Casinos get there edge so if they agreed why blame Ivey

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Thanks to GamingToday for the two recent columns by The Analyst regarding the controversy over Phil Ivey’s huge win while playing high-stakes baccarat at a casino in London and at another in Atlantic City. The casinos accused him of cheating. How else, they argued, could he have won so much money from them – all in all, about $20 million?

Ivey had used “edge sorting,” based on the fact that some decks of cards are manufactured with differences in the long edges of their backsides. The UK court ruled Ivey did not cheat – no way! But, nevertheless, they decided he was not entitled to the millions he had won.

Mind boggling! How can we best explain this decision? According to Wikipedia, cheating is “the breaking of rules to gain an unfair advantage in a competitive situation.” But Ivey broke no rules; the casinos agreed to the terms he had set forth to get him to play there. Perhaps, without realizing it, they may have given him somewhat of an advantage – an edge. Perhaps he had outsmarted them.

The UK High Court ruled the technique, which requires the player to “trick the croupier” (dealer) into rotating cards, is cheating in civil law and a casino was justified in refusing payment of winnings. I disagree! The dealer was not obligated to rotate the cards before putting them into the shuffle machine.

As a matter of interest, card counting and counting your outs are somewhat similar strategies that improve the statistical odds for the players, and are not considered cheating in any way. The casinos did increase the number of decks used in blackjack to sharply cut the player’s edge. Still no cheating.

“Unfair advantage?” – Let’s look at it from a different viewpoint. One might argue the casinos must be cheating when they fix the odds on the slots and other forms of competitive gambling. Setting the odds in their own favor certainly gives them a big edge. That’s how casino owners get rich. But the players are aware of this practice and choose, of their own free will, to enter the competition – no arm twisting. So, it seems the high courts have no problem with allowing the casinos to have an edge?

Was Ivey’s edge any different in principle? The two casinos agreed to the rules and ran the games on that basis, and Ivey won millions! The court decided Ivey did not cheat in the game, yet ruled he cannot accept (keep) his winnings. That seems like a dichotomy – a serious contradiction.

When I play poker in the casino, I accept the fact the casino will take a “rake” from each pot. That’s a major part of the “cost-to-play.” In the controversy with Ivey, the two casinos accepted his terms to encourage him to play high-stakes baccarat against them. There was no cheating. His edge was fair – just as is the casino’s advantage when we play slots and baccarat, and other games of chance.

Along these lines, here’s a situation that often occurs at hold’em tables: A player mucks his hand, but while doing so accidentally turns up his holecards. The dealer then displays the errant card(s) to all players.

A few may pay heed, others are “too busy” to take notice. Thus, the more observant player has a real edge over the others when he subsequently uses that information to help make a decision. No cheating. Completely legal.

As in Phil Ivey’s case, he deserves to keep the chips he won (or saved by avoiding a loss) because of that information. I’m with Phil on this one. But, then too, perhaps my bias is showing.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Email: [email protected]

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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