BLUFF’s 2015 WSOP Countdown rolls on with the first in a series of statistical breakdowns meant to determine the greatest years put together by some of the best tournament players of all time.
Over the course of the next few weeks five different poker legends will have their best individual years broken down and compared, and while there’s no single attribute that defines how well each performance is weighed against another, the arguments for each year will be made clear – and it’s up to you to decide.
Phil Ivey kicks things off, and with good reason. Ivey is the youngest player to win 10 WSOP bracelets, and just the fourth player in history to hit that benchmark. This naturally leaves a number of years that could stand out as his best, but three tend to stand out even in a career as decorated as Ivey’s.
The first of those three years is 2002, when Ivey captured his second, third and fourth WSOP bracelets over the course of a single summer. Only four other players have ever won three bracelets in a summer – Phil Hellmuth, Puggy Pearson, Ted Forrest and Jeff Lisandro (George Danzer won three in a year in 2014, but one of those victories came at WSOP Asia-Pacific).
Considering field sizes and the unique attributes of two other years, however, the two WSOP campaigns selected for comparison in Ivey’s case are 2009 and 2012.
WSOP Cashes: 6
WSOP Earnings: $1,761,008
WSOP Bracelets: 2
Heading into the 2009 WSOP, Ivey had gone almost four full years without winning a bracelet. After being stuck at five for that long stretch, Ivey threw that weight off his back early in the series by winning the eighth tournament of the series – a $2,500 No Limit Deuce to Seven event.
With his sixth bracelet in hand, Ivey made a deep run in a $2,500 No Limit Hold’em event later that week but fell nine spots shy of the final table. Ivey returned to the winner’s circle in Event 25, taking down bracelet number seven and $220,538 in the $2,500 Omaha Hi-Lo/Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo event. A fifth cash came in the $5,000 Shootout, with Ivey officially finishing in eighth after narrowly missing out on the five-handed final table.
Ivey’s sixth cash of 2009 would be his biggest to date at the WSOP as, for the first and only time in his career, he made the final table of the WSOP Main Event. Having previously (and famously) missing out on the final table by one spot in the 2003 WSOP Main Event, Ivey cut his way through a much larger field in 2009 to become part of the second class of the November Nine. He navigated through 175 hands at the final table, but a coinflip loss and A K falling to Darvin Moon’s A Q sent Ivey out of the Main Event in seventh – which was still good for over $1.4 million.
WSOP Cashes: 7
WSOP Earnings: $576,052
WSOP Bracelets: 0
It might seem strange that a year where Ivey didn’t win a single bracelet was selected over a year where he won three, but it took an almost other-worldly series of performances to put Ivey’s 2012 WSOP over the top in that regard.
Having sat out the entire 2011 WSOP, few knew what to expect upon Ivey’s return. After an uneventful first week, Ivey proved just how dedicated he was to the pursuit of his ninth career WSOP bracelet by multi-tabling two tournaments simultaneously and making Day 2 in each of them. Ivey won his first table in the $1,500 No Limit Hold’em Shootout early on June 6 and played through to the end of that night to bag chips on Day 1 of the $5,000 Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo event as well.
Ivey quickly flamed out in the Shootout, but bagged on Day 2 of the Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo event and eventually made his way to that final table. After busting out in seventh place on the final day of the tournament, Ivey immediately jumped into the $10,000 Pot Limit Hold’em Championship and played three straight days in that tournament. He got heads-up for his ninth bracelet at the same time Phil Hellmuth played for his 12th, but as Hellmuth won his first non-Hold’em bracelet Ivey was denied his first Hold’em bracelet by Andy Frankenberger.
After playing late into the night, Ivey started playing the $5,000 Omaha Hi-Lo event the very next day – and went on to play three straight days only to fall two spots shy of a bracelet, settling for third. Ivey waited three days to start his next tournament run, which would lead to his fourth final table in nine days and a fifth place finish in the $10,000 HORSE championship. On the same day he busted from that tournament, Ivey entered the $2,500 Mixed Hold’em event and final tabled again, taking eighth. The final tally for Ivey was five final tables in 13 days and seven total cashes – but his ninth bracelet wouldn’t come for another few months.
So which year was better? Two bracelets, over $1.7 million in cashes and a run at the Main Event title seems tough to beat, and if Ivey had won the Main Event it would certainly be a no-brainer. On the other hand, nobody’s ever put together a two week run that comes even close to what Ivey did in 2012. They’re very different years, but both stand the test of time as some of the strongest performances put on in an individual WSOP – and they both belong to Phil Ivey.
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