House of Cards®


Edge Sorting, Phil Ivey and You! by Ashley Adams

Hello Intelligent Poker Players,

So Phil Ivey lost his case, to retain his earnings at the British casino where he admittedly gained an advantage by "edge sorting".  For those of you who are not familiar with the phrase, it refers to using the small irregularities on the backs of cards to figure out, with a degree of accuracy slightly greater than random, what the value of the cards are.  In its simplest form, it allows someone familiar with the irregularities to figure out which direction a card is facing -- and then to manipulate the cards so cards of a certain value are facing in a direction different from the rest of the deck.  This was done by Ivey in the game of "punto banco" a variant of Baccarat.  He used his knowledge of the card backs and the willingness of the casino dealer to rotate cards, to figure out, roughly, whether a player or banker hand was more likely to win -- earning himself many millions of dollars in the process.

Two days ago, a British court ruled that he had to forfeit his winnings -- though they accepted his testimony that he didn't consider himself a cheater.

So here are two questions for you.  Do you think this is cheating?  Are you at all worried that it could be employed in a regular poker game?

 If you notice that all of the face cards in a multideck blackjack shoe have a mark on them, are you cheating if you use that knowledge to beat the house?

I think the case can be well argued on either side of the question.

But here's a more significant question for you -- and it relates to our favorite game.

Do you think that anyone at Foxwood, Mohegan Sun, or any of the NH poker rooms is using their knowledge of cardback designs to gain an advantage in poker?

I am certain that Bee, Copaq and Gemaco cards have irregularities in them that would allow a skillful player to edge sort them.  I haven't checked out Kems, so I don't know about them.  I know that there is not a direction change in the standard shuffle used in casinos -- and that automated dealing machines do not change the directions of cards.  I've also noticed that few dealers regularly "wash" cards -- that would regularly change the direction of cards when they are prepared for shuffling.  An attentive poker player could keep track of the direction of certain key cards in poker and then, if he or she had really good eye sight, use that knowledge to spot those cards as they were dealt and/or burned.  This could give them an enormous advantage.  If, for example, I made a point of turning cards over 8 in one direction when I shoved them back to the dealer -- and noticed that they went into the autoshuffler facing in that direction, I could gain an enormous advantage in Omaha8 or Stud 8 -- if I saw cards facing in that direction held by my opponent.  I might not know with certainty that he had a bust hand -- but I'd have hugely advantageous knowledge that he might.

This could be especially concerning in a home game -- when players deal and shuffle their own cards.  A team of two could destroy every game they played in -- with this knowledge.  I'd want to make sure that the cards were regularly washed -- that is mixed up and turned in random directions before being shuffled -- to make sure that any edge sorters out there couldn't gain an advantage.  I do it every time I deal in a home game.

What are your thoughts?

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