One of the world's top poker players is to be denied his £7.7 million winnings from a Mayfair casino, after a judge ruled that his 'edge sorting' technique amounted to cheating.
American Phil Ivey won the money over four sessions playing Punto Banco - a form of baccarat - at Crockfords Casino in August 2012. Telling the casino that he liked to play with the same pack of cards all evening, he memorised the tiny variations in the pattern on the back of each card.
Most professional packs of playing cards these days have a white border all the way round on the back. Hwever, this particular type of pack, from manufacturer Gemaco, had a repeating pattern on the back that stretched all the way to the edge.
And because the card-cutting machines aren't perfect, the motifs on the back were cut off in very slightly different places on each card.
To exploit this, Ivey needed to do two things: persuade the casino to use the Gemaco pack and also make sure that the cards were shuffled by a machine, so that they didn't get turned around. Gamblers are notoriously superstitious, and Ivey's request apparently didn't ring any alarm bells at first.
However, after Ivey had clocked up winnings of £7.7 million, the casino smelled a rat; and instead of paying out, simply returned his £1 million stake money. Months later, it was still refusing to budge, and Ivey filed a High Court suit.
The judge, Mr Justice Mitting, acknowledged that Ivey had not intended to cheat, but ruled in the casino's favour all the same. ""He gave himself an advantage which the game precludes," he said. "This is, in my view, cheating."
Ivey, though, says there is a big difference between cheating and looking for a legitimate advantage.
"I am pleased that the judge acknowledged in court that I was a truthful witness," Ivey told the BBC. "I believe that what we did was a legitimate strategy and we did nothing more than exploit Crockfords' failures to take proper steps to protect themselves against a player of my ability. Clearly today the judge did not agree."
Unfortunately for Ivey, he faces another trial over the edge-sorting technique, this time in the US. In 2012, he clocked up over $9.6 million in winnings at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City. On that occasion, the casino did pay out - but later sued him for the money, saying that edge sorting is against state gambling regulations. That case is expected to be heard sometime next year.
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