Judge rules that winning casino baccarat by taking note of asymmetries in card-backs is cheating

In July 2012, professional poker-player Phil Ivey won $4.8M from the baccarat tables at Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in 17 hours; on other occasions, he took a total of $9M out of the Borgata: he did it by asking the house to deal Gemaco Borgata cards, whose backs contained minute asymmetries in their patterns. By asking the dealer to turn some cards upside down, Ivey's partner, Cheng Yin Sun, was able to track them as they moved through the deck.

The requests regarding the deck were accepted by the dealer, who was accustomed to the superstitious peccadillos of players of baccarat, which is one of the stupidest casino games.

A low court judge ruled that this wasn't cheating, but a higher court has just ordered Ivey to return his winnings (though the judge said he didn't have to reimburse the casino for $250K in comps). Ivey is appealing.

She purchased souvenir playing cards from the Borgata, identical to the ones used on the casino floor save for holes punched in the center. She discovered that patterns on card backs, designed to be symmetrical, were not perfectly so. Sun trained herself to identify aberrations along the left or right margins of the card backs, no wider than 1/32 of an inch, the Times reported. ("Sun's mental acumen in distinguishing the minute differences in the patterns on the back of the playing cards is remarkable," Hillman noted.) So prepared, she helped Ivey on his way to millions.

The technique Ivey and Sun used was called edge-sorting. Sun was allowed to peek at the card before the dealer flipped it over. In Mandarin, she would ask the dealer to rotate the most valuable cards in the baccarat deck — the sixes through nines — 180 degrees as they were flipped. The automatic shuffler could randomize the cards, but would not alter their rotation.

Famed poker pro with 'remarkable' $9.6 million scheme has to pay it back, judge rules
[Ben Guarino/Washington Post]