After many years and seemingly countless hours in court, we now know that American poker legend Phil Ivey will lose his £7.7 in winnings from a casino club just outside of London. Though Ivey has made his winnings playing poker—specifically Texas Hold’em—he made the money in question playing Punto Banco, which is a derivative of Blackjack.
In some circles, the methods Ivey employed to earn his winnings are considered cheating, but others consider it nothing more than an edge he used to his advantage. “Edge Sorting” is a method by which a player keys in on indices on the edges of cards that allow one to have a higher percentage of knowing what is on the other side. In so many words, Ivey had a better chance of knowing what the face of any given unturned card would show than the average casino-goer.
Adding to the intrigue (suspicion) surrounding Ivey is the fact that the game was privately arranged and not on the floor of any public casino. What’s more, he had a partner, Cheung Yin Sun, by his side the entire time.
A Ruling 5 Years in the Making
The story in question actually unfolded all the way back in 2012, when Ivey and Sun were travelling to London. The private game of Punto Banco was arranged to be played at Crocksford Club, located outside of the UK capital. In the suit, Crocksford’s owner, Genting Casinos UK, alleges that the team of Ivey and Sun utilizes edge sorting in order to gain an unfair advantage, which boils down to outright cheating. Though explained above, edge sorting involves a player (or in this case, players) looking at the patterns on the back of cards and taking into consideration small differences in those seemingly identical patterns. After some time, these differences are identified and matched up to specific cards, giving a player a huge advantage that, in the long-run, drastically improves his chances of walking out with a lot of money; in this case, more than £7 million.
When Crocksford Club realized what had happened that day, they refused to pay Ivey and that is what brought about this suit. On one side, you have Ivey, who contends that he should not be punished for using what he deems to be a legitimate strategy in order to win money. He further claimed that it is unlawful to hold his winnings simply because Crocksford Club did not take adequate steps to ensure something like this would happen. In the eyes of Ivey and his legal team, edge sorting involves no deceit nor dishonesty, and should therefore not be considered out and out cheating.
Despite the support Ivey received, the 5 Supreme Court justices presiding over the case ruled that they would uphold the Court of Appeals’ decision, which determined that Crocksford Club was legally only obliged to return Ivey’s original £1 million stake. At its core, their ruling stated that no outside force—be it a casino or player(s)—should be legally allowed to alter the inherent randomness of the cards being dealt in a game like Punto Banco.