Phil Ivey recently sat for an interview (which is a rare thing) conducted by Nolan Dalla. Although it was just a few soft-ball questions (no mention of Full Tilt Poker stuff), it still gives a very interesting glimpse into Ivey’s mind, in my opinion. He also talks a little bit about poker tells.
What stood out for me were these comments:
Ivey: Yes, I make a lot of mistakes…there are hands that come up that you could have bet different amounts. You could have re-raised where you didn’t. You could have checked where you should have bet. There are tons of mistakes every session, even for me. What separates me from a lot of the other players is that I recognize the mistakes when I make them. A lot of the other players don’t recognize when they make mistakes and I think that’s important for improving your game.
Ivey recognizes that improvement is always possible. I think many winning players (especially winning players) have the idea that they’ve reached a peak in ability. I don’t think many people see the extreme levels of complexity that someone like Ivey sees, whether it’s the information you can gain about someone’s likely strategies and adjustments as the game progresses, or whether it’s correlating players’ physical behavioral patterns. I think Ivey would agree with the idea that thinking you’ve reached a peak or near-peak in ability tremendously limits your ability to improve. If you believe something doesn’t exist, it won’t exist for you; it’s that simple.
Another good quote:
Ivey: …there’s times that I’m not thinking about poker, like when I’m playing golf, playing sports, watching movies or spending time with family and friends, there’s those times. But most of the time I am thinking about poker — different ways to play hands, people’s expressions when I’m in pots against them, things like that.
Ivey admits to thinking a lot about people’s expressions, which I think is tremendously telling. I would bet a lot of money that Ivey is very good at remembering people’s physical mannerisms and saving that info for future hands and sessions, just like I’m sure he’s very good at remembering their fundamental strategies and betting tendencies. This combination of abilities would explain a lot about his prowess, when other excellent players are only good at the fundamental strategy part and not the more physical/psychological part.
Then again, maybe he’s leveling everyone and making them think tells are important so they’ll waste their time thinking about tells too much. Remember the time he told David Sklansky that he’d never heard of the expression “EV”? That was funny.
If you’d like to learn more about poker tells and psychology, you can buy my books and a few other poker tells products here. You can also get Reading Poker Tells and Verbal Poker Tells on Amazon.