Phil Ivey Boycotts The 2011 World Series Of Poker
Even though I don’t follow poker as closely as I used to—remember the Texas Hold ‘Em craze that swept through the nation a few years back?—I’m still a big fan of poker pro Phil Ivey. In fact, if I had to change lives with anyone in the entire world, it’d be hard for me to pick someone else over Ivey.
If you read his cover story in ESPN The Mag a couple years back, you already know why. But if haven’t, here’s the gist of it: Phil Ivey lives like a rock star. He travels the world, making hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of dollars, in a single day. He stays in the most luxurious hotels, in the finest penthouses, with all of the amenities you could ever think of on a daily basis. His “work” schedule sounds like a vacation. And, oh yeah, he does all of this because he’s good at sitting down at a poker table and playing cards. He’s literally living a dream life.
Which is why I’m so impressed by how he’s approaching his latest poker challenge. No, he’s not sitting down at a table full of former poker champs for some ESPN special. He’s not putting all of his fame and fortune on the line, either, in some “winner takes all” game set up out in Las Vegas. In fact, playing poker has very little to do with what Ivey is about to do next in his career.
Rather, Ivey announced recently that he’ll be boycotting the 2011 World Series of Poker altogether this year. Why? Because Ivey—who was sponsored by online gambling company Full Tilt Poker until April, when the company was shut down by a federal investigation that resulted in a slew of other sites getting taken offline as well—isn’t happy with the way Full Tilt Poker has treated many of his fans in the time since it met its demise. Specifically, Ivey is upset that $150 million that belongs to former Full Tilt Poker players has not been returned like the company said it would be.
And instead of just chastising Full Tilt for their actions, Ivey has decided to use his name in the poker community to take a stand against them. He will not be playing in the World Series of Poker this year. He will be suing Full Tilt Poker for the $150 million that they still owe to former Full Tilt players. And he will continue to do this until the money is returned to its rightful owners.
“I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed that Full Tilt players have not been paid money they are owed,” Ivey wrote on his Web site earlier this week. “I am equally embarrassed that as a result many players cannot compete in tournaments and have suffered economic harm. 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.”
Wow. Did you hear that, athletes? A guy actually taking responsibility for one of the companies that he’s endorsed in the past. A guy standing up and promising his fans that, if he has anything to say about it, justice will be served. A guy trying to do the right thing—and putting aside his career for a second to care about the well-being of those who follow his sport.
Listen, regardless of what you think about gambling, online gambling, poker, or Phil Ivey, this is a story that’s all too rare in the world of sports today. A lot of people lost some serious dough when Full Tilt Poker and all of the other poker sites out there got taken down. Sure, some accounts were probably only worth a couple hundred bucks, if that, but other players used Full Tilt to make a living. Their livelihoods were put at risk when Full Tilt closed up shop and didn’t return their money. Their lives were changed forever once Full Tilt went belly-up.
So it’s honorable for Ivey to step up and do the right thing here. And I sincerely hope that other poker players—especially other players who were sponsored by the Full Tilt Pokers of the world—stand up with him and pledge to help those affected by the online poker scandal to get their money back. I hope they boycott the WSOP and file lawsuits of their own to get the attention of Full Tilt and to show that this issue will not simply be swept under the rug. I hope they are part of the solution and not part of the problem.
I hope they react like Phil Ivey has. If nothing else, he just showed why he’s got as many fans as he does—and why even guys who don’t follow poker closely like myself respect what he’s done for the game. Way to show your hand on this one, Phil.