Two years ago, American poker pro Phil Ivey, arguably the most skilled poker player of his generation, was accused by a London casino of cheating his way to £7.7 million (USD $12.5mm) in winnings at the punto banco tables. The establishment refused to pay up, and an incensed Ivey took the matter to the UK High Courts. Today, Ivey’s efforts to retrieve his winnings were shot down by the presiding judge, John Mitting, who ruled that Ivey indeed cheated the casino out of said millions.
It all started in 2012 when the US poker pro entered the Crockfords Casino in London with a friend, Cheung Yin Sun, known to be an expert at identifying flaws in cards. The two then took a seat at the high stakes punto banco (baccarat) table. Like any elite gambler, Ivey invoked the best strategy available to him, but casino management said his version of a strategy was, in reality, cheating.
Ivey was using a tactic referred to as edge sorting; akin to card counting in blackjack. According to the lawsuit, which came to a head this week, the poker pro and his cohort were able to identify distortions in the design of the cards, thereby allowing them to predict the upcoming cards to be dealt. Not only that, Ivey claimed to be superstitious, asking for a specific, Chinese croupier to deal the cards, speaking in Mandarin (a language the floor managers did not understand) and requesting that the cards be turned a certain direction in the shoe. They even requested a specific brand of cards to be used, which Sun would allegedly be able to identify easier. Thus, without ever touching the cards, they were able to effectively manipulate the game, predict the next card to be dealt and make smaller or larger bets, ranging from a few thousands to 150k pounds, based on that prediction. In the end, Ivey racked up £7.7 million in winnings before collecting his chips and departing the table.
When Ivey approached the cashier cage before leaving, he was told that, due to the exorbitant amount of money, his winnings would be wired to his bank account. That’s nothing out of the ordinary for a prodigious gambler like Phil Ivey, so he agreed and went on his way. However, the winnings were never wired to his bank. Instead, the casino wired only the original £1mm in bet placed, informing the US poker player that he would not receive the rest due to the fact that he had cheated.
Irate over the accusation, Ivey filed a law suit against Gentings, owner of Crockfords Casino. “My integrity is infinitely more important to me than a big win,” Ivey said in his dispute, “which is why I have brought these proceedings to demonstrate that I have been unjustly treated.”
The judge heard both sides of the case this week. Ivey proclaimed that he would never stoop so low as to use duplicitous means to swindle a casino out of money. “I consider all the strategies I use to be lawful and I would never cheat in a casino,” the 10x WSOP bracelet winner explained. “It is not in my nature to cheat and nor would I risk my reputation by acting unlawfully in any manner.”
The prosecution for Gentings did not dispute Ivey’s claims that he had won the money, but said that his means of winning were deceitful, and thereby unlawful. In the end, Judge Mitting agreed with Gentings, stating that Phil Ivey, “gave himself an advantage which the game precludes. This is, in my view, cheating.”
After learning that he would not be collecting the $12.5 million he alleged Crockfords owed him, the US poker pro told the press, “I was upset as I had played an honest game and won fairly. I believe that what we did was a legitimate strategy and we did nothing more than exploit Crockfords’ failures to take proper steps to protect themselves against a player of my ability.”
Ivey’s court days are not over yet, though. Another lawsuit is underway in New Jersey where Ivey was accused of using the same edge sorting strategy to cheat his way to $9.6 million in baccarat winnings at The Borgata in Atlantic City. That case is expected to unfold sometime next year.