When the legendary Bluff of the Century got underway earlier this month at the 2018 World Series of Poker, more than 54,000 people — from groups in Florida and Puerto Rico to hotel workers in Texas and tech wizards in South Korea — tuned in to watch the $10,000 buy-in competition. The staged bluff, played for 50 hands straight, famously came in a game in which a pair of red-shirted men who drank like fish, dressed alike, and were friends throughout their poker careers were hoping to expose some player who had, in the past, screwed up his hand. Two bracelets were needed to win the hand in this game, known as a Player in Control, but when the cards were up for grabs, the tournament stewards had two goals: getting rid of the player who had screwed up his hand, and getting at least one of the five players who were standing in the center of the table to raise. That was a tall order.
But what Mike Janis, then a 24-year-old newcomer to poker in the famed #comcast lobby, understood was the battle as much as the outcome. Janis considered himself the underdog in the bluff game, since the men who were, supposedly, playing for the same stakes had not played well throughout their careers. Janis, a business schools dropout who worked in insurance, was up against them both: Phil Ivey, a legendary player and one of Janis’ lifelong idols, and John Veihmeyer, whose group had actually lost a tournament back in Texas when they were up to $133,000 — still a lot of money, they knew, but not as much as they would have hoped. All they needed to win was to play for just a couple of minutes that night. The stronger of the two players was Ivey, as well as the playing field for all players. Having been told about the odds at the tournament, Janis prepared himself to defy the odds, if only for a couple of minutes.
With two decks of cards in hand, both men would call, and the fight would come down to whether Ivey or Veihmeyer would raise. The familiar “chicken way” was about to be delivered, where both men would begin to ask for stacks and stack. Janis couldn’t believe his ears when he heard the men on the side tables had raised — they had neither a stack of cards to their name, much less demand one. But once again, Ivey wanted to raise. Janis knew it was only a matter of time before the men called him. If he wasn’t going to call, he didn’t need them to raise. Veihmeyer raised, and this time Ivey went all in.
Janis asked for several more cards than both of them were willing to bid, but they both ignored him. Janis continued to inquire about that stack of cards that Ivey had requested, and the players just made fun of him and at the same time didn’t want to raise even further. Janis suddenly had zero cards and nearly nothing left.
What followed was just another terrible end to this story — the breakdown of the bluff game, for which Ivey and Veihmeyer had both planned and invested heavily. But what the two men know is now well documented: Janis successfully gambited Ivey and Veihmeyer down to make the bluff lose, only for Ivey and Veihmeyer to have to play the “chicken way” to raise against Janis, whose hands, he recalled at the World Series of Poker finals on Friday, were only strengthened by their nearly $100,000 losses over the last few days.
It’s also well known that this sudden reversal of fortune wouldn’t have happened, were not for Ivey, who was working in a WVS tournament with a $2,000 buy-in when he got an interview for this one, simply as a favor to his boss, Scott Hochstein, a competitor of Ivey’s in the iconic #comcast poker room at the TPC of Arlington, which is just off the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium. It was while Ivey was playing poker there, Ivey told the Post, that he first knew Ivey was a great player. Ivey went out on a limb for Hochstein, and, told Hochstein, “If he’s not trying to make it, he’s not trying.”
Ivey is considered, by many, to be the greatest poker player in history. After his tournament ends, an ESPN special airs that explains exactly how he got to that point. Back at the #comcast room, though, Ivey had to contend with the fact that he’d lost to a rookie.