Phil Ivey’s Appeal and Simple Measures By Eliot Jacobson, Ph.D. December 4, 2015 at 6:56 pm According to an article in the Daily Mail, Phil Ivey is soon going to get a chance to appeal the 2014 ruling that allowed Crockfords Casino in Mayfair to keep the $12 million Ivey won playing baccarat in 2012. In winning his millions, Ivey used a method of advantage play called “edge sorting,” where he exploited asymmetries in the backs of the cards used by Crockfords to gain more than a 6% edge over the house. While the fine points of the legal issues surrounding Ivey’s appeal are way above my pay grade, as Ivey’s expert in the 2014 case, I certainly have strong opinions on the matter. The UK cheating statute that was used to measure whether Ivey cheated in a criminal sense or not, reads, in part, “cheating at gambling may, in particular, consist of actual or attempted deception or interference with the process by which gambling is conducted.” In my “IANAL” (i.e. I am not a lawyer) opinion, this statute is essentially worthless in settling the question of whether edge sorting is cheating. Judge Mitting affirmed this in his final ruling, when he stated: “The fundamental question that I have to decide is whether the conduct which I have just summarized amounts to cheating … There are difficulties with the current English statutory definition. It appears to define deception and interference as cheating, but there is no attempt to define the overall concept of cheating as the explanatory notes make clear …” Ultimately, Judge Mitting did not conclude that Ivey cheated in a criminal sense or that edge sorting (as Ivey did it) amounted to cheating. Instead, Mitting applied a civil definition when he ruled that, “This in my view is cheating for the purposes of civil law.” But, it is Mitting’s statement that immediately followed this one that touched a sore spot with me. Mitting continued, “It is immaterial that the casino could have protected itself against it by simple measures.” While “simple measures” may have been immaterial to determining if Ivey cheated, simple measures are at the heart of casino game protection. In a larger sense, “simple measures” are part of our daily lives. Learning to say “thank you” is a simple measure. Brushing your teeth is a simple measure. Simple measures are fast, easy and cheap — all three of these qualities must be present. A single “simple measure” could have prevented this whole fiasco at Crockfords. For example, to safeguard the top card in a baccarat shoe (the one that Ivey’s partner Cheung Sun viewed), the Harrigan brush has been in widespread use for over 20 years. Plastic face plates achieve a similar end. Over the last few years, smart shoes with built in top card protection have become available. Using a device to protect the top card from view is a simple measure. Another simple measure that thwarts edge sorting is to include a “turn” in every shuffle. This is not new information. For example, the use of a “turn” as a defense against exploitation of asymmetric cards was discussed in the book Casino Management by Bill Friedman (1982), page 44, “… I found a mark that was being put on inadvertently by the manufacturer. A small diamond at one end of each card was shaped slightly differently from its counterpart at the opposite end … [I] put in a simple control to prevent these one-way decks from being used to cheat the house … As a precaution, every time the dealers shuffled they were required to turn the top half of the deck from one end to the other … “ It’s a simple measure to warn users of a company’s playing cards that there may be issues surrounding the design on the back of their cards. For example, in certain advertising materials for Bee Stinger playing cards, Bee states that their faded border, “helps eliminate and detect edge-work markings, helps control sorter and one-way decks, reduces potential of factory marked cards.” Card manufactures recognize that their cards must be designed with game protection in mind. That’s why cards have a symmetric pattern to begin with. Symmetry is a simple measure. Going beyond edge sorting, peak devices prevent card warps and help keep the dealer’s hole card hidden. Cut cards are placed to protect against card counters. Cards are changed every few hours to protect against incidental marks and natural wear. These are all simple measures. In the shadow of Judge Mitting’s ruling in the Phil Ivey case, what is certain is that there are simple measures that will prevent the next big advantage play. No doubt, some game protection professionals have already put these measures in place to protect their interests. But you don’t have to foresee every possible way that games might be vulnerable to put in simple game protection measures. If it’s simple, like brushing your teeth or saying “thank you,” then do it. In the mean time, Ivey’s appeal will be heard on December 10. I hope that the UK appeals court gets it right. This much is certain, their decision will not be simple.