Poker Mental Game & Planning

Mindset Blueprint - Phil Ivey

3,644 Views Comments on 27/11/17

In this article we're going to take a closer look at the mental side of Phil Ivey.

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Even though Phil Ivey isn't as active in the poker world as he used to be, he's still widely considered to be one of the best players in the game. The results speak for themselves. Phil leads the pack as the top online poker winner with around $20,000,000 earning almost twice as much as Patrik Antonius who's second on that list.

Ivey won 10 WSOP bracelets which puts him tied at second place with Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, though it's important to point out that while these other gentlemen stated winning their bracelets in the 70' and 80' respectively, Ivey won all of his WSOP titles in the 21st century. Phil is a real all-rounder, feared in all kinds of poker games from Hold'em and Omaha, through stud variations to mixed games. That fear is also one of the more interesting things about Phil Ivey.

His unique reserved, intimidating personality is something worth exploring and in this article, we're going to take a closer look at the mental side of Phil Ivey.

Singular Focus

Phil Ivey and poker are almost synonymous with each other. Daniel Negreanu is known for his political commentary, Tony G for his business ventures, and it would be easier to name things Liv Boeree isn't involved in than the ones that she is. Phil Ivey, on the other hand, is first and foremost a poker player. This notion is further amplified by the amount of information that "Tiger Woods of poker" chooses to share with the poker world, and that amount is very small when compared with other famous poker personalities.

Phil Ivey takes the old adage about poker being a game of incomplete information very seriously. He's not very active on his social media accounts and it's hard to find an interview with him that's longer than few minutes or few hundred words. Phil Ivey is one of the more mysterious poker players out there especially when we take his level of fame into consideration.

"No Home Jerome", one of the first nicknames of Phil Ivey, stems from the fake ID card that he obtained in order to play in Atlantic City casinos as a teenager. Phil knew exactly what he wanted to do, from a very young age and he pursued his goals with a great tenacity.

While not everyone in the world is fortunate enough to find their calling so early in life, those who do rarely show the same kind of devotion Ivey displayed when it came to poker. 

Intimidating Table Image

Have you ever seen a big Phil Hellmuth style blowout involving Ivey? While he's not an emotionless machine, Phil Ivey is as stoic as one can be without looking ridiculous. It's possible to catch him smiling, casually talking or even displaying mild irritation while playing poker, but when the situation calls for it, he turns into a scary statue, measuring you with his keen senses while giving up no information in the process.

Phil Ivey isn't superhuman, but he knows how to give that impression and there's much EV to be gained in that approach. Most of Ivey's intimidating table image comes from his careful management of outgoing information both at and outside the poker table. Phil gives up very little information at the table, he gives almost no interviews and even his strategy videos on the website are fairly vague.

We really don't know much about him but if you're sitting across Ivey at a poker table it's hard to shake the feeling that he knows everything about you. Phil's approach might not be optimal for everybody, in fact, it most likely won't be given the unique level of intensity. Many of us can actually benefit from sharing information with other players in proper contexts, namely the ones involving cooperation like study groups and poker forums.

However, some of us work best as lone wolves and Phil Ivey is certainly one of those players. 

Management of Destructive Tendencies

Lately, we hear about Phil Ivey mainly in the context of his legal battles regarding the edge sorting techniques that he used to make some mind boggling scores in the casino games. While many fans follow the story with a passion, most poker players are left wondering why Phil played in those casino games, to begin with? Playing in a -EV casino game (edge sorting aside) sounds like a crazy idea when you're someone who has the edge in virtually any poker game no matter the line-up. However, in one of the rare interviews, Phil Ivey mentioned the fact that he doesn't feel a thrill when playing poker seeing as it's not a gambling game, but a skill game that he uses to make money. Casino games, on the other hand, provide him with excitement that poker can't give him. Ivey is smart enough to manage his thrill-seeking tendencies and that's very important for every poker player.

Sigmund Freud was the first to point out the tendency of human beings to indulge in risky or destructive behaviors. He called it a "death instinct" or "Thanatos" and while Freud isn't exactly a favorite of contemporary researchers, those rather ominous terms that he developed are still largely relevant. When we talk about the mental game we often choose to ignore the existence of self-destructive tendencies that everyone displays from time to time. Turns out that truly great players often choose to embrace them. Phil Ivey and his gambling is only one example and you don't have to look far to find more of them (aforementioned Phil Hellmuth blowouts come to mind). This is perhaps one of the most important lessons that we can learn from Phil Ivey.

While not everyone can emulate his intimidating table image, and not everyone can thrive as a lone-wolf, we can all work on our self-destructive tendencies and manage them instead of letting them manage us.



Matt VIP

Matt is predominantly a mental game and planning expert, with a terrific knowledge of science, meditation, practical methods of improvement and of course, a good level of poker skill! Look out for his strategy articles and follow him for his nobel-prize winning forum po ... Read More


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