High-stakes baccarat gambling is coming to the silver screen as the story of Phil Ivey’s female card-reading companion gets the movie treatment.
This week brought news that SK Global, the producers of the smash hit Crazy Rich Asians, had just cast that film’s co-star Awkwafina to play Cheung Yin ‘Kelly’ Sun, the ‘edge-sorting’ queen who helped Ivey take multiple casinos for millions a few years ago.
The film will be titled The Baccarat Machine, based on a 2017 Cigar Aficionado article by Michael Kaplan that detailed the 43-year-old Kelly’s ability to observe tiny design flaws on the backs of playing cards and use that info to identify a card’s face value. Kelly and Ivey used this ‘edge sorting’ gambit to take London’s Crockfords casino for £7.8m and Atlantic City’s Borgata for another $9.6m over the course of a couple weekends in 2012.
Despite Ivey’s protests that the skill Kelly brought to the gaming table wasn’t technically illegal, his efforts to keep his ill-gotten gains ultimately crapped out in both UK and US courts. Kelly ran into more legal trouble after Connecticut’s Foxwoods casino refused to pay her and several other accomplices around $1.15m for similar shenanigans the year before the Crockfords/Borgata escapades (here too, courts eventually sided with the casino).
Kelly viewed her edge sorting antics with professional detachment, telling Kaplan in 2017 that she was “very happy to beat the casinos, but not excited … It’s what I have trained myself to do. I do not feel bad if I lose and I do not feel emotions if I win.”
Kelly, who claims to have snuck into a Macau casino at the age of 15 with a false ID and turned $1,500 into $150k playing baccarat, also claimed to have lost millions playing in Vegas casinos and once spent 21 days in jail after signing a credit marker for a friend who failed to pay up.
Eventually, Kelly taught herself to edge sort and she and a few companions began fleecing Vegas casinos big-time. Then, at the 2012 Aussie Millions poker tournament in Melbourne, she was introduced to Ivey, a known baccarat whale, and the rest is history.
The Baccarat Machine will be written by Andy Bellin, whose most prominent screen credit was Lovelace, the biopic of 70s porn star Linda Lovelace. Bellin also wrote Poker Nation, a firsthand account of his experiences with the professional poker world that received favorable reviews when it was released in 2003.
Lord knows that Hollywood’s efforts to address gambling are bets that have rarely paid off. For every sublime Rounders, there’s a farcical Runner, Runner, as well as middling fare such as Molly’s Game, the story of high-stakes ‘poker princess’ Molly Bloom, the true legacy of which appears to have been convincing Tobey Maguire to stay well clear of the camera.