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Film in Production Based Around Phil Ivey’s Baccarat Exploits

Phil Ivey

Consistently beat a casino for millions of dollars and there’s a good chance that someone is going to want to make a movie about your life at some point.

That may be the case for famed poker pro Phil Ivey and baccarat partner Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun.

Ivey and Sun developed a system for beating baccarat that took advantage of casino playing cards that were flawed. The pair utilized the technique that is officially referred to as “edge-sorting” to beat casinos for millions in the early 2010s. The casinos didn’t take kindly and sued Ivey and Sun for their winnings.

Longtime gambling writer Michael Kaplan did a lengthy profile of Sun and her partnership with Ivey in an issue of Cigar Aficionado titled “The Baccarat Machine.”

That feature apparently got the eye of Ivanhoe Pictures, which produced Crazy Rich Asians, and the studio officially announced it acquired rights to the story earlier this month. It’s unknown what role Ivey will play in the production but he’s certainly a pivotal part of the saga.

Film Centers Around Cheung Yin Sun

It’s clear that the upcoming flick will be chiefly about Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun, as the working title is “Baccarat Queen.”

Sun was allegedly the brains behind the edge-sorting operation. A lifelong gambler, she learned to detect faulty cards when she briefly spent time in a Las Vegas jail thanks to an unpaid $93,000 marker.

Born in North China, Sun experienced the latter part of Mao Zedong’s reign when her father (who worked in banking) was imprisoned for several years while she was a child.

In the Cigar Aficionado article, Sun recounted her mother being unable to afford shoes for her when she was seven. That all changed when Sun’s father was released from prison and managed to regain control of his finances.

Sun went to school in Shanghai and developed a taste for gambling. She once managed to turn $1,500 into $150,000 while playing baccarat in Macau.

For several years she was essentially a jet-setter and gambled around the world with stops in Las Vegas, Macau, Australia and more.

Eventually she met a man named Steven Black, who taught her to look for an edge in every game. It was with Black’s assistance that Kelly developed her technique for edge-sorting. Black would also eventually introduce Kelly to Phil Ivey.

Borgata Still Seeks $9.6 Million From Ivey

A movie may be in development about Ivey and Sun’s gambling exploits but the real-life story, at least for Ivey, is still ongoing.

Ivey and Sun won $9.6 million at the Borgata in 2012 while playing baccarat and utilizing Sun’s edge-sorting technique.

The casino subsequently decided to sue Ivey and Sun for the money in 2014. Eventually the judge ruled in favor of Borgata. Ivey tried several appeals but was denied each time.

Ivey also requested more time to collect the money (arguing that it would impair his ability to play high-stakes poker) but that was also unsuccessful. Recently the casino gained approval to go after Ivey’s assets in Nevada.

A similar situation played out at Crockford’s Casino in London, where Ivey and Sun won roughly $11 million. The main difference was that Crockford’s refused to pay from the outset.

It’s been a strange journey for Ivey, who prior to 2011 was widely considered the best poker player in the world and was one of the primary faces behind the wildly successful Full Tilt Poker.

Black Friday slammed the brakes on Full Tilt in 2011 and Ivey (who has 10 WSOP bracelets) decided to skip the entire WSOP that year. Eventually he launched an ultimately unsuccessful poker training program called Ivey League.

Phil Ivey’s poker playing over the last few years has been sparse. Last year he did make two significant scores at the Triton High Roller Series in Montenegro. He won one of the Short Deck events for $604,992 and followed that up with a third-place finish in an even bigger Short Deck event for $1.6 million.

Ivey has also stalled out in his pursuit of Phil Hellmuth’s record 15 WSOP bracelets. Ivey has been stuck on 10 bracelets since 2014. He did play the 2018 WSOP but the closest he got to winning a bracelet was finishing ninth in the $50,000 buy-in Poker Players Championship.