The Phil Ivey Edge Sorting Case and what it Means for Blackjack Players
Oct 10, 2014
Phil Ivey was refused payment of his winnings for using edge sorting, an advantage technique which can be used in blackjack and baccarat.
In 2012 American live tournament poker legend Phil Ivey spent two days playing baccarat at Crockford’s Casino in London. Over four sessions he had won $12.4 million, and the casino told him that he would receive his winnings via wire transfer.
He returned home but the hefty transfer never made it into his bank account. He was returned his $1.6 million stake, but Crockford’s refused to pay the winnings, claiming that they had video surveillance proving that he had cheated by using a technique called “edge sorting.”
The news threw the casino gambling world into a frenzy. How could such a well-known gambler be refused winnings? What was “edge sorting” anyway? If someone could use it win at baccarat, could it be used for winning at blackjack as well? Is edge sorting a legitimate advantage play technique or does it actually constitute a form of cheating?
What is edge sorting?
First things first, edge sorting refers to reading and recognizing the backs of certain cards in order to anticipate their being dealt. The way in which playing cards are manufactured means that the patterns shown on the back (usually rows of diamonds or a checkered pattern) are not 100% symmetrical. If you observe cards from the back, you’ll notice a difference in the corners.
After playing through a deck of cards an astute casino strategy player can start to spot patterns. If a player can recognize that a nine, for example, will be the next card dealt, they can adjust their betting behavior accordingly.
No player can use edge sorting to win every hand, but it gives them a “first card advantage.” Phil Ivey used this trick to win a large sum at baccarat, but the technique can be applied to any card game, including poker or blackjack.
Imagine if as a blackjack player, you could know what one of your cards would be even before it is dealt. You could use that information to sit out the hand or increase your bet, depending on what you observe. You can use the same technique to see which card the dealer will receive, an even more valuable piece of information.
It is difficult to do in a shoe game however, as the player doesn’t have the chance to play enough hands from a given deck to read cards accurately. Reasonably speaking, edge sorting can only be done in single-deck blackjack. It is also very simple for the casino to throw the player off by “turning” the cards, rotating them so that the reading process must start over from the beginning.
Ivey fought being put on the casino cheater’s list
Ivey admitted to using edge sorting to win but sued the casino to receive his winnings on grounds that edge sorting isn’t cheating, that it’s a legitimate advantage play technique like using a card counting system. Most casino gamblers expected him to win the case, given that all what he did was read the cards used by the casino, which is what any casino game involves.
After filing the lawsuit Ivey issued the following statement: “I was upset as I had played an honest game and won fairly…My integrity is infinitely more important to me than a big win, which is why I have brought these proceedings to demonstrate that I have been unjustly treated.”
While Ivey sincerely believes he didn’t cheat, the British High Court overseeing the case ruled in favor of Genting UK, the company which operates Crockford’s as well as several other casinos and card rooms in the country.
Presiding Judge John Mitting issued the ruling due to the fact that Ivey had used an unorthodox technique unknown to the casino staff, and that he had persuaded the croupier to continue dealing cards from the same deck. Mitting’s statement went the following:
He gave himself an advantage which the game preclude. This is, in my view, cheating…He was doing it in circumstances where he knew that she and her superiors did not know the consequences of what she had done at his instigation. This is, in my view, cheating for the purpose of civil law.
But did he really cheat?
Ivey did persuade the croupier to continue dealing from the same deck, but it should be the casino’s responsibility to properly train its employees as well as to use cards which are not defective. Being more skilled or intelligent than the croupier certainly can’t be legitimately considered a form of cheating.
Ivey’s lawyer Richard Spearman put the case in the clearest terms possible when he stated the following:
Edge-sorting involved nothing more than using information that was available to any player simply from viewing the backs of the cards that the casino chose to use and making requests of the casino – which it could accept or refuse – as to the manner in which play was conducted.
Ivey will abide by the ruling of the British High Court, but it is painfully evident that the judge made a mistake in putting him on the casino cheater’s list. This case is a blow to the integrity of gambling and the rights of gamblers everywhere.