Phil Ivey loses battle with casino, ordered to pay back millions in baccarat winnings

10-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner Phil Ivey and his associate Cheung Yin Sun have been ordered by a federal judge to return $10.1 million in winnings to the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, two years after the Borgata sued the pair for allegedly cheating.

The ruling was especially controversial, as Ivey and Sun claimed that they simply used observation and skill to exploit a flaw in the casino’s game in order to maximize their own chance at winning. The process, called edge-sorting, has earned the pair millions of dollars across the world – but many casinos are trying to fight back. The New York Times explained the strategy earlier this year, which Sun developed after being arrested for a gambling debt.

Via the New York Times:

“Sun visited several Las Vegas casino gift shops and bought souvenir decks of playing cards. They look identical to those used at the gaming tables but have holes punched through their centers to prevent cheaters from slipping a souvenir ace of spades, say, into a poker game. Sun had no such intention. She scrutinized the backs of the cards. Some had crisscrossing patterns that went right to all four edges.

The patterns on these cards, as a consequence of the manufacturing processes, were trimmed slightly differently on top and bottom, resulting in uneven margins of 1/32 of an inch or less. She spent around a thousand hours, over four years, training herself to recognize the minute variations on particular cards. Sun figured out how she could leverage these differences that were almost imperceptible and acceptable by industry standards. She wasn’t the first to recognize this vulnerability and capitalize on it. But she expanded on the strategy of exploiting unmatched trims, a ploy that has long been known as “edge sorting.” Sun applied it to a baccarat spinoff called mini-baccarat and earned herself a nickname, the Queen of Sorts.”

Sun used the technique to win $1 million from the Aria casino in 2011, and eventually brought Ivey into the fold.

“During the next year, he wired seven-figure sums to various casinos and did the betting. Sun did the edge-sorting of the cards and tipped off Ivey whether to wager on banker or player. Their combined winnings in Atlantic City, London and other places were in the eight figures.”

In 2012, Ivey won more than $10 million in a London casino by edge-sorting, but he was refused payment as the casino claimed he was cheating. Ivey sued, but eventually lost the case.


“What this ruling says is a player is prohibited from combining his skill and intellect and visual acuity to beat the casino at its own game,” [Ivey’s attorney] said, adding Ivey will appeal the ruling soon. “The casino agreed to every single accommodation requested by Phil Ivey in his four visits because they were eager to try to win his money.”