Phil Ivey, the youngest poker player to win nine WSOP bracelets, was brought up on charges of cheating by the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. The alleged incident occurred back in 2012 when Ivey and his Chinese associate Cheng Yin Sun revisited the casino for a game of baccarat. Both the Borgata and Ivey admit that the gentlemen requested the same table, the same deck, and the same card shuffler on the grounds of “superstition”. The casino, which is in the business of tailoring to high value players, happily obliged. It was only after the pair gained close to $10 million in winnings that the casino suspected foul play. Borgata is claiming that Ivey and his partner used “edge sorting” to gain an unfair advantage on the house leading to their gainful bets.
Edge sorting falls very much into a gray area in terms of legality. In its simplest form, edge sorting is employed by the player to identify irregularities in the pattern on the back of the cards. By making note of these cards and their values, a player can begin to formulate a fail-safe strategy for placing bets providing that the deck and shuffling remain uniform. Ivey and his associate Cheng Yin Sun implemented this strategy in the game of baccarat.
The aim of baccarat, specifically punto banco, is to hold the hand valued closest to nine. Baccarat is a wildly popular card game in casinos abroad and is quickly gaining popularity here in the States. It is commonly played in private back rooms reserved for high roller players due to the high stakes usually associated with the game. Minimum bets of $25 to $500 are typical and bets exceeding $10,000 are not unheard of. In such a high stakes game, having an intimate knowledge of the cards to be dealt can earn a player huge sums of winnings. The “gray area” present in the case of Phil Ivey vs. The Borgata Casino is that the cards were in fact marked with extremely subtle differences. Ivey and his associate did not mark the cards themselves or cheat in any classic sense of the word. They simply used defects in the cards being used by the casino itself to garner a statistical advantage on the house. In a business where the house regularly stacks significant odds against the player, it is hard to place complete fault in the actions of Ivey and Cheng Yin Sun.
However, this is not the first time that Phil Ivey has been involved in a cheating suit related to edge sorting. In August, 2012 he and another Chinese associate were accused of edge sorting to lead to their £7.8 million in winnings at a London casino, Crockfords. The pair again claimed superstition and requested that the casino keep the same shoe for their next game. It was not until the massive run that the casino decided to look into the matter further and refunded Ivey his original £1 million stake. The key difference in the two cases is that The Borgata is suing Ivey for the return of his winnings whereas Crockfords had the sense to return his stake rather than cash him out.
In both suits, Ivey has admitted to edge sorting on the grounds that he was not in the wrong. The precedent for the legality of edge sorting will likely be arrived at the passing of the verdict in each of these cases.