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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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Ivey's media snub after Main Event exit was not "the best thing for poker"

8 Nov 2009

By Gary Trask

LAS VEGAS – Throughout the four-month delay before the World Series of Poker Main Event final table, there was a lot of debate about what player winning would be "best for poker." Most observers felt that a Phil Ivey victory was the answer to that question since it would be ideal if "the greatest player in the world won the greatest tournament in the world." Those exact words almost became a cliché among the many talking heads and podcast hosts in the poker media during the last three months.

Well, for all of you out there who were of this mindset, it turns out that while you may have been correct, it didn't matter. Because not only did Ivey not win the Main Event, but he proved he simply doesn't care "what's best for poker."

As the November Nine slowly – and I mean s-l-o-w-l-y – dwindled down to the final two players Saturday night into early Sunday morning here at the Rio, each player that was eliminated


Once Phil Ivey's chip stack disappeared Sunday morning at the WSOP Main Event final table, so did he. Instead of attending a media conference as the WSOP requested, Ivey opted to leave the Rio through a back door. (photo by Vin Narayanan/Casino City)

was asked to do what every performer on a big stage in the sports/entertainment business typically does after a big win or a tough loss – face the media.

It can't be a pleasant experience. And the way that the WSOP handled the post bust-out interviews didn't help matters. There seemed to be twice as many media members covering the final table this year compared to 2008 and the bust-out interviews were an absolute circus. Instead of being held in a closed off room somewhere, the interviews were conducted in the main corridor outside the theater where anybody – not just those of us wearing media badges – could surround the shell-shocked player who probably could have thought of 10,000 other things he'd liked to be doing at that particular moment, literally 10 minutes after suffering the most difficult ouster of his life.

When James Akenhead, Kevin Schaffel and Steve Begleiter were eliminated from the biggest poker tournament of their lives, each of them handled their exits with dignity, class and grace. Schaffel and Begleiter were particularly impressive since not only are they not used the glaring spotlight due to their amateur status, but both players suffered what can be termed brutal bad beats. But even with six or seven TV cameras with bright lights, flashing bulbs and between 25 to 30 media members sticking recorders and microphones in their face and backing them up against the wall, they answered each question with a smile and a shrug, simply saying they gave it their best shot and that they had no regrets.

It was heartbreaking to watch Antoine Saout step in front of the hot lights just minutes after he saw his title hopes go up in smoke. The Frenchman could have shocked the world by coming from the second-smallest stack to win the Main Event. He had the chip lead late in the game, but ended up suffering a couple of brutal bad beats to Joe Cada and finished third. After spending a record-breaking 15 hours at the table -- and despite the fact that he does not speak very good English -- he came out into the corridor, stood in front of the masses and did his best to answer every question that was thrown at him.

But when Mr. Ivey was eliminated in seventh place, he didn't suck it up and face the music, so to speak. Instead he was nowhere to be found. The player whose victory would have been "the best thing for poker" decided to skip out on his requested date with the media. Instead of coming out and taking on the full-court media press as ALL of his fellow final tableists did, Mr. Ivey remained behind closed doors, giving access only to WSOP TV hostess Lacey Jones and Nolan Dalla, the WSOP media director.

As the media did what it was instructed to do and waited for Ivey in the exact spot we were told to report 10 minutes after each bust-out, it became more and more clear that he wasn't going to show. And when we saw WSOP Communications Director Seth Palansky come out from behind closed doors with a disgusted look on his face, we knew we had indeed been dissed.

"We made it clear to [Ivey] that we wanted him to come out and talk to you guys and he made it clear that he didn't want to do it," Palansky said apologetically to the assembled media, many of whom would have been back reporting Ivey's comments on Twitter and in running blogs minutes later so the millions of poker fans across the world who were not inside the Rio but were following the action online could have heard from "the game's greatest player" moments after he got bounced from "the game's greatest tournament."

"What are you going to do?" Palansky said with a roll of the eyes. "You can't force a guy to do something he doesn't want to do."

Palansky is exactly right. You can't force a grown man to do something he'd rather not do. And I fully understand that we live in a world where stars can and usually do abide to a different set of rules than everyone else. But let me pose the question: What would have been "the best thing for poker?" Having Ivey – the undisputed "greatest player in the world" – come out and talk about what was the most-anticipated final table in the illustrious history of the WSOP Main Event, or have him cower behind closed doors and pick and choose who he wanted to answer to?

Do you think average poker fans would rather hear from Phil Ivey today about what has turned into an epic final table battle? Or would those fans rather have heard from Kevin Schaffel, a guy they wouldn't have known if he served them their coffee at Starbucks a few months ago?

The irony here is that even the guy wearing the black hat and the one set up as the villain entering the final table – Jeff Shulman – stood in front of the media and answered questions patiently. You probably remember that Shulman –- who has a keen dislike for the WSOP and the people who run it – was quoted back in July as saying he would toss the bracelet in the trash if he won it. So, you would have thought he was the guy that would have been the most likely to give the Heisman to the media. Not the great Phil Ivey, who about 30 minutes after his back-door exit from the Rio was online at Full Tilt playing $2,000-$4,000 Hi/Lo Split with his buddies David Benyamine, David Oppenheim and Gus Hansen.

Once again, Ivey can do whatever he wants to do. He's got that much cache – and he's earned it. And in the end he'll still have his legion of fans, his endorsement deals and, no doubt, he will still be considered the "greatest player in the world."

But it would be difficult for him to argue about what would have been "best for poker." The fans deserved to hear from him. The media deserved the chance to ask Ivey the same tough questions they asked the other players that were eliminated. And the WSOP deserved to have the brightest star in the game, step up and be a man following his exit from the biggest tournament in the world.

That, my friends, is what would have been "best for poker."

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