Walking through the massive Amazon room, I see an interesting new phenomenon. It seems that many have picked up on the trend started by Bernard Lee at last year's WSOP. Lee made it deep in the event and gained airtime for his emotional outbursts and his touching practice of kissing a photograph of his children during hands.
As I peruse the tables, I see countless others grasping pictures of loved ones, using them as card protectors, or idly playing with photos in-between hands. I spot Lee in the corner of the room and tell him he may have started an epidemic. He laughs, "That's good to hear, man," and brings out his own pictures of his children for all to see. "I brought it out here last year because when I look at my kids, man, everything just seems all right," he tells me. Lee pauses for a second, looking at the board as a player calls a bet. "A-4 against A-8," he whispers to a friend. Sure enough, A-4 and A-8 are exposed as the two players' cards. Lee looks up and smiles at me, then returns his gaze to his kids. "I hope they bring me good luck again," he says.
I do too.
The Phil Ivey hurricane is in full gale at the Amazon room. Ivey is seated at one of the tables next to the rail, and a myriad of fans and media have surrounded him, trying to get a closer peek of the master at work. Smack dab in the eye of the storm sit Pat and Mel Humphries, sporting big buttons and t-shirts with Phil's likeness and the message "Go Phil!" The elderly duo made ESPN time last year for starting the Phil Ivey fan club. They tell me, "We've known Phil since he was 19 years old. He was the same nice young man then that he is now."
I don't know much about Phil, but I do know one thing for sure; He is no nice young man at the poker tables. He is terrorizing his opponents, betting into almost every pot and single-handedly controlling the flow of the table. When he enters a pot preflop, the whole table slows as players must decide now whether they want to call and face bets on the flop, turn, and river as well – Phil has been betting them consistently on every hand.
One man's body start's to visually shake upon seeing an Ivey raise in front of him. He makes the call, then bets into Ivey on the flop. Ivey immediately calls, and the man looks flustered. The shakes get worse. On the turn, the man grasps the chips to bet, but his courage fails him at the last second; he taps the felt hard twice with chips still in hand to check. Ivey checks behind. The man starts to shake his head. He has no idea what to do next, it's clear. The river card comes, and the man checks much quicker this time, ready to give up. Ivey makes a large bet on the river and he throws his hand away immediately.
I come back after level four, when antes have been introduced. Every player antes one green chip, leaving 10 for the taking for whoever is bold enough to take the pot. As I walk around the room, I wonder who has the most greens about 10 minutes into the level; the player with the most should be the one who is stealing the most and winning the most pots. I check Howard Lederer; he has a nice stack of about 20 greens. I maneuver around to Jeff Madsen – he has around 15 as well. Then I go to Ivey and my jaw drops. It is only a few minutes into the level, but he already has over 50 green chips, and he's in the process of stacking about 20 more in front of him, the residue of winning two straight pots preflop.
I watch a little longer, and see him finally fold a hand preflop to a raise in front of him. The players seem a bit relieved that they know Ivey is out, and the hand gets four callers – unusual because very few pots have gone to a flop or turn with Ivey in them. One player eventually gets all-in and goes bust. As he walks away, I go over to him and quickly ask him, "What was it like playing with Ivey?"
The player tries to put up a brave front: "He's definitely good; he's aggressive, trying to pick up every little pot, but if you just go over the top of him, there's not much he can really do."
Impressed, I tell him, "That's interesting. So is that how people have been countering him?"
He looks a little sheepish. "Well, no, I haven't really seen anyone go over the top of him yet, but if you did, I bet he'd fold."
"It's easy to bet from the sideline," I tell him. He simply nods his head and walks away.