Looking back at the PokerNews live blog of the day (kept by F-Train, Change100, and myself), I’m calculating that those two hours aired last night covered only about two-and-a-half hours of actual playing time, as the bustouts were happening at a rapid clip. It was still the middle of the afternoon when the final 18 players redrew for seats around the last two tables.
I was positioned near Table 2 that day/night, the one where Antonio Esfandiari busted in 24th, and Steven Begleiter was hitting all of those flops. F-Train was over at the other outer table where Eric Buchman was building a big stack, while Change100 was at the feature table with Nick Maimone, Andrew Lichtenberger, Joe Cada, and the player everyone in the Amazon Room was focused on most intently that day, Phil Ivey.
Watching Ivey is always a treat, if only to see the timidity he causes in other players, most of whom seem never to know for sure what two cards he is holding. Not surprising, then, that the most memorable hand from last night’s coverage involved Ivey. Very surprising, though, to see that it was a hand in which Ivey himself didn’t know what he held!
If you watched, you know the hand. There were 24 players left, I believe, so they were eight-handed. The blinds were 60,000/120,000, with a 15,000 ante. (ESPN doesn’t always mention the antes.) That means there was 300,000 in the middle when Ivey is shown opening with a raise to 320,000 from under the gun with .
The table folds around, including Jeff Shulman who tosses away his pocket deuces, and the action is on Jordan Smith in the big blind. Smith looks at his cards -- . He thinks a moment, then raises to 1,000,000. Ivey (in Seat 1) leans forward and asks Smith (in Seat 9) what he has left. Smith says “six-and-a-half or six [million], something like that.”
“I’d like to tell you what Phil Ivey is thinking,” says Norman Chad. “But he thinks at a much higher level than I do, so I don’t want to pull a brain muscle.” Ivey makes the call.
The flop comes , and both check. The turn is the , and again both check. The river brings the . I’ll freely admit that when I watched this for the first time, my initial instinct was to think Ivey had let Smith catch up, as I was focused on an ace or nine coming. Of course, with the hole cards displayed on the screen for me, it was easy enough to see that the river had in fact given Ivey the flush and so his hand was still the best.
The gum-chewing Smith takes a few seconds, then checks, and Ivey waves his hand with what appears to be some exasperation, indicating he is checking as well. “Ace,” says Smith, and Ivey waits to make his opponent turn over his hand. When he does, Ivey then unexpectedly drops his cards face down before the dealer, mucking the winning hand (see picture). In other words, Ivey gifted Smith more than 2 million chips, leaving himself with a bit more than 8 million. (If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the hand here -- skip to the five-minute mark.)
A pretty astonishing little lapse in attention, that. And of course all the more wild to see because it was Ivey. Like Tiger missing a three-footer, or Jordan missing a breakaway dunk or something. Made Chad’s little preflop speech about Ivey thinking at a higher level -- added afterwards, of course -- all the more ironic-sounding.
Some like to make the argument that poker must be a skill game because unlike in other entirely chance-driven games like roulette or slots, one can lose on purpose in poker. An interesting idea, I suppose, although to be honest my addled brain has never quite put together why that “proves” poker is a skill game. It does, however, most certainly prove that in poker one can make a mistake like Ivey did -- that the often-taken-for-granted “skill” of remembering your own hole cards is indeed part of the game.
Ivey survived his misstep, of course. And as it happens, Smith would be the last one out (in 10th) before the final table was set. Indeed, the real excitement of that day -- including some much, much bigger missteps than Ivey’s -- was still to come.