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Ask the Slot Expert: More reader comments about whether edge sorting is cheating

4 April 2018

A few more reader comments about the Phil Ivey edge sorting case. See my last two columns for details about the case.

It seems to me that a big red flashing light should have been making the dealers' and the pit boss’s heads spin the minute someone asked for a specific brand of playing cards and then requesting a specific placement of the cards and the ability to use same cards in the following shoes of play. That is unless all three folks comprised a team. Follow the money is always the best way to find out. Do you think they would let a player bring his own set of dice to a craps table? NOT.

Welcome to the world of high-stakes table games. The rules that apply to us mere non-whale mortals on the main casino floor or in the high limit room don't necessarily apply in the Salon Prive. With the exception of the rare promotion, have you ever had a casino boss offer to refund a percentage of your losses?

Casinos will frequently try to accommodate a high-stakes player's preferences and superstitions. His favorite scotch? No problem. Spicy Jalapeno Fritos? Bowls full of them on the snack bar. A specific brand of cards? Some players have lucky machines, he has lucky cards. Reusing the cards? We all stick with hot machines and hot tables. Orienting certain cards? This guy has some strange superstitions. What could be the harm?

The casino personnel were not involved. They just thought they were dealing with a high-betting player's superstitions.

The cards moreover were on the casino's approved equipment list. It's not the same as bringing your own dice to a craps game. The cards came from the casino's inventory.


I don't think it was cheating, but if the casinos let everybody do it they'd be out of business. So it's not cheating per se, but they can't let everybody do it. I feel bad for him, but I think the courts were correct.

The courts ruled that Ivey's actions were not gamesmanship, like card counting where you just react to what is happening, but cheating because Ivey took actions to change the conditions of the game.

Justice has a short menu. If it ain't cheating, it must be legal. There's no option for legal, but prohibited because it makes players too good at playing the game. Courts can't prevent you from using your mind when playing a game just to keep the casinos from going out of business.

The courts can however accept some baffling linguistic gymnastics. In Nevada, casinos are technically private property, so casinos have the right to bar players from playing blackjack and other games. Casinos can even unliterally decide to bar players from entering the casino.

Not so in New Jersey, where the courts ruled that only the gaming commission has the power to bar a player, so casinos have rules like No Mid-Shoe Entry and frequently shuffle up if they think a player is counting cards.


I’ve been following the Phil Ivey edge sorting cases ever since the stories first broke. I believe he cheated and have a simple argument as to why.

Let’s say the entire situation was reversed. Let’s say that in the games played the player made no decisions and the dealer made decisions to try to beat the player. Then, the casino started to secretly use edge sorting to beat the players. Would players then say that was cheating? Of course they would! And they would be right.

Pai gow poker comes to mind for a game in which the dealer makes decisions that can impact the players. If there were some defect in the cards that enabled the dealer to have some knowledge about the players' hands, she could potentially deviate from setting her hand the house way and set her hand to beat more players or to beat a certain player.

John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots