This week, Phil Ivey filed suit against Crockfords Casino for over eleven million U.S. dollars in baccarat winnings that were confiscated from him after a three-day monster win in October of 2012. The news here is not that Phil Ivey won this money or that Crockford’s withheld his winnings. The new news is that Phil Ivey is suing Crockfords to get his money back. As part of this law suit, details were given that offered an explanation of what Ivey did to amass his huge win, and because of this, the world now knows about “edge sorting.”

A quick review. Edge sorting takes advantage of small irregularities in the cut of cards. It is alleged that Ivey did not mark the cards. He didn’t use any device. He didn’t collude with the dealer or casino. He didn’t work with a partner who did any of these things. Allegedly, Ivey simply noticed that the cards the casino was using had a defect where the design down one edge of the card was different from the design down the opposite edge. He allegedly used these design flaws to be able to distinguish the low cards A, 2, 3, 4, 5 from the high cards 6, 7, 8, 9.  By looking at the first card to come out of the shoe, Ivey knew if he should wager on Player (high card) or Banker (low card). This simple strategy gives an edge of 6.765% over the house. At a $100,000 wager per hand and 60 hands per hour, Ivey’s expected winnings were more than $400,000 per hour.

Here is the headline from the British publication “The Daily Mail,” the first to break the story.

Picture of Daily Mail

This headline gives an education on how Ivey went about beating Crockfords, while the body of the article gave details of Ivey's lawsuit.  Subsequent to this headline, scores of similar stories appeared in a wide variety of publications. Here is a sampling of some of the headlines from lesser-media that I found with a simple Google search. In each of these headlines, the focus is properly on the lawsuit that Ivey is filing against Crockford:

Picture of Sports World NewsPicture of Christian TodayPicture of Pokernews

Unlike the responsible media above who reported the actual news, it appears that many in the mainstream media did not understand the real story. Some big name media outlets missed the real news completely. Instead, they chose to view this lawsuit from Crockford’s side by leading with Crockford’s allegation that Ivey was cheating.

Picture of Las Vegas Review-Journal


Picture of FOX NEWS

In case I haven’t made myself perfectly clear:

  • The story IS NOT ABOUT Crockfords accusing Ivey of cheating and pursuing civil or criminal action against him.

  • The story IS ABOUT Ivey suing Crockfords to recoup money he claims he legitimately won using the advantage play strategy called edge sorting.

Wikipedia defines "Yellow Journalism" as

"... a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism."

It is disgraceful that Fox News and the Las Vegas Review Journal used the word “cheating” in their headlines. By doing so, and by consideration of the definition above, it is clear that these news organization engaged in yellow journalism.

The blurred distinction between advantage play and cheating can lead to significant legal issues for casinos as well as potential harm to law-abiding customers.  The blurring of this distinction lead to James Grosjean winning a lawsuit against Griffin Detective Agency that forced them into bankruptcy in 2005. It lead to my own terrifying backrooming incident that I wrote about in this blog post. It lead the attorney Bob Nersesian to write the book “Beat the Players,” detailing many other similar cases.

Cheaters are criminals. They belong in jail. Advantage players are law-abiding citizens. They deserve their legitimate winnings (and a polite trespassing, if warranted).  Though there are individuals who engage in both cheating and advantage play, there is no middle ground when it comes to classifying a specific method used to beat the house. There is no such thing as "cheating in a civil-law sense."

It may be that Ivey did something beyond simply edge sorting at baccarat. But edge sorting by itself is not cheating; it is advantage play. Crockfords was reckless in using the word “cheat” without clear evidence of actual cheating.  Fox News and The Las Vegas Review Journal and others who included the word “cheat” in their headlines, demonstrated willful ignorance of the actual story, and by doing so, potentially smeared and libeled the name of one of poker’s greatest players of all time.

I work for the casino industry. I do what I can to help protect the games from advantage play and help protect casinos from advantage players. But I cannot help people on any side of the tables from what they may do to themselves. Crockfords should retract its use of the word “cheat” unless it has evidence of actual cheating. Those media outlets who will be reporting developments in this story as they occur should refrain from using the word “cheat” until actual evidence of cheating is produced.

[Note. I edited the images used in this article for space considerations. No content was altered.]

Received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Arizona in 1983. Eliot has been a Professor of both Mathematics and Computer Science. Eliot retired from academia in 2009. Eliot Jacobson