If you think you’ve heard the last of the Phil Ivey “edge sorting” scandal, get ready for the way Hollywood will look at it.
According to reports from Collider writer Jeff Snider, the lawsuits that were battled out on both sides of the Atlantic involving one of poker’s all-time greats will be the subject of an upcoming film. While no word has come out on how much Ivey will be a part of the proceedings, there is some info on the casting of who will play Ivey’s alleged partner in the operation. That person? A burgeoning star on the cinematic screen in the actor Awkwafina.
Film’s Working Title is The Baccarat Machine
According to Snider, Awkwafina has signed on to portray the role of Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun, who was allegedly the assistant in Ivey’s acts in both the United Kingdom and the States of America. The film is based on an article from noted poker author Michael Kaplan, whose article entitled “The Baccarat Machine” appeared in Cigar Aficionado magazine. In that piece, Kaplan (who also wrote the poker book Aces and Kings) portrayed Sun as one of the masterminds of the Ivey plan, who tried to “take down the system through subterfuge, ingenuity and pure daring.”
Awkwafina is a very trendy choice for the role of Sun, mostly because of her extensive resume. She has demonstrated some excellent comedic chops in such films as Crazy Rich Asians and Jumanji: The Next Level, but it is her dramatic spin in another film that may have earned her the role of Sun. Taking on the role of Billi in the dramady The Farewell, Awkwafina showed a dramatic poise that hadn’t been seen in her previous work, earning her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.
The film is being financed and produced by Sharp Independent Pictures. Andy Bellin has been tapped for adapting the article to a screenplay, something he has done before with the films Trust and Lovelace (the filmography of porn actress Linda Lovelace). But Bellin also has some experience with the poker world, having served as writer for Phil Hellmuth’s video series on poker and on the other side of the camera as an actor in the underrated poker film The Grand.
Ivey Saga Perfect for Hollywood Interpretation
For those that might have come to the story a bit late, the Ivey saga is one that seems to be perfect for the interpretation of Hollywood’s brightest minds. In 2012 Ivey, along with Sun, frequented two casinos, Crockfords in London and the Borgata in Atlantic City, to play high stakes baccarat. In choosing these two casinos, Ivey issued a list of demands for him to bring his money to the felt in their establishments.
These “demands” included that there be a dealer provided who spoke Mandarin Chinese (which Sun spoke), that one deck of cards be used and that neither the cards nor the dealer be changed while he was playing. In several sessions of play at both casinos, Ivey won over $20 million through what was thought to be his skills at the game.
It was only after review by Crockfords that the story was fully told. Crockfords learned that Ivey and Sun had employed “edge sorting,” or the ability to identify the cards through imperfections on the cards themselves that Ivey could use to shift the advantage more into his favor. Crockfords refused to pay Ivey the winnings from his sessions there, resulting in a long civil case that was eventually settled in favor of the casino.
Soon after playing at Crockfords, however, Ivey and Sun had moved onto the Borgata, where they employed the same practice. In that situation, Ivey won $9.7 million and added another $400,000 through playing craps with the winnings. The Borgata paid out to Ivey (unlike the Crockfords case) and has since earned many judgements against Ivey for repayment of that $10 million-plus, even to the point of garnishing his winnings at the 2019 World Series of Poker’s Poker Players’ Championship.
Just how deeply they will go into the “edge sorting” case isn’t known. Will it be a film that looks at the act of “advantage gaming” in the world of gambling? Or will it be more like the film Molly’s Game, which looked more at the person (Molly Bloom) than the poker games that were going on? In any case, attaching such a prominent actor as Awkwafina to the project gives it a great deal of legitimacy.