During a decorated career spanning over two decades and counting, poker pro Phil Ivey has cashed in 174 tournaments and earned dozens of first-place titles. His largest tournament haul to date tops out at a little over $3.5 million, an impressive haul for any gambler to say the least. But what if I told you Ivey somehow managed to triple that win rate, in a single session no less, playing high-stakes baccarat at the Borgata?
In 2012, alongside a playing partner who possessed an incredibly lucrative secret, Ivey doubled down on his reputation as a legendary card sharp. Armed with insider knowledge and an arsenal of chips, Ivey earned an eight-figure payday playing baccarat better than anybody else ever had before.
How Phil Ivey Went From Poker Champ to Baccarat “Cheat”
Long before he was betting $150,000 a hand at his own private punto banco table, Phil Ivey was better known as “No Home” Jerome.
That nickname originated in Atlantic City back in the 1990s, as an underage Ivey used a fake ID with the name Jerome to play in the Taj’s infamous Seven-Card Stud games. Because the teenage terror of the table never seemed to leave, the locals joked that he must have had no home at all.
Ivey eventually settled in Las Vegas to pursue professional poker, storming out of the gate almost immediately as he started to crush the tournament scene. His very first official cash was a victory for $53,297 at the 2000 Jack Binion World Poker Open.
Just a few months later, Ivey parlayed his first trip to the World Series of Poker (WSOP) into $195,000 more, along with a coveted gold bracelet in Pot Limit Omaha.
Ivey never let up from there, eventually adding nine more WSOP bracelets, a World Poker Tour (WPT) title, and over $31 million in career tournament earnings.
In 2012, fresh off of a huge win at the Aussie Millions series for over $2 million, a fellow high-stakes gambler introduced Ivey to a beautiful Chinese woman named Cheng Yin “Kelly” Sun. A specialist in “edge sorting,” an obscure advantage play technique which takes advantage of slight imperfections in the cards, Sun had been crushing the Sin City baccarat scene for years.
In order to edge sort, one must be keenly aware of the distinct patterns that adorn the back of playing cards. As it turns out, many card manufacturers mistakenly cut their cards so that the pattern is not symmetrical on either side.
To visualize what I mean by non-symmetrical, check out this short video explanation of edge sorting below. Essentially, a skilled edge sorter can quickly scan a face down card and size up the patterns on either side of the card.
Thanks to Ivey’s reputation in the industry, he was able to convince two casinos—Borgata in Atlantic City and Crockfords in London—to allow him and Sun to use a unique set of rules to make their edge sorting scheme practical. The game was mini-baccarat, so only the dealer touched the cards. Only one deck would be used and recycled using an automatic shuffling machine only.
And most importantly, Sun requested Cantonese speaking dealers so she could make special requests. During the first handful of hands, Sun would ask the dealer to rotate any high-value baccarat cards—like the six, seven, eight, and nine—180-degrees so that the non-symmetrical edge faced her. Over time, all of the good cards showed a non-symmetrical edge, while bad cards faced the other way.
Thanks to the automatic shuffling machine, once these cards had been edge sorted, they stayed that way all night.
In the end, Sun and Ivey now knew whether the first card out of the shoe (dealt to the player hand) was strong or weak. Using this knowledge, they duo adjusted their bets accordingly, going higher whenever the Player hand had the advantage.
As a result, Sun and Ivey turned baccarat’s usual house edge of 1.06% to a whopping 6.76% player advantage. In April of 2012, the pair hit Borgata for $9.6 million playing real money baccarat for $150,000 per hand.
“Phil did not want me eating or sleeping. They only wanted me to be playing. That’s why they called me ‘Baccarat Machine.’ One time we played 24 hours. Phil slept on the floor [of the high-limit room].”
After using their baccarat money to win another $560,000 playing craps, Ivey and Sun cashed out while Borgata management begrudgingly settled up.
Ivey and Sun eventually made their way to Crockfords in London four months later. Only this time, things didn’t go so smoothly the second go around…
The edge sorting gambit itself worked to perfection once again, netting the team an additional £7.8 million ($10.82 million) in profit. Unfortunately for Ivey and Sun, the higher ups at Crockfords had grown suspicious of the eclectic rules and requests made by these titanic stakes players.
Rather than pay up in cash straight away, Crockfords told Ivey that his funds would be delivered via wire transfer. But when he touched down back in Las Vegas a few days later, the poker pro and his baccarat “Machine” were stunned to learn that no payment would be forthcoming.
Ivey Sues Crockfords Hoping to Collect His £7.8 Million in “Winnings”
In May of 2013, Ivey elected to sue Crockford’s in hopes of recovering the outstanding debt.
At the time, he issued the following statement explaining his decision:
“I am deeply saddened that Crockfords has left me no alternative but to proceed with legal action, following its decision to withhold my winnings.
I have much respect for Gentings, which has made this a very difficult decision for me. Over the years I have won and lost substantial sums at Crockfords and I have always honoured my commitments.
At the time, I was given a receipt for my winnings but Crockfords subsequently withheld payment. I, therefore, feel I have no alternative but to take legal action.”
As the lawsuit dragged on, Ivey also made no denials about his use of the edge sorting technique.
Following a Series of Lower Court Losses, Ivey’s Suit Eventually Reached the UK Supreme Court
There, Lord Hughes derided Ivey’s “strategy” claims by pointing out that the casino would not be permitted to invalidate a deck of card’s inherent randomness either.
In his final ruling against Ivey, Hughes went so far as to label Ivey a cheat:
“What Mr. Ivey did was to stage a carefully planned and executed sting, which further suggests opposing ideas of what constitutes ‘cheating’ in the minds of the parties involved.”
Borgata Flips the Script by Suing Ivey Over $10.16 Million Already Paid Out
In April of 2014, now realizing they had been had, executives at the Borgata filed suit against Ivey to retrieve its payouts from two years prior.
In the casino’s filings, Borgata lawyers positioned Ivey’s actions as a premediated plan to “manipulate” baccarat’s inherent odds.
Three years of legal wrangling later saw a federal judge order Ivey to repay the entirety of his baccarat and craps winnings from 2012. Ivey quickly filed an appeal in circuit court, however, and that effort resulted in an undisclosed settlement with Borgata in 2020.
All things considered, Ivey likely wound up in the red on this entire edge sorting fiasco. Between his outright lost in the London case, and six years’ worth of attorney’s fees to secure a mere settlement with the Borgata, one must wonder if Ivey would do it all over again.
After all, another consequence of the legal imbroglio has been a sharply curtailed tournament schedule. When you’re already capable of printing money in the biggest poker games on the planet, why would such a convoluted “get rich quick” hustle even be necessary?
Well, as Ivey himself would tell you, a gambler gambles… always.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
The information found on Gamblingsites.org is for entertainment purposes only. It is a purely informational website that does not accept wagers of any kind. Although certain pages within Gamblingsites.org feature or promote other online websites where users are able to place wagers, we encourage all visitors to confirm the wagering and/or gambling regulations that are applicable in their local jurisdiction (as gambling laws may vary in different states, countries and provinces).
Gamblingsites.org uses affiliates links from some of the sportsbooks/casinos it promotes and reviews, and we may receive compensation from those particular sportsbooks/casinos in certain circumstances. Gamblingsites.org does not promote or endorse any form of wagering or gambling to users under the age of 18. If you believe you have a gambling problem, please visit BeGambleAware or GAMCARE for information and help.