Was Phil Ivey Right to Boycott the WSOP?

by Lou on June 7, 2011

Phil Ivey has taken a lot of heat along with a dollop of praise for his decision to boycott this year’s World Series of Poker and for his lawsuit against Full Tilt.  Some say his statement was at odds with his actions—that he was suing out of self-interest and did not have other poker players in mind.  Many observers of the poker scene also wonder why he is boycotting the WSOP, which has nothing to do with Full Tilt, and seems to be the wrong target.

But let’s put this in some sort of context.  By boycotting the WSOP, Ivey took a stand that the non-payment of players’ funds—including any money of his own that may be in Full Tilt’s possession—is too serious a problem to be ignored with a business-as-usual attitude.  If the WSOP is anything in addition to being poker’s biggest annual event, it’s a stage—a forum if you will—for anything and everything having to do with poker.  It’s when the world’s attention is focused on poker, and Ivey used that stage to get his message across.

Not taking as dramatic a step as Ivey, but still signifying a distancing from Full Tilt, were fellow Team Full Tilt members Tom Dwan and Erik Seidel who appeared at the first open event of the WSOP without wearing any Full Tilt patches or insignias.  Good for them.

On the other end of the spectrum were Erick Lindgren, Patrick Antonius, Gus Hansen, and John Juana and who each played in the $25,000 buy-in heads-up no-limit hold’em championship, decked out in their Full Tilt gear.  And then there’s Howard Lederer, who reportedly had a management role in Full Tilt as well as being one of its more visible faces.   Lederer, according to most sources, left the country and hasn’t been seen in public since Black Friday first broke on April 15.

While no one would begrudge a professional poker player plying his trade at the WSOP, it is insulting for anyone to wear the Full Tilt logo while players are still waiting to find out if the company will ever return their customers’ money to them.

I applaud Ivey, Dwan, and Seidel for publicly distancing themselves from Full Tilt.  But shame on Full Tilt and its other Team Full Tilt members who wore their patches as though it’s business as usual.  And shame on Howard Lederer, who apparently cut and run in the dark of night and hasn’t had the cojones to stand up and explain what’s going on to the poker world at large, and to customers who trusted him and trusted Full Tilt.

And as far as Phil Ivey’s boycott of the WSOP is concerned, I agree that his chosen target has nothing whatsoever to do with Full Tilt.  But then again, no one has to play the WSOP, and if Ivey wants to deny himself a bracelet opportunity because he believes that the WSOP affords him the biggest possible stage to state his case against Full Tilt, there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Nearly 100 years ago, when James Joyce wrote, “The only arms I allow myself to use, silence, exile, and cunning,” he wasn’t thinking of Black Friday, Full Tilt, or Phil Ivey.  But Ivey’s masterful stroke in the battle for the hearts and minds of the poker world would have made Joyce proud.

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