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Phil Ivey: is he entitled to his multi-million pound winnings?


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Phil Ivey: is he entitled to his multi-million pound winnings?


December 10, 2013

World renowned poker player Phil Ivey is involved in a legal dispute with Crockford's Casino in London over a multi-million pound win at Punto Banco, a Baccarat variant. As reported in a Mail On Sunday article:


Californian world's number one poker player wins $11m in two nights

Britain's oldest casino is investigating a £7.3 million win by the world's top poker player – and is refusing to pay him a penny.

Accompanied by a 'beautiful Oriental woman', Mr Ivey, a 35-year-old Californian, was playing Punto Banco, which is a skill-free variant of baccarat, when he struck a remarkable winning streak.

The 184-year-old casino initially agreed to transfer the winnings to his bank account, but six weeks on it has returned only his £1 million stake.

While it is unclear what, if anything, Mr Ivey has been accused of, lawyers for both sides are said to be engaged in an increasingly tense stand-off. It is not thought that police have been alerted.

Sources said Mr Ivey played for two nights over the August bank holiday for about seven hours in all.

Suspicions over the win intensified when it was discovered that his companion's membership of another Mayfair casino had previously been suspended.

Genting investigators flew to London from Kuala Lumpur to speak to everyone who was working on the two nights in question and to examine hours of film from surveillance cameras.

The cards used and the shoe they were dealt from were also scrutinised. "No imperfections, or marks, that would have given Ivey an advantage were found. In any case, Ivey at no time touched the cards," said a source.

"The shoe was also thoroughly inspected; once again the investigators drew a blank."

(more)



On the face of, it looked like the casino was simply reluctant to pay a big win. The casino was remaining tight-lipped about their suspicions, and initial investigations revealed nothing untoward. However, more details subsequently emerged in another Mail article:


Gambler won £7.8m by "reading" the back of cards

One of the world's top gamblers won £7.8 million in a game of chance by "reading" the backs of the cards, claim the owners of Britain’s oldest casino, who are refusing to pay out.

Phil Ivey, dubbed "the Tiger Woods of poker", is understood to have exploited tiny flaws in the card design during a game of punto banco, a type of baccarat based purely on luck.

The Mail on Sunday, which revealed last October that Mr Ivey's winnings had been withheld, understands the cards were flawed because of a mistake during the cutting process at an overseas manufacturing plant. Crucially, it meant their geometric pattern was not symmetrical, though this would not have been noticeable to the untrained eye.

Cards should look exactly the same if turned 180 degrees. If they do not, it allows so-called advantage players to use a system known as "playing the turn".

It is thought his companion, who is banned from at least two casinos around the world, was also able to spot the imperfections and helped Mr Ivey place his bets. Like Mr Ivey, she lives in Las Vegas. Along with two others, she is said to have won more than $1 million in similar fashion in the US in 2011, but the money was similarly withheld and the casino's decision was later upheld by a gaming commission.

Though Mr Ivey was not allowed to touch the cards at any point, he is thought to have instructed the dealer to tilt each card back to expose its value.

The key cards he was looking out for were nines and eights, and possibly sevens and sixes. When these cards appeared, his companion asked for them to be rotated 180 degrees, pretending that Mr Ivey was superstitious. As this appeared to give him no advantage, the dealer acquiesced.

The rotated cards were returned to the shoe and were easily recognised by the player as different when they were eventually re-dealt, giving him a strong edge. He is also thought to have persuaded the casino not to destroy the cards at the end of each session, which is normal practice.

(more)



There are now a few more things to be considered.


• The cards had flawed, inconsistently designed backs, making them identifiable to the player from the rear.

• The pair apparently asked for the cards with flawed back designs to be rotated before being returned to the shoe, untruthfully claiming that this was on the basis of Ivey's superstition.

• They asked for the flawed cards to not be destroyed, but be returned to the game for the next day's play.

• The companion has been involved in similar incidents on other occasions.


The case is not as clear-cut as the casino would probably wish it to be seen. The fact that the cards were "flawed" is not the player's fault - it's the casino's responsibility to ensure that the tools of their trade are all functioning properly. If the cards had had their pip values actually printed on both sides, clear to everyone apart from an unusually unsighted casino, they could not blame anyone but themselves if the players used the information to their advantage. Although the cards here were less obviously identifiable, it's still unreasonable to blame a sharp-eyed player for information provided to him by the casino. The player is doing nothing worse than being observant.

However, the additional issue of the couple's verbal interaction in making the cards identifiable from their backs is less helpful to their cause. In requesting that the key cards be turned before being replaced in the deck, they went beyond simple observation and induced behaviour on the part of the casino outside the normal procedure of the game. But does this make the players liable for accusations of wrongdoing? Their requests were willingly granted by the casino; they said "please do this" and the casino agreed. This still seems to come under the casino's umbrella responsibility for their equipment, procedures and all other aspects of play within their establishment.

If the cards had not been flawed, Ivey could have made as many requests to turn the cards as many different ways as he cared: it would have made no difference. Knowing this, he wouldn't have bothered. In fact, he may not have played at all, since his purpose seems to have been to take advantage of the imperfect cards. At the end of the day, all roads here seem to lead to the flawed cards.

The same can be said for the requests on Ivey's part to keep the cards for the next day's play. He was once more clearly inducing behaviour to his advantage, but again the casino happily acquiesced, and again the fact that correctly manufactured cards would not have been exploitable in this way remains undeniable.


This is what a security officer had to say on the issue of card imperfections:


Willy Allison, a leading casino surveillance specialist, warned the gaming industry about flawed cards in November 2011.

Mr Allison said casino card manufacturers are under pressure to produce more and more cards, mainly due to massive demand in Macau where millions are used — and destroyed at the end of each session — every day.

"Inevitably quality control goes down because of this," he said last night. "Casino management should be vigilant when it comes to manufacturer defects and flaws."



Yes, they should be vigilant. Trying to hold players responsible for their own mistakes is something I've seen casinos do time and again over the years.


Neither Phil Ivey nor his profession emerge from this matter with much credit. Even if unltimately vindicated, it's hard to view this as much more than a scam which the casino, through its incompetence and to its discredit, fell for hook, line and sinker. That a rich and successful professional gambler feels the need to boost his substantial wealth with such unnecessary and tacky behaviour probably says more about professional gamblers than professional gamblers would like to have said about them.

As to my personal opinion: I believe Ivey is entitled to payment, but I would be happy for him not to be paid. I hope my comments above go some way to explaining this contradictory opinion.



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