One of the world’s top poker players created an “air of superstition” at Britain’s oldest casino to conceal how he knew which card would be dealt next in an £8.7 million winning streak, the High Court was told yesterday.
Phil Ivey is suing Crockfords in Mayfair, central London, for withholding £7.8 million of his winnings in the biggest legal battle involving a British casino. Mr Ivey insists that his “edge-sorting” technique gave him a legitimate advantage, while the casino claims that he unlawfully cheated.
Mr Ivey, 38, played the card game, punto banco, at a private table over two days in August 2012. Security camera footage played at the High Court yesterday showed Mr Ivey lounging back in his chair and joking with the dealer as he bet up to £150,000 per hand.
He repeatedly referred to being superstitious and asked for the dealer to use Angel–brand playing cards after he discovered that some packs contained a minor imperfection on the edge of the pattern on the rear.
Mr Ivey, who has won ten World Series of Poker Championships bracelets, asked for “lucky” decks containing the imperfection to be re-used.
The technique turned the normal 1 per cent advantage to the dealer into a 6.5 per cent advantage to the player. His winnings totalled £8.7 million but when the casino reviewed the camera footage and spotted what had happened they paid only his £1 million stake.
Richard Spearman, QC, counsel for Mr Ivey, told the court that the player was renowned for his “advantage play” and used the same edge-sorting technique at casinos in the US, Canada and Australia.
He said that casinos preyed upon gamblers’ superstitions and that Mr Ivey had used his unusual requests as a “perfectly acceptable camouflage” for what he was doing.
“He regards this as utterly fair play. If the casino fouls up from start to finish, that is something which is the gambler’s good fortune. It is not an easy thing to do. It requires a lot of skill.”
Christopher Pymont, QC, counsel for Genting Casinos, the owner of Crockfords, which was established in 1828, said that Mr Ivey “took advantage” of its ignorance of edge-sorting, which went beyond legitimate card counting because it “interfered” with the cards. “What Mr Ivey did was very much to interfere with the game. The whole point was to stitch up the casino.”
The case continues.