believe about what I do or even feel compelled to explain them? no no no :D So I hope that you understand my point even if you don't agree and I hope you didn't take personally my above comment since I really believe that the most serious poker players are really intelligent people and I believe that we have a great community here I wouldn't like to offend.
  • BObamaJr


    Not responding to these allegations will only inflame the currently negative perception surrounding him. To save his reputation he should come out either 1) admit to the community he owes money and will pay when FTP is back online 2) provide evidence that he has no debts with FTP or 3) pay FTP and the poker community back with a small portion of his vast horde of cash.

    The longer he stays quiet the more intense the damage to his reputation becomes. For him, that means smaller sponsorship deals in the future.
  • misbijeli


    i just don t get it how he owe money to FT when he had a contract worth 900K a month what was obvious after his divorce and his ex wife getting money that she did.. almost a million a month and then borrowing more to play..come on, i dont like the guy but i think he is just a victim here, Chris is the biggest villain and nobody is a hero in this story..
  • illium


    I haven't heard a single player who was named by GBT as owing money to FTP denying the claim, so we can only assume that they do. So until they cough up the money or provide an explanation they should all be banned from playing anywhere.
  • adlerx