The Story Behind Phil Ivey’s Edge-Sorting Baccarat Case

Cheung Yun Sun - Queen of Sorts - Phil Ivey Lawsuit

Kelly says, “I never thought about being famous….I just want to beat casinos.”

This last week in London, Phil Ivey’s appeal of the Crockfords Casino edge-sorting case began in the UK Supreme Court. At stake is £7.8 million, or roughly $12 million American. Phil Ivey lost two previous court rulings in the United Kingdom, but the Supreme Court agreed to hear his case in February 2017.

People who read gambling news probably know all about Phil Ivey’s edge-sorting lawsuits involving Crockfords in the United Kingdom and Borgata in Atlantic City. This site has written about the Borgata lawsuit at length.

What people might not know is the story of Ivey’s partner in the baccarat sessions: Cheung Yin Sun.

Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun: “The Queen of Sorts”

Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun is a well known figure in casinos around the globe, though she shies away from the spotlight the edge sorting cases generated. Kelly was born into a wealthy family in Northern China. She’s a well-known high roller famous enough she needs a beard to gamble on baccarat, because she knows how to beat the game.

Cheung was not always a skilled high roller, though.

At one time, she was like most other high stakes gamblers, giving huge money to the casinos, who otherwise give them million-dollar treatment to keep their business. In 2006, Kelly signed a $100,000 marker for a friend in a Las Vegas casino and told the friend to pay it before they left the casino.

The friend didn’t and Kelly was arrested. She said of the 2006 arrest, “Women attacked me and the guards wouldn’t let me wear my own underwear. I lost 25 pounds in jail and didn’t get out until relatives flew here with $100,000 for the casino. I decided that, one day, I would get back the money by playing at MGM properties.”

Between 2006 and 2012, she learned the technique of edge sorting — and learned it well enough that casinos learned she was trouble for their bottom line.

How Edge Sorting Works

Typically, mini-baccarat is a game of chance. No skill is required and the house always has the edge. Cheung Yin Sun knows that some casino playing cards are not perfectly uniform from card rank-to-card rank. If you memorize the patterns, a person with a deft eye and the money stack to demand special concessions from the casino can sort the cards in a way to weight the odds in one’s favor.

That’s what Cheung and Ivey did in the Crockfords and Borgata cases. The casinos claim the two cheated when they used edge-sorting. Phil Ivey says the technique he and Kelly used is not cheating at all, but instead uses hard-to-learn skills to gain an advantage over the house. It’s a matter of principle to him, because the casinos in edge sorting lawsuits agreed to every single stipulation.

2012: A Chance Meeting

Phil Ivey was in Australia for a professional poker tournament in 2012 when he met Cheung Yin Sun by chance. He had just won $6 million from the poker event and was looking for a new challenge. Cheung said she needed a “beard” to play baccarat on her behalf, and she could teach Ivey edge sorting.

He agreed, though Cheung says Ivey was skeptical at first. On their first joint baccarat session in the Australian casino, Phil Ivey lost $500,000 and was not happy about it. Kelly did not know the card backs the Australian casino used, which threw off the system.

She contined Ivey to bankroll a subsequent session, then spent the night studying the backs of the Aussie cards. Cheung said, “In one hour, we won the money back plus $3-million. The casino cashed Phil’s chips and asked how he knew me. Somebody from the casino told him that I was internationally famous [for edge sorting]. Phil told them that I had just come into the poker room and that I wanted to play baccarat.”

2012 Edge Sorting Spree

That began a global odyssey of mini-baccarat. Ivey learned the casino’s called Kelly “The Queen of Sorts”, because of her skills. He called her “The Baccarat Machine.” The two traveled to casinos in Singapore, Macau, Montreal, and Monte Carlo to test out their system.

Soon enough, Phil Ivey was a believer, says Cheung. She said, “We’d spend the first day relaxing, then we’d go to the nightclub, followed by two or three days playing in the casino.”

She added, “One day we lost $3 million. Phil was not upset then. We went back and won $5 million the next night.”

Baccarat at the Borgata

One night in Las Vegas, Phil Ivey decided it was time to go back to his hometown of Atlantic City and beat the best casinos there: Borgata. Kelly said, “We went to XS at Wynn. Phil had girls all around him. I got so drunk that I checked into a suite at Wynn instead of going home. The next morning Phil called and I did not answer the phone. A friend came up and started kicking the door.”

“He said, ‘Let’s go, let’s go, the private jet is waiting. We’re going to Borgata to win money.’ I had no clothing or makeup or luggage. I had to buy all new stuff at Borgata. Phil did not want me eating or sleeping. He only wanted me to be playing. That’s why I was called ‘Baccarat Machine’. One time we played 24 hours. Phil slept on the floor [of the high-limit room].”

As a high roller, Phil Ivey was able to demand the kind of setup they needed to win: purple Gemaco cards, a dealer who spoke Mandarin Chinese, the ability to order the dealer to turn certain cards because of “superstition”, and baccarat played at $50,000. Borgata agreed to those terms, certain they had the advantage. They didn’t and Ivey won several million dollars.

A few months later, Borgata lured Phil Ivey back with the promise of $100,000-a-hand baccarat. He agreed. In his Borgata sessions, Phil Ivey won $9.6 million. (Borgata eventually sued and received $10.1 million, for the winnings and the comps.)

Baccarat at Crockfords

The two did the same thing at Crockfords, though this time the wagers were for £150,000-a-hand. Eventually, they £7.8 million from Crockfords (owned by Genting), but the management refused to pay up. Instead, they returned Phil Ivey’s original £1 million bankroll.

Ivey decided to sue Crockfords. That might have been a mistake, because it alerted Borgata to his edge sorting and led to the Borgata lawsuit back in New Jersey. Phil Ivey says it is a matter of principle. According to Ivey, casinos are happy to agree to any terms, so long as they know they have the edge. When the player has the edge, they refuse to pay their debts.

Cheung Yin Sun on the Edge Sorting Lawsuits

Kelly told 888’s Michael Kaplan in an interview recently, “I never thought about being famous. I am very quiet. I don’t say anything. I just want to beat casinos.

Maybe so, but Kelly is now the world’s most famous edge sorter — or secondmost, to Phil Ivey. That might be bad for business, or her quest to beat the casinos. It sounds like she more than won back her original $100,000, though, however the Crockfords lawsuit turns out.