By KiIIt has almost become cliché to compare poker player Phil Ivey to golfer Tiger Woods. Whether during television commentary from the World Series of Poker or in the poker blogosphere, people love to make the comparison. It’s even on Ivey’s Wikipedia page. While media comparisons like this are usually off base (how many people have been anointed the “next Michael Jordan?”), this one has some merit. Tiger Woods is 37 and Phil Ivey is – guess what – 37. Woods is a magician with a golf club and Ivey has magical powers at the poker table. With the Masters golf tournament starting this week and Phil Ivey getting prepped for the World Series of Poker next month, this oft made comparison deserves a closer look.
1. The (Sort of) Striking Resemblance
While they aren’t twins by any stretch of the imagination, would it be shocking if it came out they were half brothers?
2. It Goes Without Saying But They Are The Best at What They Do
Tiger Woods has had his ups and downs over the past few years but he is still considered by most to be the best in the game. He is the favorite to win the Masters and is generally the favorite to win any golf tournament he enters. His results speak for themselves. He has won 77 PGA events – 2nd most PGA wins of all time. He has won a stunning 27.1% of all tournaments he started. That is an unbelievable statistic. And maybe the most important statistic; his career earnings including tournaments and endorsements are over $1.2 billion.
Phil Ivey can do it all at the poker table. He excels in all forms of the game, both online and offline. He is a monster cash player and crushes tournaments. Ivey is tied for 5th on the all-time list of World Series of Poker bracelets (bracelets go only to WSOP tournament winners) at eight. Ivey has career tournament winnings north of $17 million, over $20 million in online cash game winnings, and God knows how much in untracked cash game winnings. In 2006, he was part of the group that played Texas billionaire Andy Beal heads-up in $50,000/$100,000 Limit Texas Hold’em. Ivey took Beal for over $16 million over the course of three days. If these statistics don’t do it for you, listen to the players Ivey goes up against on a regular basis:
3. Most Marketable in Their Respective Sports
Here is all you need to know: Tiger Woods’ career earnings on the golf course total a bit north of $100 million. As mentioned, his career earnings on and off the course total over $1.2 billion. You can do the math. In case you need to jog your memory on his marketing prowess, remember this?
Phil Ivey hasn’t generated anything close to a billion dollars away from the felt. However, he pretty much created the Full Tilt poker brand. Prior to its legal issues, Full Tilt was a multi-billion dollar enterprise and it was built on the back of Ivey’s marketing appeal. Here are two classic Ivey commercials:
4. Both Like to Partake In The Nightlife
No need to dwell too much on this point but both Woods and Ivey have reputations for their extravagant lifestyles.
Woods’ partying ways may be behind him but his past escapades are well known. One thing that isn’t as well known is Woods’ love of gambling. Evidently he will gamble with anyone he can on the golf course and loves a good game of dice.
Ivey’s extravagance is legendary. He once sent 200 bottles of $500/bottle Cristal to a strangers’ table at the Wynn. And while poker is his job and love, guess his favorite game in the casino – yup – dice.
5. Tiger Stare vs. Ivey Poker Face
Both are wildly skilled, but they also benefit from an uncanny ability to intimidate their opponents. When he was at his peak, Tiger intimidated his opponents with just his mere presence on the course. The huge gallery of fans following him and the monstrous length of his drives turned world-class golfers into weekend hacks. When things got tight he would break out the Tiger Stare:
Poker is a game of controlled aggression. Phil Ivey just doesn’t have an unflappable poker face. His stare is so intimidating that it can drive opponents to make significant mistakes:
6. Child Prodigies
The story of Tiger Woods is well known. He pretty much came out of the womb swinging a golf club. In case you haven’t seen it, here is Woods as a 2-year-old showing Bob Hope his swing on television
Many children learn the game of poker from older siblings, parents or grandparents. Few graduate those skills to the casino (for starters, it’s illegal). Not surprising, Phil Ivey used to sneak into Atlantic City casinos as an underage teen to play poker. He went by the name of Jerome and when he needed to catch some shut-eye between sessions he slept under the boardwalk.
7. Racial Pioneers
Woods dominates a sport with a mixed history of race relations (remember Fuzzy Zoeller?). People perceive golf to be a country club sport. In fact, there is only one African-American currently on the PGA tour; it just so happens that the one African-American is the best golfer in the world. There were several African-American golfers on the PGA tour before Woods (Calvin Peete and Lee Elder being the most famous) but none had the success or notoriety that Woods has. While the Chapelle show was always straight comedy, this clip sums it up well.
Poker is much more diverse than golf but there are still very few successful African-American players. Ivey, David Williams and Paul Darden are really the only ones. Both Williams and Darden won a WSOP bracelet. Poker is a cerebral activity and horrendous stereotypes might lead ignorant people to think African-Americans couldn’t have much success. Well, that is completely wrong since an African-American is widely considered the best in the world.
8. Don’t Call It a Comeback
Each player had a mid-career crisis that kept him away from the game. Thankfully, both seem to have rallied. Woods had his high profile divorce. For a solid two-year period he was not all that relevant as a golfer. While he needs to win a Major tournament to be considered fully restored, he is once again on top as the #1 ranked golfer globally. Ivey had the Full Tilt scandal to deal with in 2011. He actually skipped the 2011 WSOP as a result. He pretty much fled to Macau to play poker (and rumor is he made a lot of money). He came back to the WSOP in 2012 and made an unimaginable five final tables.
9. History In The Making
The driving force behind each man’s success is an obsession with his place in history. Woods is chasing Jack Nicklaus for the record of number of Major championships won. Woods sits on fourteen Majors compared to Nicklaus’ record eighteen. His legacy in golf is safe but everyone knows (including Tiger) that ne needs to catch Nicklaus to safely claim his place as the best ever.
Ivey’s yardstick is the number of WSOP bracelets he has won. He sits at eight – five behind Phil Hellmuth (who keeps winning them). He has stated publicly that he would like to win 30 championships. Ivey typically only plays high stakes poker whether online or in the casino. He plays in games where he can win or lose $1 million in one session. However, when it comes to the WSOP he will play in any size tournament since he is so obsessed with bracelets. To make it worth his while financially, he makes enormous side bets on the number of bracelets he can win each year. Last year, he was seen running back and forth between multiple tournaments. He would enter tournaments that went on at the same time and play each one simultaneously. The lowest priced tournament at the WSOP is $1,000; the highest is $1 million. Much to their chagrin, entrants in the $1,000 tournament often find themselves in the unenviable position of having Phil Ivey to their left.
While Phil Ivey and Tiger Woods both have their work cut out for them in their respective endeavors, betting against either of them would be crazy.