Phil Ivey aka ‘No Home Jerome’
There aren’t many punters in the world that have the profile of Phil Ivey. From very modest beginnings Ivey has become a household name, not only for his exploits at the poker table but also for the way in which he climbed the ladder to become one of the world’s top high stakes cash game players.
Ivey learnt the game of poker from a very early age, thanks to his Grandfather who started teaching him five card stud at the age of 8. However, unlike most family members, his Grandad wanted to teach him a few life lessons. He did his best to hustle a young Ivey and cheated, in a bid to discourage the youngster from becoming yet another hustler out of New Jersey.
Ironically that didn’t seem to phase Ivey and he famously began his journey to poker stardom by buying a fake ID so he could go to Atlantic City. He soon used the regular cash games to build a poker bankroll.
The ID that Ivey bought for $50 was under the name of ‘Jerome Graham’. At the time Ivey was 18 and living with his parents. He was commuting two hours so he could develop his poker skills and build a bank. Ivey quickly became a regular and would spend up to 16 hours a day in card rooms around Atlantic City, making him was known by all the players and dealers.
His legend began to grow when it was discovered that Ivey would spend many nights sleeping under boardwalks after the long sessions in the card rooms, because the last bus home wasn’t until sunrise. He quickly earned the name, ‘No Home Jerome’ for his exploits, before he finally moved out of home and got an apartment near the casino strip.
Building his bankroll
Ivey initially worked as a telemarketer while taking shots at higher and higher stakes in a bid to continue growing his bankroll. Ultimately he would end up playing in the highest stakes stud games and No Home Jerome quit his job and became a professional gambler.
By age 30 Ivey had gone on to win five World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, with his first at age 23 in a Pot Limit Omaha. However, Ivey has always been more of a cash game player.
Prior to his mainstream success, when he left Atlantic City for the West Coast he came to the attention of Barry Greenstein, a high-stakes poker player who earnt a significant amount from playing a private high-stakes game at the home of Hustler Founder, Larry Flynt.
Greenstein took Ivey under his wing and also helped stake him, so he could have a genuine shot at the $4000/$8000 blind game, which at the time was significantly higher than what was on offer elsewhere. After initially almost losing the $500K stake from Greenstein, Ivey eventually turned it around and went on to take a small fortune out of that game.
For all his success at the tables, controversy in gambling circles has also followed him. When ‘Black Friday’ hit’ – the day the US Department of Justice decided to shut down access to a number of the world’s top online poker sites – Ivey got caught up in the controversy. When Chris Moneymaker took out the 2003 world series, online poker began to boom. Poker players quickly become celebrities and Ivey had a financial relationship with one of the big players in Full Tilt Poker.
Caught up in the controversy
When the FBI intervened and locked up thousands of players funds, Ivey was embroiled in the controversy and almost became the face of the shut down.
More recently, Ivey has also been caught up in an alleged ‘cheating’ scandal. After meeting a Chinese punter in Australia, he was shown how to ‘edge sort’, a way in which you can gain an advantage over certain games by identifying particular cards in a deck if they’re damaged or marked.
Ivey and his new associate took their show on the road and attempted to hustle a gambling club in London. He won USD$12 million but was refused to be paid out and accused of cheating. He took the matter to court and lost, and once again his reputation took a hit in the eyes of the public.
For all his controversy, his level of skill can’t be argued with. His story is now one of legend in gambling circles and he has ridden the wave of online gambling like few others. At the height of his career, he earned the nickname the ‘Tiger Woods of poker’. That’s a long way from ‘No Home Jerome’ Graham – the punter sleeping under a boardwalk in New Jersey.
With nearly $25 million in poker tournament winnings and a reported net worth of $100 million, it seems that Ivey’s Grandad might have just turned him into the ultimate Jersey hustler after all.