Inside Phil Ivey’s $10 Million Scam

Gamblers, by nature, tend to have their own special quirks when playing their favorite game. Craps players prefer to situate the dice a certain way before throwing, poker players stack their chips a certain way, and so on and so forth. The poker legend Phil Ivey was no different when he played at casinos, such as the Borgata in Atlantic City.

Anytime the man would play he needed to be ensured his own, private area, a dealer who spoke a specific Chinese dialect, and many other accommodations that cause many people to simply shake their head in confusion. While all of this seemed to be nothing more than the superstitious activity of a gambler whose superstitions seemed to pay off, the reality of the matter was that Phil Ivey was scamming almost every casino he played at.

An Elaborate Card Trick

According to government investigators, all of those strange requests Ivey had were nothing more than critical puzzle pieces that all came together to ensure that he would win large sums of money more often than he wouldn’t. Included amongst these tricks were secret commands (of which were spoken in Chinese to the dealer) and a kind of edge sorting which, if done right, gives the player an edge over the house rather than the house having the edge over the player, which is how casinos make their money.

Thanks to recently released court documents, Phil Ivey and his alleged accomplice Cheng Yin Sun were outed for using a card-marking system that never left any trace other than the millions in winnings which the two accrued.

Though it is quite complicated, the technique employed by the fraudsters saw Ivey being able to identify the prospective value of a card based upon the symmetry, or lack thereof, of the back side. When done correctly, Ivey went from seeing the casino have a 1% edge over him, to him having a 7% edge over the house. After this was all uncovered, a judge in New Jersey mandated that the duo pay back more than $10 million—which is around the same amount the two won via multiple trips to the Atlantic City Borgata.

Criminal Complaint Explains It All

The complaint, which was filed more than 2 years ago, states, in part, that the two “played Baccarat with cards that had been manipulated and ‘marked’ so that their value was identifiable to Ivey and Sun before bets had to be placed and before the cards were dealt.”

The complaint went on to describe just how this was done. It said, “Sun would identify minute asymmetries on the repeating diamond pattern on the backs of the playing cards to identify certain cards’ values, and would have the dealer turn those strategically important cards so that they could be distinguished from all other cards in the deck. Ivey and Sun would then be able to see the leading edge of the first card in the shoe before it was dealt, giving them ‘first card knowledge,’ and Ivey would bet accordingly.”

Once you hear all of this, it immediately makes sense as to why Ivey always requested incredibly specific accommodations when playing. If it weren’t for these, many believe that the fraud scheme would have had a much more difficult time netting anyone consistent profits. Before anyone became the wiser, Ivey explained that he needed these special gambling setups due to his own superstition. Because he was known, worldwide, as a very high-stakes player, any casino was willing to concede to his demands, no matter how ridiculous they seemed.

Despite the court ruling that Ivey and Sun needed to pay back more than $10 million, nothing has been paid back as yet. The case is still being contested as Ivey, Sun, and the attorneys representing them are still claiming complete innocence. It is tough to envision a scenario where the two get off scot-free, however it is still going on so we will defer judgement to the US judicial system.