Known among his peers and fans of the game as one of, if not the best poker player of his generation, Phil Ivey has also often come to public attention in stories involving lawsuits and disputes with various casinos.
A young prodigy who became a master of his domain, millions of dollars at stake and a dispute between players and casinos that requires court action? Lucky7Bonus tells you today the story of what is surely the biggest scandal in the casino world.
Who is Phil Ivey?
If you know anything about poker you've probably heard of Phil Ivey. The man known as "the Tiger Woods of poker" has not stolen this title. Much more than a simple physical resemblance, these two champions of their respective fields share a number of common points.
The most striking of these is the fact that they both began mastering their art at a young age. Phil Ivey was born in 1977 in Riverside, California, and at the age of eight, the young prodigy had the chance to discover poker thanks to his grandfather. His grandfather taught him how to play and was also the only person around him who didn't try to stop him from turning pro.
A young Phil Ivey, as a teenager, used a fake ID to get into the Atlantic City casinos, which allowed him to play real stakes games by the age of 15.
The story goes that he soon became known as no home Jerome in reference to the fact that he spent his entire day gambling, under the pseudonym Jerome Graham.
Poker legends Barry Greenstein and Daniel Negreanu then quickly advised the little genius to become the best player he could be.
From 2000 to 2014, Phil Ivey won no less than 10 WSOP bracelets, participated in 9 World Poker Tour finals and even had the luxury of winning one. Simply put, few players can claim to have dominated poker for so long.
He quickly became the poster boy for Full Tilt Poker where he won over $19,000,000 in cash games and accumulated over $26,000,000 in tournament winnings during his hold'em' career.
These staggering statistics are the result of qualities such as his exceptional focus and his ability to keep his emotions to himself. During his poker career, Ivey has accumulated tens or perhaps even hundreds of millions of dollars, yet he has not shied away from taking on the casinos of Vegas and the rest of the world...
How did Phil Ivey win $20,000,000 playing against the casino?
We can't say it enough, the casino always wins. Unlike poker, where the goal is to compete against other players, putting much more emphasis on technique and skill to win money, it is logically impossible to ensure that you win against the casino.
It is the job of every casino to make sure that its games are fair while still being statistically losing for the player in the long run. The casino must also make sure that it does not allow any opportunity for players to gain an advantage in order to increase their chances of winning. For example, if a dealer is not trained enough to deal the cards correctly, leaving the player to see their value, the fault lies with the casino, which cannot accuse the player of cheating.
The player's role is to try to reduce the casino's advantage as much as possible, while the casino's role is to ensure that it does not lose that advantage.
In this battle regulated to be fair, Phil Ivey and associates have managed to exploit a loophole to win at baccarat, using a method called Edge Sorting.
What is Edge Sorting?
To understand edge sorting, you need to understand how casino playing cards are made. These cards are mass produced and therefore have slight imperfections.
The printing on the back of playing cards often consists of a pattern, either geometric or regular. The edge of the card is often slightly offset from one side of the card to the other. On the back of a card with diamond patterns, for example, one side of the card might have the cut in the middle of the diamond, while the other side would have a cut on the edge of a diamond.
You probably never noticed this kind of defect, but a trained eye will know how to use it to its advantage.
If you rotate certain cards, in this case 7, 8 and 9, 180 degrees, then you can tell whether a face-down card has one of these values or not by looking at the edge of the card.
In Baccarat, the aim is to get closer to 9, it is possible to bet on the bank or the player and the first card will always be dealt to the player. If you have rotated every 7, 8 and 9 in the shoe 180 degrees, you can tell if the player has a good chance of winning even before you choose who to bet on, simply by looking at the edge of the first card in the shoe.
Did Phil Ivey cheat to win?
It is obviously very difficult for a player to shuffle the cards that the dealer is about to deal, as this would call into question the casino's role in protecting it's advantage.
Instead of touching the cards yourself, it is much more effective to motivate the dealer to make the desired changes.
Cheung Yin Sun's strategy
This is where Cheung Yin Sun made her name. This Chinese woman called the baccarat machine or simply Kelly is known to beat any casino that gives her the opportunity to play baccarat.
Kelly met Phil Ivey in 2012, a year in which the successful high stakes player had a few million dollars on him at all times. After several online cash game victories, he won the final of a huge Australian tournament, the Aussie Millions, at an event in Melbourne.
Steven Black introduced the man with the 10 wsop bracelets to Kelly, promising that this young prodigy would be able to make him big money on his investment.
Their method was made simpler by the fact that Phil Ivey was there. Since he is the face of no limit hold'em' and a big fan of other table games like omaha or 7 card stud, the casinos comply with his requests. Indeed, it is not uncommon for wealthy players to make special requests of casinos under the guise of superstition.
Ivey issued a list of requirements that the casino had to meet if it wanted the famous Phil Ivey to spend a fortune in its establishment. It was in accepting these demands that the casino made a mistake. Among the requests, the dealer had to rotate the lucky cards (7, 8 and 9) 180 degrees and deal the first 4 cards before any bets were placed.
With the Edge Sorting champion at the table and such advantageous conditions, dealing the cards face down is almost irrelevant.
With the help of Kelly Sun, Ivey decimated the baccarat tables until he tried his hand at the Borgata casino in the United States. This establishment also accepts the special conditions of Phil Ivey and the latter, always accompanied by his Chinese baccarat machine, takes advantage of it on several occasions.
Now a regular and valued customer, Ivey receives special treatment as the Borgata casino begins to train its dealers to deal cards in a way that suits Phil Ivey. After a few sessions several months apart, the duo left the casino with $10 million in winnings.
The problem is that winning makes it difficult to slow yourself down and the two players replicated the same tactic at Crockfords Casino in London, where they won $11,000,000 in two days. The establishment belatedly realised the problem and refused to pay Ivey, who sued them.
Unfortunately for the American, after the case went all the way to the UK Supreme Court, the casino won. The Borgata casino heard about it and took the opportunity to sue Phil Ivey for the $10 million he had won a few years earlier.
Should Phil Ivey have won his lawsuits?
It took 5 years (2012 - 2017) for the first lawsuit over the winnings that Crockfords refused to pay to be completed. For the winnings from the Borgata casino tables, it took another 3 years for Phil Ivey, Cheung Yin Sun and the casino to reach a settlement that remains confidential to this day.
Although several federal judges as well as the UK Supreme Court judges have ruled that Edge Sorting is cheating, many players and casino personalities refuse to accept these rulings. They feel that the judges lack knowledge of the casino and gambling in general.
Indeed, the establishments in which the games were played agreed in advance to the conditions that gave the player an advantage, rather than simply refusing to do so in order to ensure that they retained an advantage.
This atypical story continues to be the talk of the town and a movie about the famous baccarat machine is expected to be released in the near future. In the meantime, who knows which casino Kelly Sun is winning a fantastic number of high-value hands at?
Meanwhile, Ivey is putting poker back into the centre of his life. He wants to take Phil Hellmuth's place on the World Series of Poker leaderboard. His friend remains ahead for now, with 15 bracelets!
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