American poker pro Phil Ivey is arguably the best poker player of our time, and is apparently quite good at other card games, too. In August of 2012, he won £7.8 million (USD $12.1 million) at the Punto Banco (Baccarat) tables of London’s Genting Casino. However, the casino didn’t see it that way, accusing him of cheating and subsequently withholding his winnings. Last week, Ivey appeared in UK High Court to plead his innocence.
Phil Ivey was accused by the casino of edge sorting, a somewhat seedy technique of observing the edges of the cards for imperfections, and making a mental note of them to gain an advantage as the game goes on. The US poker pro was quick to admit that he did, indeed, use the edge sorting strategy during the punto banco game to increase his chances of winning, but vehemently denied cheating.
“I consider all the strategies I use to be lawful and I would never cheat in a casino,” explained Ivey. “It is not in my nature to cheat and nor would I risk my reputation by acting unlawfully in any manner.” By Ivey’s definition of edge sorting, one could say it is akin to reading the body language of his opponents at the poker tables; something every seasoned pro uses to their advantage on their path to success.
Ivey told the court, “My integrity is infinitely more important to me than a big win, which is why I have brought these proceedings to demonstrate that I have been unjustly treated.”
Genting Casino also agreed that Phil Ivey won the £7.8 million at the tables, but their point of view differs entirely in terms of the legality of his methods. According to the casino, edge sorting is a form of cheating, and as such, an unlawful way to gain an advantage over the house.
Richard Spearman, Phil Ivey’s attorney, explicated his client’s reasoning that casinos are “a cat and mouse environment… an adversarial environment”. In layman’s terms, it would not be fair to bring a gun to a sword fight, but observing a fencing opponent’s range of movement in one match to get the upper hand in an ensuing match is merely a strategic advantage, not a duplicitous one.
The 38 year old, 10x WSOP bracelet winner further explained to the court that he employs a “variety of strategies whilst playing in casinos.” He admitted that, “no system is fail-safe and each time I play I risk failing to execute the strategy properly – some of these are very complex or difficult to execute – which usually results in me losing a lot of money. I consider that I would not be doing my job very well if I did not seek to use to my benefit weaknesses that I identify in the way that casinos set up or offer particular casino games.”
A ruling from the UK High Court is expected to be handed down in the case by the end of next week. However, Ivey’s legal battle will carry on through 2015 as he faces similar allegations from the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Borgata is suing Ivey for $9.6 million, which he previously won playing baccarat at the casino using the same edge sorting technique.