Billions, the US TV show created by Rounders duo Brian Koppelman and David Levien, recently aired an episode that drew some inspiration from Phil Ivey.
Broadcast by Showtime in the US and available to international viewers online, Billions is loosely based on the legal battle between US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and hedge fund manager Steven Cohen.
Bharara will be familiar to poker fans for his role in Black Friday and the 2011 shutdown of PokerStars and Full Tilt in the US.
However, he also had a hand in the 2012 insider trading case against Cohen and his hedge fund, SAC Capital. Although Cohen wasn’t charged with insider trading, he was accused of failing to prevent it.
SAC Capital eventually agreed a $1.8 billion settlement and, after closing all its investments, the company was converted in Point72 Asset Management in 2014 without Cohen in charge. Billions is partly based on life in the hedge fund prior to the scandal and, in the third episode of season 2, poker becomes the focal point.
Having a longstanding relationship with the community through Rounders, Koppelman and Levien knew exactly what they wanted from the script. For those who were around during the online poker boom, Phil Ivey’s queen-high bluff against British pro Paul Jackson is one that will forever be remembered (see video below).
Heads-up at the 2004 Monte Carlo Millions, one of the biggest tournaments of the time, Ivey and Jackson engaged in a bluffing war that few players had ever seen before on TV. With $1 million up for grabs and Ivey holding the chip lead, the action started with a limp on the button from Jackson.
Ivey raised with Qh 8h and, after making a continuation bet on the 7c Jc Jh flop, the two players went to war. In short, Jackson hit back with a bluff holding 6s 5d before three raises saw Ivey move all-in with nothing but queen-high. Jackson eventually folded and Ivey proved why he’s one of the best players to ever play the game.
With this hand known as a seminal moment in poker, Koppelman and Levien decided to pay homage to it in the latest episode of Billions. As Koppelman explains in a behind-the-scenes look at the episode (see video 2 below), poker players use cards just like hedge fund managers use their investments to gain an advantage over their rivals.
In this episode, protagonist Axe (played by Damian Lewis) invites employee Taylor (aka Asia Kate Dillon) to play in a charity tournament called the Alpha Cup. Axe’s intention is to gain the upper-hand on his nemesis Todd Krako (Danny Strong) and that’s what happens when Taylor makes a brave call with ten-high.
Following a raising war, Taylor was able to read Krakow for a bluff just as Ivey read Jackson in Monte Carlo. Although slightly dramatic, there are clear allusions to the famous hand, which is a tribute to Mr. Ivey and his ability to spot a bluff at ten paces.