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Phil Ivey versus Crockfords Casino

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Phil Ivey versus Crockfords Casino

October 6, 2014

Renowned poker player Phil Ivey is currently embroiled in a legal battle with Crockfords Casino in London over disputed winnings of over seven million pounds. In the most recent update as reported in The Daily Mail, Woman helped Tiger Woods of poker to cheat London casino out of £7.7million, it seems that the case is now being heard in court, and both sides have started laying out their positions.

In brief summary: Ivey and a female companion used a technique known as "edge sorting" to identify cards and gain a substantial advantage playing baccarat. The casino claims that this amounted to cheating, which Ivey denies.


The company claims that Mr Ivey's conduct defeated the essential premise of the game of baccarat so there was no gaming contract - or constituted cheating.

Ivey's lawyer disagreed:

He said that edge-sorting involved nothing more than using information that was available to any player simply from viewing the backs of the cards which the casino chose to use.

It also involved making requests of the casino - which it could accept or refuse - as to the manner in which play was conducted.

This much is entirely true.

In the lawyer's own words:

Moreover, it is very easy for the casino to protect itself against the technique, not least by checking the cards for asymmetrical patterns before they are used in play, by not re-using the same cards after a shoe (the receptacle holding the decks) has been played, and by the elementary step of turning some of the cards once between shoes.

I would question whether or not going as far as turning the cards would be a reasonable measure to expect on the part of the casino, but the rest of his description is factually accurate.

The lawyer then added some more comments which, unfortunately, don't seem to add anything to the argument:

It (the casino) is an adversarial environment. Obviously, it does not mean you can be dishonest - we do not suggest that. But, you have to look at those circumstances when you consider cheating.

The environment is a highly relevant feature and you have to look at the attributes of the person accused of dishonesty - a professional poker player who has an international reputation as an advantage player.

Our firm position is that the guts of cheating does involve dishonesty. It is the heart of the case. It has got to be grappled with. He (Mr Ivey) regards this as utterly fair play. If the casino fouls up from start to finish, that is something which is the gambler's good fortune . It is not an easy thing to do. It requires a lot of skill.

These don't seem to be the words of a particularly competent or forensic advocacy team. What does the fact that a casino environment is adversarial add to the argument? Ivey's reputation is irrelevant, and the lawyer's patently obvious statement that "cheating involves dishonesty" is risible as a professional defence. Of course cheating is dishonest. I doubt the judge needed to be told that.

Turning to the casino's defence:

The casino's counsel, Christopher Pymont QC, told Mr Justice Mitting that Ivey was not a well-known advantage player at the time of his visit but was, in their eyes, an old VIP customer and they trusted him accordingly.

It argued that edge-sorting was not a widely known or practised way of playing baccarat in the UK and that the casino was not unduly careless in failing to prevent it.

It is the casino's job to protect its business. That it happens to not be aware of an aspect of its business, and that ignorance ultimately leads to its downfall, is the casino's problem alone. Its ignorance is not an excuse. Nor is the fact that Ivey was "trusted" by the casino. Trusted to do what? Lose?

And in the lawyer's own words:

The scheme could have been - and was - cheating, however widely known or practised edge-sorting may have been in other casinos at the time, and however careful or careless the casino may have been to prevent it in this case.

Hence the suggestion that the casino was acting at its own risk is irrelevant, It has no bearing on the core issue in this case, which is whether the scheme was cheating.

I'm left scratching my head once more. It is up to the court to determine whether or not Ivey was cheating; that is the purpose of the trial. It is the casino's lawyer's job to make the case for why this is so, not to simply repeat what we already know to be so. And while I agree that the casino acting at its own risk is irrelevant, I have no idea why anyone, including Phil Ivey, might consider it so to begin with. It has no bearing on the facts of the matter.

It seems to me that neither counsel is doing a particularly good job of representing his client, on the basis of the reported extracts.

My own opinion - which I have already voiced in an earlier article and which I commend to Mr. Ivey's counsel as possibly a more coherent advocacy for the case - is that Phil Ivey did not cheat because he did not do anything to subvert or alter the game as it was delivered to him or to any other customers who might have been playing at the time. All information he gained was from his observational skills, and all requests he made were willingly acquiesced to by the casino. He did not use mirrors or accomplices to see around to the other side of the cards to read their values, nor did he collude with any casino employees to achieve similar ends. In essence, in skilfully using his observational skills to gain a mathematical edge he did exactly the same as a card counter in blackjack does, using observation alongside simple addition and subtraction to chisel out a winning game. Card counting is not cheating; casinos are entitled to deny card counters a game, but if they deal to them they must pay them; they cannot retrospectively deny them their winnings.

Hopefully justice will win through on this, Phil Ivey will receive his money and the casino, seven million plus pounds poorer, will sharpen up its act. However, I suspect that the only winners, in either event, are going to be the lawyers.

Previous articles:

Crockfords Casino denies Phil Ivey millions in winnings

Phil Ivey: is he entitled to his multi-million pound winnings?

Phil Ivey baccarat scheme: trouble at the Borgata

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