Phil Ivey’s Baccarat Edge Sorting Saga

Phil Ivey is one of the best poker players of all-time. Some regard Ivey as the G.O.A.T. in regards to poker. Ivey has US$32,331,928 in tournament earnings, ten World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, and tens of millions of dollars in cash game winnings. He loves gambling but he hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons after becoming embroiled in a baccarat edge sorting scandal in 2012.

Ivey and partner Cheung Yin Sun visited the Borgata casino in New Jersey on April 11, 2012. They won US$2,416,000. A visit on May 3 saw them leave with an additional US$1,597,400, and another US$4,787,700 on July 17. Ivey and Sun later returned and won another US$824,900 for a total of $9,608,000. Borgata paid the pair after each visit.

The baccarat gamblers headed to Crockfords Casino in London, United Kingdom, in August of the same year. They won £7.8 million (A$14.93 million) but their play drew suspicion from the casino. Crockford suspected the pair used edge sorting to win and, therefore, only returned their £1 million deposit.

Ivey and Sun sued Crockfords for the £7.8 million they won during their trip. However, Borgata sued the couple for the return of its $9.6 million because they suspected edge sorting.

What Is Edge Sorting

Although not illegal, edge sorting is frowned upon in the casino world. Some say it is a grey area, but what is edge sorting?

Playing cards produced by manufacturers often have unintentional edge regularities. The backs of each card are identical but it is possible to see minor differences on the two long edges of the card. This is due to the printing and cutting process. Turning a card 180 degrees makes it possible to see these differences clearer.

Edge sorting players request the dealer rotate high-value cards, stating it is a superstition. The dealer, wanting to please the high rollers, obliges. High-value cards are now distinguishable from low-value cards for the rest of the session.

This is super important in baccarat but also in games like blackjack. Ivey and Sun used edge sorting to determine high-value cards and altered their bets accordingly. Is it cheating? not in the true sense of the world but it is an underhand tactic.

Legal Cases Roll On

Unsurprisingly, the legal cases ran for several years due to the large sums of money involved. A British judge ruled in favour of the casino, leading to Ivey appealing. The Court of Appeal upheld the original decision, before the Supreme Court held Ivey cheated. He kissed goodbye to his £7.8 million winnings.

The legal case in the United States was even more drawn out. Borgata sued Ivey for US$10.1 million in total, which he defended himself against. A U.S. District Court Judge ruled Ivey had not committed fraud. However, he found him guilty of breaching his contract with the casino. This left Ivey on the hook for US10.1 million.

In February 2019, a New Jersey judge gave the green light to cease Ivey’s Nevada assets because he had none in New Jersey. Ivey pre-empted this and got rid of many assets. Ivey cashed for US$124,410 in a US$50,000 buy-in tournament at the WSOP. Borgata’s lawyers turned up and confiscated his winnings.

Amazingly, the case disappeared after eight years of activity. The Borgata stated they reached a settlement with Ivey, although it did not disclose the terms.

Stay Away From Grey Areas

Edge sorting is not illegal, much like counting cards in Blackjack is not. It is, however, a grey area and something casinos are not happy about. Casinos reserve the right to refuse to pay your winnings. In addition, they can ban you from venues if they see fit. Then there is the fact they have almost unlimited bankrolls if they choose to sue you for damages.

It is best to stay away from grey areas and concentrate on simply having a good time.