One of the biggest stars in the world of professional poker will have to pay back a casino after he cleaned up to the tune of more than $9.6 million playing baccarat. The Washington Post reports that Phil Ivey, a superstar on the World Series of Poker tour, was ordered to pay the money back to the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, N.J., after the casino sued him and his associate Cheng Yin Sun.
Ivey, considered by many poker insiders to be the best all-around poker player in the world, had already won more than $25 million competing in the World Series of Poker and in online games at the time of his 2012 visits to Borgata for baccarat, the story reports. As a big name, he was able to get the casino to accommodate a number of unusual requests.
“In each of his visits to the Borgata, the casino accepted the same five requests,” The Post reports. “Ivey asked: that he play in a private area; that the dealer speak Mandarin Chinese; that he play with eight decks of purple Gemaco Borgata playing cards shuffled together; that the decks be shuffled with an automatic shuffler; and that Ivey would be allowed one guest at the table, a woman named Cheng Yin Sun.”
The key to the pair’s success was Sun, who had memorized tiny flaws in similar sets of purple Gemaco Borgata playing cards, the story reports.
“She purchased souvenir playing cards from the Borgata, identical to the ones used on the casino floor save for holes punched in the center. She discovered that patterns on card backs, designed to be symmetrical, were not perfectly so. Sun trained herself to identify aberrations along the left or right margins of the card backs, no wider than 1/32 of an inch,” The Post reports, citing an analysis earlier this year by The New York Times Magazine.
“The technique Ivey and Sun used was called edge-sorting. Sun was allowed to peek at the card before the dealer flipped it over. In Mandarin, she would ask the dealer to rotate the most valuable cards in the baccarat deck — the sixes through nines — 180 degrees as they were flipped. The automatic shuffler could randomize the cards, but would not alter their rotation,” The Post notes, adding: “With the deck sorted, it was possible for Sun to identify which cards had been rotated. The pair therefore knew the values of the cards while they were being dealt, before completing bets. Ivey adjusted his bets, and once the pair edge-sorted the entire deck, he increased his bids to the maximum allowed.”
In an opinion this month awarding Borgata a payback of $10 million, Judge Noel Hillman of the U.S. District Court in New Jersey wrote: “The defendants not only shifted the odds to their favor, it is undisputed they won and won big.”
Hillman determined that the actions of Ivey and Sun did not amount to fraud, because the rules of baccarat “do not prohibit a player from manipulating the cards.” But he ruled that the pair did break the rules of New Jersey’s Casino Control Act and thus “breached their contract with Borgata.”