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The Great Phil Ivey Bubble

In sports-betting, a bubble will occasionally materialize that presents savvy bettors with an opportunity to make some cash. In the 2007 NFL season, the New England Patriots became the first team to go 16-0 in the regular season. There’s no question that the Patriots were very good – the best in the league for sure – but over-enthusiasm for them on the betting market created an interesting opportunity. At the start of the playoffs, the New York Giants were listed at 70:1 to win the Super Bowl. Seventy to one even after they had already secured a playoff spot!

This author put a c-note on that line and enjoyed the Super Bowl of a lifetime after deciding against hedging the wager. Our resident TwoGun bet quite a great deal more than that and also neglected to hedge. Everyone knows the rest of the story: David Tyree makes the greatest catch in Super Bowl history which helps lead the Giants to a thrilling victory thereby spoiling the Patriots near-perfect season.

Right now in poker, there are some similar betting opportunities that involve fading a dominant entity. Phil Ivey’s presence at the 2009 Main Event final table has created these opportunities. What happened in the NFL in 2007 is that bettors were piling on the Patriots so much that sports-books were forced to list teams like the Giants with very long odds in order to entice action away from the Patriots. Ivey’s presence at the final table has created an identical scenario.

Take a look at the WSOP betting odds at Pinnacle Sports. You’ll see that Ivey is currently +504 (risk $100 to win $504) to win the Main Event. With roughly 5% of the chips in play, he should be a +1900 longshot to win the tournament if he were viewed as having an average skill-set. But Ivey isn’t viewed as having an average skill-set. He is viewed as having a super-human, unbeatable, best-player-in-the-world set of skills. For that reason, his odds of winning have increased all the way to +504.

While it’s true that Ivey is probably the best poker player in the world, there is way too much optimism regarding his chances of winning this tournament. Remember, the other eight players at the table aren’t total slouches. They navigated through a field of 6,494 to get to where they are and have now enjoyed four months to polish their play for the final table. The over-optimism regarding Ivey’s chances has resulted in some great value in placing a wager on others at the table.

For example, I made a bet that 21 year-old Joe Cada will win the event at odds of +1537 (which moved the line to its current listing of +1300). Cada has about 50% more chips than Ivey but was considered nearly three times less likely to win the tournament! Preposterous, I said.

The youngster Cada has been crushing poker since before he was supposed to be playing it (not unlike Ivey as a young man) and has booked a six-figure victory in an online poker tournament during the break before the Main Event final table. Cada was one of the chip leaders after day one of this tournament and essentially went wire-to-wire with a formidable stack to make this final table.

At odds of +1537, Cada was being given a 6% chance to win the tournament despite having a little more than 7% of the chips in play!. That’s the Ivey factor for you. Normally on a proposition of this nature, the vigorish taken by the sports-book would make it nearly impossible to find any shred of value, but thanks to Ivey, great players like Cada are graded at having less of a chance to win than the percentage of chips they possess.

Other players with similarly good betting value are Kevin Schaffel (who showed he’s no fluke by finishing 2nd in a WPT event in August) at +1558 and chip-leader Darvin Moon at +381. Moon has 30.2% of the chips in play but is being given just a 20.8% chance of winning the tournament at those odds.

Bubbles like this don’t come around often. At the start of last year’s NFL playoffs, the longshot team was the Arizona Cardinals at 40:1. During the Patriots bubble from the year before, no less than five teams had longer odds than that.


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