Beating the House: From Ben Affleck to Phil Ivey By Eliot Jacobson, Ph.D. April 8, 2015 at 6:58 am There were two articles in the news over the last week having to do with players getting the edge over the house. In one case, an article in the Baltimore Sun described the travails of professional poker player Joseph Stiers who was banned from all Caesars properties for card counting. In particular, Stiers will not be allowed to play in the World Series of Poker this year. The other article, in Card Player magazine, addressed the ongoing lawsuit between famous poker player Phil Ivey and the Borgata over Ivey’s use of “edge sorting” to win over $9.6 million playing baccarat. When the famous actor-director Ben Affleck was backed off for card counting at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas in April, 2014, his story was similar to Stiers. Affleck’s affection for card games is well known, including his passion for Hold’em poker. Affleck has been playing in cash poker tournaments for over a decade and has tried his luck several times in the World Series of Poker. Affleck commented that, ”Once I became decent (at blackjack), the casinos asked me not to play.” His story made headlines for weeks. Stiers and Affleck used a method of advantage play that has been an industry obsession for over 50 years. Even a recent episode of The Simpsons featured card counting. Every casino that offers blackjack has some understanding of how card counting works and how to identify card counters. In the wake of the MIT team, the “Holy Rollers” and other professional card counting teams and individuals, casinos are on guard whenever a high-roller makes a wager. No wonder card counters are quickly identified and backed off. Phil Ivey, on the other hand, chose a little-known and much more profitable method of advantage play. Back in 2012, Ivey’s used “edge sorting” to beat baccarat at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City and Crockford’s casino in London. Before the lawsuits by Ivey against Crockford’s and Borgata against Ivey became public, very few players or industry insiders had ever heard of edge sorting. There were no books written on topic. There were no famous edge sorting teams. There were no movies featuring edge sorting. Meanwhile, the profit possible by edge sorting dwarfs that attainable by blackjack card counting. Few in the industry know today that edge sorting can also be used to beat blackjack as well as a host of newer proprietary games. The reason Ivey’s story is remarkable is not that he was pegged as an advantage player; it’s the sheer magnitude of his wins. Between Borgata and Crockford’s, Phil Ivey netted over $21.7 million in profit. That’s more than his lifetime winnings as a professional poker player (estimated at $21.4 million, according to Ivey’s profile on bluff.com). Ivey’s stunning yield was earned over only four brief trips to Borgata and one trip to Crockford’s. By contrast, it took several years for Holy Rollers to earn about $5 million in total card counting profit. Even the famous MIT blackjack card counting team, as glorified in the 2003 book “Bringing Down the House” and the 2008 movie “21,” won significantly less than Ivey did. Edge sorting is not the end of the story when it comes to advanced advantage play. There are many other sophisticated methods being used to crush the house. One has to look no further than the story of Don Johnson, the player who beat Atlantic City out of $15 million in 2011 by exploiting the loss rebate incentives he negotiated. Johnson tried to give the appearance of a party-happy high-roller, while behind the scenes he had mathematicians helping him determine optimal strategies to beat the loss rebate incentives he negotiated. Loss rebates continue to be one of the favorite targets of top advantage players. As avid poker players, there can be little doubt that both Joseph Stiers and Ben Affleck have been following Phil Ivey’s edge sorting lawsuits. But even with this knowledge, these individuals chose to be card counters. As a result, they were quickly identified and backed off. While Stiers and Affleck may never get to play another hand of blackjack, those who are beating the house using more sophisticated methods are quietly celebrating from the shadows. The casino industry is quick to forget the hard lessons it learns. Eliot Jacobson’s new book, “Advanced Advantage Play, Beating and Safeguarding Modern Casino Table Games, Side Bets and Promotions,” is now available from Amazon.com. It is the first book to give in-depth coverage to advanced methods such as edge sorting and beating loss rebates.