A dramabomb did detonate on the first day of the 2011 World Series of Poker. It just wasn't the one anyone expected.
For weeks, the poker community has been speculating as to which members of Team Full Tilt would show up at the WSOP and whether or not they would don the red and white patches that have become synonymous with their public personae. Although former Full Tilt president Howard Lederer did return to the United States a few days ago to attend to a personal matter (his mother's memorial service), most folks in media row believe he wouldn't dare show his face inside the Rio until a plan was in place for Full Tilt's U.S. customers to be paid out. Other Team Full Tilters, however, weren't quite as concerned about potential face-to-face confrontations at the Rio with angry players. I spotted a patchless Phil Gordon early this afternoon at the Bad Beat on Cancer booth. A few hours later I saw John Juanda in the satellite area and he was wearing a patch. The $25,000 heads-up event that began at 5 p.m. today was littered with red pros, many of them logoed up including Erick Lindgren, Patrik Antonius, Brandon Adams, Huck Seed, David Benyamine and Juanda. Lederer didn't play, of course. Neither did Chris Ferguson or Andy Bloch. But the most glaring absence was Phil Ivey. This is a man with some serious bracelet bets, not to mention a solid favorite against the field.
As Dutch blogger Remko "happyfreaked" Rinkema wrote on his Twitter account earlier today, "Biggest upset of the first day is obviously Phil Ivey not showing up. Is he out for the summer?"
Turns out, he is.
As the first round of the $25k drew to a close, Ivey posted a statement on his official Facebook page that ignited a frenzy. Although the veracity of the statement was briefly in doubt, it was quickly confirmed by the Entities at Wicked Chops Poker via a conversation with Ivey's manager. Released in six parts, here is the complete text:
For many years, I have been proud to call myself a poker player. This great sport has taken me to places I only imagined going and I have been blessed with much success. It is therefore with deep regret that I believe I am compelled to release the following statement.In a word, (well, actually two,) holy shit.
I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed that Full Tilt players have not been paid money they are owed. 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.
My name and reputation have been dragged through the mud, through the inactivity and indecision of others and on behalf of all poker players I refuse to remain silent any longer. I have electronically filed a lawsuit against Tiltware related to the unsettled player accounts. As I am sure the public can imagine, this was not an easy decision for me.
I wholeheartedly refuse to accept non-action as to repayment of players funds and I am angered that people who have supported me throughout my career have been treated so poorly.
I sincerely hope this statement will ignite those capable of resolving the problems into immediate action and would like to clarify that until a solution is reached that cements the security of all players, both US and International, I will, as I have for the last six weeks, dedicate the entirety of my time and efforts to finding a solution for those who have been wronged by the painfully slow process of repayment.
Ivey's page was immediately flooded with supportive statements from players and fans. It's the first official word anyone's heard regarding the payout situation from a member Team Full Tilt, who have all supposedly been muzzled by lawyers. Ivey, no doubt, has a substantial sum of his own money tied up on the site. The seven-figure-per-month dividend checks have stopped coming. So why not file a lawsuit? Not only is it a good PR move to do Bill Clinton's "I feel your pain" routine and align himself with the disgruntled U.S. players, but he's also one of the (very) few Full Tilt Pros who can actually continue to support himself in the lifestyle he's grown accustomed to by playing poker. Ivey loves the game, he'll put in the hours, and he'll take on anyone. Did Howard Lederer cart his bags of money over to Bellagio and step up to the plate in high-stakes cash games over the last couple of years? Of course not. And why would he? Lederer is smart enough to understand that at this point, he lacks any sort of edge in those lineups.
Ivey's statement, however, was not the only drama circling Team Full Tilt today. After losing his Round 1 match to David "Bakes" Baker in the $25k, 2010 WSOP-Europe Main Event champ James Bord hung out on the rail and waited for John Juanda to finish his match before confronting him with a barrage of obscenities. I believe the words "thieving prick" and "disgusting human being" were tossed around before Bord threatened to attack Juanda in the parking lot. Security intervened, and the two were physically separated.
It will be interesting in the next few days to see if similar confrontations pop up. I'm never one to condone violence, but people are angry, quite a few are broke, and after 45 days without moving even a small step closer to returning player balances, they want answers. They're mad as hell, they're not going to take it anymore, and today, Phil Ivey was effectively canonized as their patron saint. Could other Full Tilters fall in step? Yeah... somehow I doubt that. The situation, however, is reaching UB proportions and will grow worse by the day inside this building until someone from Full Tilt other than a low-level PR monkey steps up and starts communicating.
Slow news day, huh?
11:45pm: Pauly, Benjo and I recorded a Tao of Pokerati podcast on the Ivey/Juanda drama. Check out Episode 2: Ivey suing Full Tilt and Juanda harassed.