For a period of time, Phil Ivey reigned supreme in the poker world. The ten time bracelet winner has displayed his prowess in both poker tournaments as well as high-stakes cash games. More recently, the spotlight was on Ivey for making – and paying back – millions playing baccarat. Although he was called a “cheater,” Ivey did nothing wrong.
Humble BeginningsPhil Ivey began playing poker in home games with his co-workers at a telemarketing firm in the 1990s. After realizing he had the skill to play with the big dogs, Ivey began making trips to the Borgata as a teenager.
Although nothing like the online platform Nitro Casino, Ivey gained access to the Borgata by using a fake identification card, which is the origin of his nickname. His co-workers and friends called him “No Home Jerome” because Jerome was the name on the fake ID. Gotta get the grind in somehow, right?
Ivey’s first recorded win according to online information was actually his first recorded tournament in a casino. He won a seven card stud tournament for a humble $1,000 in 1998. Two years later, he won his second recorded tournament for $53,297. Ivey never looked back.
Later that year, Ivey won his first of ten bracelets in a pot limit Omaha event where he won $195,000. The year 2002 was a real turning point for the young phenom, as he won a whopping three bracelets that year. Ivey would go on to win six more bracelets, over $30,000,000 in tournament earnings, and millions more playing high stakes poker.
Cheater or Winner?In 2016, a judge ordered Phil Ivey and his gambling friend Cheung Yin Sun to pay over $10 million to the Borgata after the two were found to be edge-sorting to gain an edge in baccarat. One year later, roughly $12 million dollars in baccarat earnings was ruled to stay with Crockfords Casino in London after they were found to be cheating and gaining an advantage on the casino.
A deeper look at exactly what happened between Ivey and these casinos reveals that he was not cheating. More accurately, he was exploiting a flaw in the game that allowed him to win – something poker players are very familiar with.
In short, Ivey agreed to play high stakes baccarat at two casinos with the following requests:
- A private area for play,
- A dealer who spoke Mandarin Chinese,
- A guest to sit with him.
- One 8-deck shoe of purple Gemaco playing cards for each session, and
- An automatic card shuffler to be used.
After those requests were met, Ivey ran up millions in earnings before being ordered to pay back those winnings. However, it was not cheating that allowed him to win. Cheaters discreetly break the rules of games in order to gain an advantage.
It is hard to argue that Ivey was secretly trying to beat the game. He laid out his terms up front before agreeing to play the game. The legendary gambler simply exploited a flaw and won millions. He is simply a patron who is playing a game that he and the casino agreed upon, and, in my eyes, that does not make him a cheater.