Phil Ivey Asks UK Court to Decide Exactly What Is Cheating

5 years ago
Phil Ivey Attempts to Clear His Name in UK Court
19 Apr

Thought by many to be the world's best all around poker player, Phil Ivey made the headlines for a different reason back in 2012. On a trip to London, UK, he visited the upmarket private casino Crockford's, an exclusive outfit in Mayfair, to play the game Punto Banco, a form of Baccarat.

Ivey was accompanied by his friend and fellow professional gambler Cheung Yin Sun who apparently already had previous form for what took place over the evening.

The pair went on a roll winning around £7.8 million at James Bond's favorite game, until at the end of the night, the casino staff thought something was seriously amiss and refused to hand over the profits, only the funds initially deposited were returned.

Of course this was never going to be the end of the story and both parties headed to the law courts of London to see what a judge would have to say on the matter.

This was where things became interesting when the details of what transpired that evening were made public.

The pair of gamblers admitted in court that they had used a technique called “edge sorting” to gain an edge on the house. This method uses the fact that playing card manufacturers don't always produce a visually perfect product and the imperfections can be seen on the back of the card, allowing players who are aware to work out which cards are high, and which are low. Once this is clear then the statistical advantage switches to the player from the casino.

Ivey was initially betting £50,000 on each hand, until he completed the edge sorting when he successfully asked for permission to raise the stakes up to £150,000 per hand, and the money started to flow in.

In what might appear to be a small detail, but which later contributed heavily to his downfall, crucial to Ivey's success was that he was able to have a clear view of the backs of the cards. The rules preclude players from handling all the cards, so he convinced the dealer to set the cards out on the table in a specific layout so he could see the full pattern on each card on display.

Later on in 2014, when the case was finally decided in favour of Crockford's, Judge John Mitting stated that Ivey had unfairly convinced the unwitting dealer to display the cards in an unusual manner by declaring himself as “superstitious,” and claiming he wanted to keep playing with the same set of cards because they were “lucky”.

The final judgement was that Ivey cheated “by using the croupier as his innocent agent or tool,”and that his method overall constituted cheating under civil law in the United Kingdom.

He gave himself an advantage which the game precludes," Mitting announced. “This is, in my view, cheating.”

Ivey responded shortly after through a spokesman.

I believe that what we did was a legitimate strategy and we did nothing more than exploit Crockford's failures to take proper steps to protect themselves against a player of my ability. Clearly today the judge did not agree."

Permission was refused for an appeal, but the law allows for a reapplication at the Court of Appeal in London, and Ivey's lawyers immediately filed papers following the conclusion of the first case.

So It Begins

Fast forward to November 2015, and the judges at the Court of Appeal concluded that Phil Ivey's reasons for appeal raised an important question of law and had a real prospect of success.

Last week on the 13th of April the hearings finally began, and we expect to hear over the coming days what the final decision will be.

Ivey's lawyer Richard Spearman told the court on the first day that cheating is normally constituted by an act of dishonesty, which is clearly not what took place.

Christopher Pymont the lawyer for Genting's Casinos, who own Crockford's, explained

Baccarat is a game of pure chance. It is not a game of skill, it is not a game of mixed skill and chance. You are not supposed to know what is coming out of the shoe. Those are the rules."

Quite amazingly, in my opinion, he spoke of how Crockford's did not even know what edge sorting was, and that they would obviously have taken the necessary precautions to protect themselves had they been aware. It's shocking that a business dealing with obscene amounts of money had been so far behind the curve.

They must have known who Phil Ivey was. The ten times World Series of Poker bracelet winner told Judge Mitting in 2014 that he was an “advantage player,” highly skilled at maneuvering the odds in his favor. If a casino doesn't look after its own interests and allows punters to take advantage, is that cheating? I don't think so.

I think it's an important point that Judge Mitting accepted that Ivey was a truthful witness, and that he truly believed that what he was doing was not cheating. We can all have our opinion, but the law as interpreted by the judges is the final say. I have yet to find any evidence that the argument will be any different to what it was in 2014, so why would we expect a different result?

Of course, appeals are often successful, but a lot of the time new evidence comes to light. I suppose there's always the chance of good fortune whereby a different judge just takes the opposite view. Another game of chance it seems!

Ivey seems more than happy to get a second bite of the cherry though.

This is really great news. I am getting a second shot and I'm hoping we will win this time around. It is not in my nature to cheat, which is why I was so bitterly disappointed by the judge's decision a year ago, even though he said I was a truthful witness."

And There's More

The reader should also be aware that last year the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, USA won permission to sue Ivey and Sun for almost $10 million in another edge sorting scandal. It looks like they too weren't aware of this technique and are possibly trying to take advantage of the fact that Ivey has already unsuccessfully argued his case on the matter, albeit in a different legal jurisdiction.

Ivey has now counter sued Borgata Casino, claiming that they have destroyed the playing cards used by him. His lawsuit states

Plaintiff Borgata knew that those playing cards were critically material to Ivey and Sun's defence, and knew further that destruction of those playing cards would render the defendants irrevocably prejudiced in defending against the plaintiff's claims and in securing judgement against the plaintiff."

Does This Hurt Ivey's Image?

Following his loss against Crockford's, Ivey's statement included the quote

As I said in court, it's not in my nature to cheat, and I would never do anything to risk my reputation."

It is interesting to know that because neither Ivey or Sun were physically handling the game equipment, it could never be a criminal case, it could only be a civil matter. This point seems to me to say that, while people might argue over whether or not any rules were broken, it's difficult to make an accusation of unethical behaviour.

This is important as far as reputations are concerned. Ivey has already been banned from many casinos because of what happened in Mayfair four years ago. For a man in his position as the most recognised card player on the planet, if he were to be labelled a cheat, it could cost him a lot of money in lost sponsorships or invitations to television events. Surely that's not a fair outcome here.

For anybody involved in gambling, how many will claim that card counting at Blackjack is cheating? Was there an outcry when the infamous MIT Blackjack team ran riot in Las Vegas all those years ago?

It's all about trying to get an edge. It's not as if casinos behave ethically as well. Talking about his counter suit against Borgata Casino Ivey explained

The essential mission of Borgata's casino operation is to encourage patrons to lose money by orchestrating a plethora of deceptive practices, such as loud noises and flashing lights on slot machines, hiding the clocks, making exit signs almost impossible to find, having cocktail waitresses wear revealing clothing, and comping copious amounts of alcohol to 'loosen up' their patrons.”

That sounds quite damning, though it's nothing most of us weren't already aware of. It's just distasteful somewhat to hear casinos playing themselves off as some kind of victim when a class act like Phil Ivey manages to get one over on them.

We all await with interest to hear what the latest result will be in Ivey versus Crockford's.

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Mark from Stamford in the UK is a professional cash game player, and part time journalist. A massive chess fan and perpetual traveller.He also produces strategy content for our sister wesbite more


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