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One of America’s biggest names in poker has recently lost a court battle with the UK Supreme Court over $10.2 million-worth of winnings at a London casino.
The entire winnings were obtained playing a card game called punto banco, but the casino ruled that Ivey had broken its in-house rules by utilizing an “edge-sorting” technique to pinpoint advantageous cards mid-game.
Reportedly, Ivey had arranged to meet up with a friend and fellow gambler, Cheung Yin Sun at the casino to play a private game of punto banco during a rare visit to the English capital in 2012.
The owner of Crockfords Casino, Genting Casinos UK, claims the pair jointly profited from an “edge-sorting” method, designed to identify small differences in the patters on the back of playing cards, exploiting that data to improve their chances of winning.
Genting insists that this strategy is illegitimate and has no place in their casino.
If you are unfamiliar with Punto Banco, we’re not surprised. It is said to be a version of the card game baccarat, which is not unlike blackjack as the aim is to use your two cards to add up as close to a certain number as possible – in this case nine. However, it has a complex set of rules.
If the combined value of a player’s two cards reaches ten or higher, the first digit of the total does not count. For instance, a player holding two sevens would add up to four rather than 14.
It’s not a card game that has widespread appeal in casinos but is certainly a popular choice among high-stakes gamblers. The popular 1962 James Bond film Dr No saw Bond, played by Sean Connery, sit down to play ‘chemin de fer’ which is a similar form of baccarat to punto banco.
The Crockfords Club withheld Ivey’s $10.2m punto banco winnings, but the 40-year-old maintain that he had used a legitimate advantage over the house to win. Ivey argued that ‘edge-sorting’ was not a form of cheating as it did not involve dishonesty.
He added that the casino was at fault for failing to guard against his abilities as a gambler and should have his entire winnings returned to him as opposed to his initial $1m stake.
However, the UK Supreme Court’s justices opted to unanimously uphold the Court of Appeal’s initial decision. Lord Hughes said in court of the need to ensure card games such as punto banco remained a game of pure chance.
He insisted that players and the casino itself should not be able to understand patterns of the cards being dealt. Hughes said in summary that Ivey had staged “a carefully planned and executed sting”.
Phil Ivey: The ‘Tiger Woods of Poker’
This story has generated significant interest in the world of poker given Ivey’s standing in the game. Ivey has long been regarded by experts and his fellow poker professionals as the leading all-round poker player on the planet.
His skill and demeanour at the tables has influenced millions of poker fans around the world that have been inspired to host their own poker home games. He boasts ten World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, 31 final tables at WSOP events and 55 finishes in the money at WSOP events.
It’s this success which saw him labelled the ‘Tiger Woods of Poker’, becoming the leading African-American star of the game. Ivey has been the face of some of the biggest online poker rooms in the US, some of which were shut down due to tightened regulations across America.
However, those regulations are slowly being eased once again, with the likes of Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey now authorized to operate legal online poker networks once again.
Although the Hendon Mob website, which ranks professional pokers in an all-time money list based on career earnings, lists Ivey in seventh spot with over $26 million in tournament winnings, Ivey is said to have earnt much more than this in private cash games.
In fact, Ivey once went heads-up (one-on-one) with Andy Beal, a billionaire real estate entrepreneur. The pair clashed in a three-day heads-up game in 2006, resulting in Ivey scooping over $16 million.
This year, Ivey has taken some time out away from the game that made his fortune, skipping the WSOP Main Event for the first time in many years, as well as suspending his online ‘Ivey League’ poker school platform.
There’s no doubt that Ivey will be licking his wounds after losing to the Supreme Court. However, his unmistakable talents at the poker tables should surely see him bounce back in the months and years ahead.