Phil Ivey, a professional poker player whose achievements include ten World Series of Poker bracelets and a World Poker Tour Title, has lost a long-running court case against Genting Casinos UK for $10.2 million in unpaid earnings.
The American 40-year-old is one of the world’s most successful professional gamblers, earning himself the unofficial title of the ‘Tiger Woods of Poker’. In 2012, Ivey won big playing Punto Banco, a popular version of baccarat, at Genting’s Crockfords Club casino in London. He achieved this using a method called ‘edge-sorting’, which, following three court procedures over the past 5 years, was ultimately declared as cheating by the UK’s High Court last week. Ivey and his accomplice argued that the strategy was legitimate.
Edge-sorting is a relatively unknown technique which uses minor differences in the pattern on the reverse of playing cards to identify winning cards and gain an advantage over the house. In the case of Ivey, he specifically requested a brand of deck which he knew had an identifiable discrepancy: the pattern of white circles on the back was unevenly cut off at the edges, meaning one edge showed slightly more of the circle than the other. The difference was infinitesimal, and spotting it would require hawk-like vision and a trained eye.
To identify the higher-value cards, Ivey then asked the croupier to rotate all seven through to nine cards – the highest value cards in baccarat – 180 degrees. Used to strange or quirky requests by players with specific luck rituals, the croupier obliged, the result being that the high-value cards could now be spotted by Ivey depending on which edge was showing the pattern discrepancy. Ivey played until the casino said the deck needed to be changed, and left having won a whopping $10.2 million from a $1 million stake. The casino then reviewed the footage and identified the technique, refunding his stake but refusing to pay the winnings.
Ivey has taken the case to court several times, with each time the court ruling in favour of the casino. The matter was then subsequently judged at the UK’s High Court last week. At the heart of the argument has been the idea of dishonesty, and whether Ivey could be said to have been cheating given he has always been completely honest about his strategy, which he still maintains was a ‘legitimate Advantage Play technique’.
The court however judged that “what Mr. Ivey did was to stage a carefully planned and executed sting.”: they argued that there would have been no question of whether he was cheating had he physically interfered with the cards, and that asking the croupier to unwittingly move them amounts to the same. This has raised significant debate within the industry of what can count as cheating, as well as to what extent casinos have the power to change the rules of the game when they don’t suit them. Ivey has expressed his disappointment, and stated that it was out of ‘honor and respect’ for the industry and for his profession that he had chosen to fight the casino on the matter.